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The 2024 State of the Media Report

Get actionable insight from 3,000+ journalists on what they truly want and need from PR teams.

5 Problems Brands Come to you to Solve: Customer Complaints

Brands come to PR and comms professionals to help with any number of issues they don't have the expertise or bandwidth to tackle on their own. We'll be covering several of them, starting with the most common: Customer complaints.

This is the time you do want to read the comments. 

On social: Handle it before it becomes a crisis

We are all extremely familiar with customer complaints on social media (and probably even responsible for firing up Twitter to vent about an airline while sitting stuck in an airport somewhere). As PR and comms pros, you're more likely to be putting an overall strategy in place vs. being the person who is actually handling the complaints directly on a day-to-day basis. 

If there's an existing crisis communications plan in place for a particular brand you're working with, review that to see if it can be built on or if it needs to be completely scrapped and updated— perhaps because it's so old it doesn't include social media in it at all. 

Ideally the social team will have comprehensive monitoring and tracking set up around their brand so they can catch brand mentions early- even if they aren't direct mentions- and react based on the strategy you've helped them develop and put in place. 

Some things to consider: 

  • Monitoring and tracking should include all relevant brand handles as well as branded hashtags, common misspellings of the brand, and non-direct mentions (someone types a brand name without tagging their actual handle). 
  • Social and customer teams need to be empowered by the brands they work for to solve and internally escalate situations they can't solve on their own before they become a crisis situation. Create a doc of standard responses and resources for social FAQs, but have decision makers in place for when things are beyond someone asking for a link. 
  • Decide on the chain-of-command for an escalating crisis: Who gets contacted, and how? Is this different after business hours, or on weekends or holidays? 
  • Advise a social team to use a sense of humor to de-escalate a situation when possible, as long as it still fits with the overall brand voice 

And here's a note on monitoring and tracking: Something like Cision can definitely take the headache out of this, but if a brand has a limited budget you can advise them to set up columns for monitoring in TweetDeck, sign up for the free version of Mention and be sure to turn on alerts for those on desktop and on mobile apps. 

A majority of crisis comms situations start on social and/or escalate there, so it's an important part of any overall comms strategy. 

On review sites: Never seed fake reviews

Review sites are another place customers go to share what they love about a brand and its products, or what they absolutely hate. They've become important in the decision-making process for a lot of consumers so comms teams often do a lot of work encouraging customers to leave reviews. 

That's a great strategy, and you can consider advising a brand to send follow-up emails after purchases asking for reviews and even incentivizing with a coupon code or special sale to those who follow-through. The important thing is never to tell them what to write; they still get the code or discount even if they didn't love your product and are honest abou

What you never want a brand to do is seed fake reviews, whether from customers or employees or anyone else. 

That kind of strategy is always revealed by someone involved and it's always more difficult to rework a brand's image and rebuild trust in it than it is to avoid a crisis situation in the first place. 

Research also shows that negative reviews can actually be a boost for a brand; all-positive reviews read as fake. 

On blogs or other earned media 

Brands today need to have an earned media management strategy in place, and it's the comms professional's job to help them establish one. 

Start with these questions: 

  • What metrics mean success to the brand or brands you're working with?
  • What measurement systems are currently in place and how well can they "talk" to each other? 
  • What is currently reported on and how often? 
  • Are teams across departments working together and reporting on numbers to reach the same goals? 
  • Can you measure earned media's contribution to revenue? 

The last question is the most important; with this information, PR and comms pros can prove their value and help the brands they're working with do the same.