Best Practices for Handling Customer Complaints on Social Media

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Social media is the go-to platform for customers to voice their complaints. A brand’s ability to handle these complaints effectively can significantly impact its reputation and customer loyalty.

Today, we’ll cover the best practices for managing customer complaints on social media. Our goal: To help turn potential crises into opportunities for growth.

Why Customer Complaints on Social Media Happen

The rise in customer complaints on social media is not just noticeable—it’s statistically significant.

Studies show that 42% of consumers expect a response to a complaint on social media within an hour, with 32% expecting a reply within 30 minutes. This expectation for instant communication has driven a staggering 75% of consumers to use social media networks like Twitter (X) and Facebook (59%) for customer service.

What’s more, consumers complain on social. A LOT.

Terminix FB complaint

[Source: Facebook]

The accessibility and immediacy of social media platforms provide customers with a direct line to brands, which they are increasingly choosing over traditional customer service channels.

According to Sprout Social, 46% of customers prefer social media for customer care compared to phone or email, citing quicker response times and ease of access as primary reasons.

Moreover, the viral nature of social media can escalate a single complaint to a widespread public issue within hours, amplifying the customer’s voice beyond traditional customer service interactions.

This shift has forced businesses to adapt rapidly, understanding that the public’s perception of their brand is now shaped significantly by how they handle customer interactions online.

1. Respond Quickly

As we just discussed, speed is of the essence on social media. Customers expect a quick response to their complaints, often within hours.

So, how can you meet customer complaints on social media? There’s more to it than just being speedy.

Why Speed Matters in Social Media Responses

Because customers on social media expect almost instantaneous responses, a quick reply can prevent a negative sentiment from escalating.

Today, brands must prioritize customer care on social media.


Practical Tip

Set up social media monitoring tools to alert you when your brand is mentioned. We recommend tools like Cloud Campaign or Sprout Social.

Ensure that your team responds to complaints within an hour during business hours. And, if you can’t do that, consider setting up a chatbot to help with FAQs.

hootsuite FAQ chatbot customer service

[Source: Hootsuite]

Example from the Field

A customer tweeted a complaint about a delayed order from Zappos, an online retailer. The retailer responded within minutes, apologizing for the delay and immediately offering help.

what makes good customer service omnichannel service zappos

[Source: Zappos on Twitter]

This quick response was well-received, showcasing the company’s commitment to fast service.

2. Acknowledge and Apologize

Most replies to customer complaints on social media begin by acknowledging the customer’s issue and apologizing for their experience.

A grey area many marketers face is whether to apologize regardless of who is at fault.

While there are certainly some cases where an apology may not be due, offering one anyway can diffuse frustration and demonstrate your brand’s commitment to customer satisfaction.

Or, if it makes you feel better, create an ‘if this, then that’ framework for what we call situational sorry’s. Furthermore, you can steal our 25 scripts for responding with empathy.

The Power of Empathy

Above all, empathy is at the center of any successful social care program.

In fact, it’s so important that the whole crux of Chapter 4 in our State of Social Care Report, 2023 is on the importance of human touch in digital customer care.


How-To Guide

Always start your response by thanking the customer for reaching out, acknowledge their issue, and apologize for the inconvenience caused.

Ensure your tone is sincere and empathetic. And finally, always close the feedback loop!

Real-Life Scenario

A perfect example of  closing the feedback loop involves a client that is a high-end appliance company. Our B Squared Media team keeps response times under 30 minutes and acknowledges all mentions, shares, comments, complaints, and questions.

For example, B Squared Media was monitoring the account when the brand was tagged in an Instagram story. A customer shared a funny boomerang of themselves while on hold with Customer Service.

Our team saw this mention and acted on it immediately. While this customer was not outright complaining about the company, our team reached out via Instagram direct message and offered assistance.


online customer care compliment


The customer was incredibly appreciative of the outreach. And, it turns out, happened to have hundreds of thousands of followers. The customer then went an extra step out of appreciation and posted another Instagram story praising both the client and our social media team.

This approach not only resolved the immediate (kind of) complaint but also turned a dissatisfied customer into a positive peer-to-peer review of the brand.

3. Take the Conversation Private

After the initial public acknowledgment, try to move the conversation to a private channel such as direct or private message.

This approach helps keep sensitive information out of the public eye and allows for a more detailed discussion to resolve the issue.

Benefits of Direct Messaging

Moving the conversation to a private channel prevents the public airing of potentially sensitive issues and gives you more control over the dialogue.

Step-by-Step Approach

Respond publicly first to show others that you are responsive, then ask the customer to continue the conversation via direct message to handle the matter discreetly and/or not to share PII (personal identifying information).

Case Study

In another example, we were tagged a complaint about a faulty product for our appliance brand on Twitter (X).

After a public acknowledgment, we requested the customer to send the details through direct messaging, where we helped them work with service to arrange for a replacement.

Then, once the machine was fixed, we closed the feedback loop privately and asked (if willing) the customer would share the ‘finale’ of his story about the dishwasher he loved so much — and he did!

customer care social media 600x502


Who doesn’t love a dishwasher selfie?! 😉

4. Personalize Your Responses

Avoid using generic responses!

Instead, tailor each reply to the specific customer’s situation to show that you are genuinely attentive to their individual case. This personal touch can make a big difference in how your brand is perceived.

Customization is Key

Personalizing responses can significantly enhance customer relations. This practice shows that your brand views each customer as an individual, which can greatly impact customer loyalty.

Plus, engaging in conversations allows brands to tailor their messages and offers. A customer who mentions a particular interest might later see a targeted ad or receive a special discount, increasing the likelihood of a purchase.

I hate to break it to you, but it’s not always about the immediate sale.

JD Power Customer Loyalty

[Source: JD Power]

Conversations lay the groundwork for enduring relationships. A customer might not buy today, but the trust and rapport built through genuine interactions can lead to multiple purchases over time.

Exceptional social care sets a foundation for building brand affinity and advocacy. Customer advocacy doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is instead the result of ensuring your customers are provided with the products and services they need with the care they expect and deserve.

Implementation Tips

  • Use the customer’s name.
  • Refer to specific details of their complaint.
  • Tailor your solution to their unique situation.

Illustrative Example

When a users kept begging makeup brand Glossier for a deodorant on Instagram, the company not only listened but also showed how much they care by addressing the customer’s specific posts about this new product.

calls to action example UGC

[Source: Instagram]

Thus, reassuring them of their importance to the brand.

5. Follow Through on Promises

Ensure that any promise made to a customer in response to a complaint is fulfilled. Failure to follow through can lead to further dissatisfaction and harm your brand’s credibility.

Ensuring Reliability in Customer Service

Consistency is the backbone of reliable customer service. It assures customers that they can expect the same level of service each time they interact with your brand, which builds trust and loyalty. Establish clear customer service standards and ensure all team members are trained to meet them.

Practical Tip: Develop a standardized response guide that includes templates for common complaints and scenarios but leaves room for personalization. This helps maintain consistency while allowing customer service representatives the flexibility to address specific customer needs.

Leveraging Technology for Better Service Management

Advanced customer service platforms can dramatically improve the reliability of your responses. These tools not only track all customer interactions (ensuring no complaint goes unanswered) but also analyze data to identify trends and recurring issues.

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Implement a CRM System: Use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to maintain detailed records of all customer interactions, including complaints and follow-ups.
  2. Automate Responses for Common Issues: Set up automated responses for the most common complaints, which can provide immediate reassurance to customers before a human agent reviews the case.
  3. Monitor and Analyze Feedback: Regularly review customer feedback collected through the CRM to identify areas for improvement. This continuous loop of feedback and enhancement is crucial for maintaining reliability.

Action Plan

Keep a log of all customer interactions and solutions offered in your Social CRM or CRM (or on a spreadsheet if you must!). Follow up with customers to confirm that they received the promised resolution.

Success Story

This example happened to me directly! While using a new ABM software company, we experienced technical issues. The company offered a free month of service so we didn’t “lose” that downtime.

Not only that, they followed up to ensure we were satisfied with the solution. And, but they also scheduled a call with their founder to gather feedback, which greatly improved our perception of the company.

6. Learn and Improve

Use every complaint as a learning opportunity. Analyze what went wrong and why, and use these insights to improve your products or services.

This proactive approach not only prevents future issues but also shows customers that you are committed to continuous improvement.

Not sure how to do this? Check out our ebook on how to use CX data and AI to better find voice of customer data.


Turning Feedback into Action

Each complaint presents an opportunity to improve. Analyzing these issues helps prevent future problems and demonstrates to customers that you value their feedback.

How to Leverage Customer Feedback

Regularly review complaints and feedback to identify patterns. Update your products or services based on this feedback to enhance overall customer satisfaction.

Example of Proactive Change

A travel agency received several complaints about a particular package deal.

They reviewed the feedback, made necessary adjustments to the offer, and communicated these changes to past and future customers, significantly reducing similar complaints.

7. Train Your Team

Ensure that your social media team is well-trained in customer service best practices. They should know how to handle complaints professionally and empathetically, which reflects positively on your brand.

Building a Skilled Social Care Team

Ensuring that your team is well-trained and equipped to handle complaints is crucial. They should be knowledgeable, empathetic, and prepared to deal with a range of customer emotions.

Haven’t found the right social care program? Check out our Care Squared training solution!


If this sounds like you or your team…

  • We’re struggling to implement a social media customer care program that meets customers where they are.
  • Our organic social media efforts aren’t working, but we’re not sure why.
  • Our customer experience (CX) team is gridlocked when it comes to social media but we don’t know how to fix it.
  • You’re frustrated and overwhelmed with where you are in your digital CX journey because you know you have potential.

…you’re not alone.

We should talk!

Training Tips

Conduct regular training sessions on customer service best practices, role-playing different scenarios to prepare the team for real-life interactions.

For example, we recommend the ‘C.A.R.E. Method’ when training social care teams.

Training Impact Example

After implementing our comprehensive Care Squared training program, our retail client saw a 58% decrease in complaint escalations, indicating better first-contact resolution rates.

b squared media social care case study results 1024x424

[Source: Care Squared Training]

8. Showcase Positive Outcomes

Whenever a customer complaint is resolved positively, encourage the customer to share their positive experience. This can help to mitigate the impact of the original complaint and boost your brand’s image.

This also goes for user-generated content or positive reviews your brand receives.

Encouraging Positive Reviews

Offer incentives for customers to share their positive experiences on social media after a complaint is resolved.

Promotion Example

A food brand, SnackMagic, got a positive review on its service and then shared that positive review story to highlight how easy it is to buy and use their service.


[Source: LinkedIn]

When the positive reviews come in, use them to your advantage!

Seal the Deal with Satisfaction

Handling customer complaints effectively on social media is crucial for maintaining a positive brand image and building strong customer relationships.

By responding quickly, personalizing your approach, and continuously learning from feedback, you can turn challenges into opportunities to demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction.

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Brooke B. Sellas is an award-winning Customer Marketing Strategist and the CEO & Founder of B Squared Media. Her book, Conversations That Connect has been recognized nationally and is required reading for a Customer Experience class at NSU. Brooke's influence in digital marketing is not just about her accomplishments but also about her unwavering commitment to elevating the industry standard of digital customer experience and customer marketing.
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