Take advantage of rude complaints
Many other people on social media observe how you respond to a rude complaint. Answer with humor and they will become more likely to buy from you.
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We’ve seen before how you should respond to complaints on social media (i.e. try to take it to a private conversation as fast as possible).
But how should you answer if the complaint is rude? (e.g. “F**k you and your s**t products”).
Remember, these are public complaints (e.g. on your Facebook page). The answer is mostly for the benefit of others that will read it, not about the rude complainer (scr**w them, anyway).
You might have hundreds, maybe thousands of silent observers that will see your response.
How you respond influences how they perceive you.
So should you still be nice and apologetic, or is it time to have some fun?
Here’s what the science says.
P.S.: And here’s another fun fact that many of you found interesting last week on LinkedIn: you shouldn't call vegetarian food “vegetarian” (just say “Curry”, not “Vegetarian curry”).
A new study found that meat-eaters will be 2.6 times more likely to choose it - making choices that are healthier for them and the planet.
Respond with humor to rude complaints on social media
Channels: Complaint handling | Customer service | Social media
For: Mostly B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: October 2022
When you get rude public complaints on social media (e.g. “How much f**king longer is my pizza going to be?”), respond to them with humor (e.g. “It might not be longer, but we’ll surely try to make it rounder”).
Joke about the situation or complaint. Don’t direct your humor toward the person complaining (e.g. attacking them, directly making fun of them).
Other people will see your response and become more likely to buy from you. They will also engage more with your answer (e.g. liking, retweeting), which will amplify the positive effect.
People that see a company reply to a rude complaint with humor are more likely to buy from the company, compared to when they see no response or a standard apology.
For example, as part of 3 different experiments, researchers found that:
When a complaint was civil, a polite apology increased the purchase intentions of other readers by 38% compared to no response or a funny response
When a complaint was rude, a funny response increased purchase intentions by 18.3% and an apology by 8.9%, compared to no response (see graph below)
A funny reply to a rude complaint makes observers more likely to buy.
🧠 Why it works
Companies don’t usually reply to complaints with funny comments, so when they do it catches our attention.
When we consider the humor to be positive and not aggressive (e.g. attacking the complainer), we find it amusing. Nobody likes rude complainers, so we feel that they “got what they deserve”.
We then develop better feelings towards the company, and are more likely to engage and buy from it.
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This effect only applies to public complaints that are read by others. Private complaints, even if rude, should probably be dealt with through apologies and explanations.
This study measured purchase intentions, not actual behavior (e.g. sales, real choices). Although the two are related, it’s not an ideal measure.
Researchers focused on the occasional use of humor. It’s unclear what happens when a company becomes known to use humor in its responses (e.g. Wendy’s). And what happens if everyone starts using funny responses?
It’s unclear what is best to include in a funny response. Should the company still mention that it’s trying to resolve the problem (e.g. “Jk, we ARE looking into it btw”) or that doesn’t matter?
🏢 Companies using this
Very few companies use this technique at the moment.
Virgin Trains did a mixed job:
Virgin Trains did a good job at dealing with a rude complaint. It’s probably even better to not be as patronizing towards the customer and to keep the humor directed at the situation.
⚡ Steps to implement
When complaints are not rude, the safest response remains to apologize, explain, and show empathy. Remember to use “I”, not “We”, it helps to build empathy (e.g. “I’m sorry to hear this happened). You could still answer using humor - if appropriate - just make sure you are poking fun at the situation, not the complainer.
When complaints are rude, make sure that the humor you use to respond is actually funny, clever, and not offensive to the complainer. If in doubt, fall back to a classic apology. Don’t leave it unanswered.
And there are many more benefits to using clever humor on social media, beyond replying to complaints. For example, using it in your posts makes your brand seem more competent and warm. Just make sure it’s actually funny.
🔍 Study type
Let's Laugh About It! Using Humor to Address Complainers’ Online Incivility. Journal of Interactive Marketing (October 2022).
Mathieu Béal. Grenoble École de Management
Yany Grégoire. HEC Montréal
François A. Carrillat. HEC Montréal
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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