How to Handle Customer Complaints via Social Media (5 Step Guide)

By John Hughes

The days of relying exclusively on email and phone support to deal with customer service are over. Customers are now as likely to take to Twitter or Facebook as they are to contact you directly with queries, qualms or complaints.

If you’re running any sort of public facing social media presence (and you should be!), you have to recognize that it’s a two-way street. Be prepared to devote a portion of your time to handling it as a support channel.

In this piece, we’ll cover common sense tips for getting ahead of the issue and proactively using social media to head off customer complaints. But before we dive into tactics, let’s briefly cover why social media support is so important to begin with.

Some Sobering Statistics on Social Media Expectations

You may be used to thinking of social media purely as a handy marketing outlet, but your audience has different ideas…

Even as far back as 2013, a major study showed that 67% of consumers have used social media as a support channel, as opposed to 33% who engaged on a marketing level. Younger consumers are substantially more likely to go down this path.

Those people are also in a hurry when they reach out via social media. Jay Baer’s research on the matter shows that 32% expect a response within 30 minutes, and a whopping 42% expect a response within 60 minutes. They’re also not interested in whether you’re currently clocking off. 57% expect the exact same response times during nights and weekends.

With those points in mind, let’s move on to quick tips on how best to handle things.

Step 1: Make Social Media Support Somebody’s Job

Step one in getting control of the situation here is assigning some actual responsibility. Particularly if you’re a smaller company, it’s easy to let this type of response fall to the back of the queue and only get picked up when an undefined somebody has time to do it.

Get on the right rack by giving that somebody a name and putting things on a schedule. It should be at least one person’s job to monitor social channels for mentions and respond when necessary.

Step 2: Respond Quickly and Personally

We’ve already covered user expectations in terms of response times. Long story short – you need to be getting back to people pronto. Your responses need to strike the right tone, too.

Bland, passively couched expressions of regret are irritating enough in email, but they’re downright inflammatory when delivered via social channels. Remember, social is an intrinsically intimate medium – you need to be communicating genuinely and taking full ownership of problems when they arise.

Twitter's case studies show companies such as Nike delighting customers.
Twitter’s case studies show companies such as Nike delighting customers.

For some great examples of brands getting this approach right, check out Twitter’s 2015 research piece on the matter. It’s packed with examples of major companies such as Nike, Capital One and KLM delighting customers by responding quickly and appropriately while solving users’ problems.

Step 3: Have an Escalation Plan in Place

Though your responses via social media are likely to be generally conversational in tone, that doesn’t mean they should be entirely casual. Many situations will require escalation and detailed investigation.

Again, this isn’t something that should be handled on an ad hoc basis – you need written procedures in place behind the scenes which detail clear progressions and contact points in specific customer complaint scenarios. Live+Social’s escalation template is an excellent starting point if you’re tackling this for the first time, as is HubSpot’s social media crisis management template.

Step 4: Go Above and Beyond

Social channels are effectively magnifying glasses when it comes to customer support. Whether in a good or a bad way, each interaction has the potential to blow up and influence far more people than those directly involved.

With that in mind, you need to be prepared to go the extra mile when dealing with these support requests. After all, it can take months to acquire a customer but only seconds to lose them.

For a tip-top teardown of creative takes on customer satisfaction, check out Buffer’s recent list of outstanding social media customer support examples.

Step 5: Take Advantage of Tools

As with most elements of social media, there is a risk that customer support via this channel could become an unnecessarily huge time sink unless handled appropriately. In order to head off customer complaints as quickly as possible, you need to be actively monitoring your channels, but not wasting hours in front of your feeds hitting Refresh.

Check out whether tools such as Sprout Social can save your team time.
Check out whether tools such as Sprout Social can save your team time.

Services such as Sprout Social and Hootsuite offer excellent social media management and brand monitoring tools at price points that should be affordable for even the smallest businesses. Buffer’s recent acquisition of Respondly suggests they will also be offering interesting integrated options here shortly.

Make it a point to keep up with in-product options from the main social channels as well. Twitter’s new customer service features are a case in point here, as is Facebook’s recently announced customer service tools update.


As social media matures as a medium, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that customer support is actually one of its key use cases. To really make the most out of this on your own site, you have to commit to treating it as a proper support channel in order to effectively head off customer complaints.

Let’s recap our main tips for getting that right:

  1. Make it somebody’s job.
  2. Respond quickly and personally.
  3. Have an escalation plan in place.
  4. Go above and beyond with creative solutions to customer complaints.
  5. Take advantage of both third party and native tools.

Naturally we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible with social customer support here, but implementing the tactics above will go a long way towards getting things right.

Are there any tips or tricks you use to keep customers on board through social channels? Get in touch via the comments section below and share your insights!

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