There are three stages that social media complainers go through: angry, angrier and angriest. If you’ve spent any time on social media you’ll know these stages well. People progress through these stages while waiting for the offending brand to resolve, or even respond to, their query, complaint or rant.
The level of brand damage a customer attempts to inflict via social media increases drastically the longer the issue drags on, especially when it pertains to money matters such as billing mistakes. It doesn’t even matter if the customer is wrong, the brand damage happens anyway.
I’d like to propose a solution, and it’s utterly terrifying. Pay back the money.
The vast majority of brand damage happens in the angrier and angriest stages, which are a direct result of delayed resolution. While investigation and resolution does take time, restitution can often happen immediately.
Let me explain by way of example: I recently came in contact with a company that experienced a high level of social media complaints. The vast majority of the issues related to billing queries where the customer complained that they’d been over-billed. The company was only in the wrong 20% of the time, but they still suffered public brand damage from 100% of the complaints.
To make matters worse, their investigation and resolution process often took months, which meant the customers went through multiple cycles of rage as their issue remained unresolved. Customers hammered the brand on social media during these months, all while being wrong 80% of the time. Why not refund everyone immediately? “Thanks for reporting the problem, we’ve refunded you immediately and will now investigate.”
It sounds drastic, but it really isn’t. The queries will still get resolved and when they are, the books can be balanced. Everyone’s money will end up where it’s supposed to be. The only real difference is that the amount of money in question will be in the customer’s bank account during the resolution process.
This changes everything. Firstly, having the default policy of believing your customers is an incredible stance for a brand to take. Secondly, even though only 20% of the customers are correct in their over-billing complaint, it’s better to believe everyone and incorrectly ‘reward’ those in the wrong, than it is to punish those who are actually in the right.
A few other things also happen. People will love you instead of hate you (which is quite a big thing to happen), you’ll immediately put an end to the angrier and angriest phases of brand hate, and as more people experience the amazing service you’ll even start do away with the original angry tweets. If people know you’ll immediately refund the query they won’t complain about it, they’ll politely notify you.
There is a cost to the brand, but it’s tiny compared to the original brand damage cost of all the social media hate. The cost is the interest on 80% of the money that sits in the customer’s account during the resolution process. The longer you take to investigate and resolve, the more interest you lose. But, there’s no social media hate. (Customers who are refunded but were in the wrong can be billed the difference the following month)
Under the old system, the pain of the lengthy resolution process sat squarely with the customer. The brand didn’t suffer if it took three months because the queried money was in their account earning the business interest. It’s tough to measure online brand damage, but it’s easy to measure interest cost. Trading brand damage cost for lost interest cost creates the incentive to improve the resolution process. The interest cost is also a direct metric that can be measured and improved on.
While not every customer query can be dealt with in this manner, there’s a valuable lesson that can be applied. Look for the areas to create immediate restitution with the customer while the resolution process takes place. The value to your customers and your business is incredible.