Consumer-facing companies aren't the only ones that deal with disgruntled customers on social media.
Business-to-business (B2B) companies also face potential problems from angry clients and customers on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube -- although admittedly less often. However, it's enough of a problem that B2B companies shouldn't think they're immune from attack. The key is to plan for trouble and address it immediately and honestly.
Boingo Wireless is an example of a company that successfully used social media to handle a customer crisis, according to the book Social Marketing to the Business Customer by Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman. Boingo Wireless's customer base is business travelers -- hurried, stressed people who need to fire up their laptops between flights and get some work done. Early on, Boingo Wireless identified Twitter as an effective way to communicate outages and issues, and customers sent in one quarter of their support requests by tweeting.
All that came to a head in April 2010, when Boingo Wireless accidentally sent an email meant for just a few customers to 20 percent of their users, stating that their accounts would be canceled. Those customers took to Twitter in droves. But with savvy social media management, Boingo was able to control the conversation in a matter of hours by responding, reassuring customers, and putting the brakes on further emails.
Sage Software faced a similar problem in 2007 when an upgrade introduced problems with its ACT! Software. Customers revolted on Amazon, posting negative reviews. Instead of trying to shut down the reviews, Sage Software created user communities, addressing problems individually and even calling customers directly to provide support. In one extreme case, Sage Software sent a team of engineers to a customer's site to fix the problem. Sage Software was able to turn some of their most negative customers into strong references, according to Gillin and Schwartzman.
Most of the time, B2B customers just want to feel like someone is listening to them. B2B customers are invested in their purchases -- these are the tools they use to run their businesses, keep their bosses happy, and make their work lives easier so they can go home on time.
B2B companies can uniquely prevent crises because they tend to know their customers better than consumer companies, Paul Gillin said in an interview. "The B2B companies tend to have smaller numbers of customers and do more business with them. There's a greater chance that they know who the customer is, can interact directly with the customer, and prevent a crisis," he said.
The other factor making B2B crisis mitigation easier is that the business customers are in business themselves. They understand that problems come up: service outages, software bugs, and the like. They tend to be a little more forgiving, according to Gillin.
For B2B companies to stay on top of customer complaints, they don't need complex listening platforms, Gillin said. Instead, they can often monitor their own communities and be open and honest with their customers. "SAP has a large customer community [with] a very honest exchange going on with its customers.
The customers alert SAP if there is a problem, and a company like SAP that has a lot of open dialogue is more likely to find out about problems before they blow up in social channels, he added.
To find out more about managing social media crises, get Internet Evolution's new Leadership Report: "When Good Social Media Go Bad: How Companies Can Prevent, or at Least Mitigate, Social Media Disasters."
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— Christine Parizo is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology.