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GUEST COMMENT: Handling Social Customer Bullies, While Protecting Your Brand

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By Anand Subramaniam

Social bullying is a serious matter, whether it happens in-person or online. For business-to-consumer (B2C) relations, the unprecedented reach and visibility of social online communities and networks have introduced an ugly dimension to this phenomenon.

Customers are the reason why businesses exist. However, some consumers don’t play fair and use their social clout to extract better deals from the business – whether it’s free product replacement, free shipping, unwarranted discounts, or rapid service levels. Can companies deal effectively with this type of ‘social bullying’ without hurting the business, their brands, and their relationship with other customers? How can they formulate standardised practices for customer service in the social cloud, consistent with those for their website and traditional touch points like the phone, retail store, or a branch office?

Below are some tips to handle consumer-to-business social bullying in a constructive way. By using these tips, retailers can stay ahead of the curve in attaining customer service excellence across both traditional and social media.

Staff for social IQ

Hire agents and community managers with ‘social intelligence,’ ie, prudent extroverts who are also emotionally intelligent.

Monitor for bully talk

Monitor social networking sites and communities on an ongoing basis for mentions of your business so you can spot social bullying (as well as positive mentions), as it occurs.


You need to quickly identify the person by mapping their social IDs and influence (provided by most social software solutions) to their enterprise IDs and past transactions with your business. Some of the bully talk may be legitimate gripes from valuable customers that are frustrated and should be addressed quickly.

Apply ‘substance’

Make sure that answers to customer queries are provided from a common knowledge base unified across traditional and social channels. If bullies sense that policies are more lenient or the quality of answers better on social channels, it will set off a stampede, where everyone will go social to get the best service, best terms, and best deals.

But with a polite yet firm ‘social face’

Being impatient with bullies is likely to trigger a social storm.

Align with your brand

Make sure you align policies with your brand and business strategy. If your brand has been built on ‘no questions asked service’ at your retail stores or website, your social policies shouldn’t be any different.

Take it private

Acknowledge the complaint publicly and then, where possible, take the bully private for discreet handling. However, don’t lose context in the transition – this will aggravate the situation further. You need a unified multichannel customer interaction management infrastructure across traditional and social channels to do this. Bring back happy endings to the social cloud for everyone to see

Happiness is not universal

Accept the fact that you cannot make everyone happy – bullies or even non-bullies.

Capture and disseminate best practices

Best-practice bully handling processes and content (e.g. clarifying questions to ask, what the answers should be, when to escalate to a supervisor, when to end the conversation) can be captured from the best agents and community managers, and disseminated to all agents through interactive process guidance systems such as case-based reasoning).

The customer is not king

With social, the customer is an ‘emperor’, not just a ‘king’: Online communities and social networks will ultimately drive most businesses to become more customer-centric.

Anand Subramaniam is VP of Marketing, eGain Communications Corporation.

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