“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
Let’s say you get this comment on your Facebook page about your all-purpose cleaner: “This product sucks. It works on vinyl ok but did nothing to the stains in my carpet, I sprayed it on and then vacuumed up and it didn’t faze the stain, Total waste of money.”
Your product clearly states in the instructions that you are to let it soak for at least 30 minutes on carpet stains, but it appears the angry customer did not do this. So you politely try to help him.
“Hi Don! Sorry you had some difficulty removing the stain on your carpet. As it states in the instructions, if you are trying to remove a stain from your carpet, please let the cleaner soak into the carpet for a minimum of 30 minutes before vacuuming up. If you try this I think you will see improved results, please let us know!”
Undeterred, Don replies again: “I’m not an idiot, I know how to read the instructions! I left the product on for a few minutes, that should be plenty of time if it’s any good!”
Actually, it appears that Don may indeed be an idiot, since he cannot follow simple instructions. Even if he’s not, he’s definitely acting like an ass in this interaction and is abusing a company that’s clearly trying to help him with his issue.
But as a company, you still have to deal with the fact that every online conversation has 3 sides; Yours, mine, and everyone else that’s watching our interaction. Calling Don an abusive idiot might make you feel better, and the people that have been following your interactions with Don might even agree with you, but to everyone else that reads your post later, they will view you as the clueless company that just called a customer an abusive idiot.
So the question at this point becomes “How do we respond to Don?” Since Don didn’t listen to your suggestion on how to properly clean his carpet, it’s valid to assume that if you try to help him again that he not only won’t listen (again) but he might attack you (again).
Then it makes sense to either ignore Don, or if you feel like leaving another attempt at helping him. I would suggest doing so in a way that is helpful, but that playfully points out that he’s acting like an ass. Something like…
“Hi again Don! Sorry to hear that you continue to have difficulty removing the stain on your carpet, but at least you are successfully ignoring our clear instructions for solving your problem! Just to humor us, could you try liberally applying the cleaner to the stained area of your carpet, and then vacuum it no sooner than 30 minutes later? This should either completely remove your stain or at least make us feel better about your efforts to do so. Keep in mind that if you need more help we are here for you, or you can call or visit our website! Good luck!”
It’s entirely possible that Don might blow up again, or that another customer would. Unfortunately, there will always be people that lack basic social skills, that feel determined to use social media anyway. The point is that just as your brand shouldn’t be abusive to its customers via social media (duh), your brand also doesn’t have to accept when its customers are being abusive to you via social media. Give your customers credit: They can see if your brand is acting inappropriately, and they can also tell if other customers are as well.
Typically, discretion is the better part of valor and it’s best to walk away from a customer that’s being abusive. On the other hand, if you can tactfully ‘put him in his place’, slapping down an abusive customer can win you accolades from other customers, and send a message to other potentially abusive customers that you intend to call them out on their bad behavior.
Engage With Your Fans, They Are Your ‘Guard Dogs’
While trolls and assholes might avoid your Facebook page if you call them out on their behavior, they will run for the hills if your fans will as well. I’ve talked about this before, but think of your fans as being a guard dog in your yard. The dog will alert you if a stranger is sniffing around, and he’ll scare them off. Your fans do the same thing. Engage with your fans and they will stick around and help defend you online and let you know if someone is causing you grief. They’ll also help out customers that legitimately need help, and they will bring these people to your attention as well.
The bottom line is be helpful, friendly, respectful and compassionate, and you’ll be fine, even if the jerks come knocking (and they always do).