Customers Trolling Retailers – How to Handle Trolls Like a Boss.

Jill Robb

Jill Robb

Digital Marketing Director
Strategy, Growth and Stylish Analytics

22nd October 2018Strategy

Online trolling, defined by the Urban Dictionary as “someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community” has primarily been associated with peer to peer ‘attacks’. However more and more frequently I am being contacted by and witnessing brands who are being attacked or bullied by trolling customers online.

Brands have taken to social media in their droves with the lure of what was touted as ‘free marketing’. The true cost of resource seemingly underestimated – and the cost of management when things go awry in some cases completely under prepared for.

Yet even in cases where retailers have taken all of the text book preparations: creating and rolling out social media policies, employing experienced staff to resource, crisis management preparations, sometimes the vigour with which they come under attack leaves them reeling and fearful of the impact on their brand to the point where they want to give in the customers often unrealistic demands – which is exactly what the trolling customer is banking on.

Examples of Customers Trolling Brands

Let’s be clear here though, that there are customers who have genuine complaints which they absolutely should ensure are heard and typically these genuine customers will be dealt with fairly and well by good retailers and companies irrespective of their initial channel of contact. However in recent months across social media channels I have witnessed:

  • Customers accusing retailers of discrimination for offering goods/services in only certain stores and not others
  • Customers taking to social media channels to complain years following initial contact and even after initial resolutions
  • Customers trolling other customers for making positive comments about the retailer / their goods/ services
  • Customers making wild claims against the brands which go viral and refusing to engage with the brand to allow the brand the ability to provide evidentiary responses

This last point is exactly what happened with KFC in June 2015, which is one of the brands who is approaching these attacks in exactly the correct way: with confidence, head on and direct and with a strong brand stance. In the USA a customer discovered a piece of Southern Fried Chicken which was in the shape of a rat. No doubt the initial shock would have been dispelled by the customer when they tore the piece apart, but as it stood this customer proceeded to tweet the picture and share it across Twitter and Facebook stating that they had found a rat.

KFC’s initial response in this case was to respond to this individuals and all of the others who picked up on this image when it went viral to say ‘our immediate investigation has found no evidence to support this. We’re attempting to contact them to continue the process’.

According to KFC’s twitter feed, they continued to attempt to contact the customer for more than 2 days in an attempt to fully investigate the matter- but the customer went to ground as the hype continued to grow and the virality of their claim continued to gather steam. During days 3 and 4 KFC began to state that it was their belief that this was a hoax and on day 5 having finally received contact from the customer it was independently verified that it was in fact chicken and NOT a rat.

Not only that but KFC went on to publicly state: ‘…We expect the customer to apologise and stop making false allegations.’

KFC did want many other are almost afraid to do on social media: to stick up for themselves and call out the trolls. It seems that this customer knew all along that this was chicken. What they wanted to get from KFC is anyones guess. However KFC’s response was perfect.

…We expect the customer to apologise and stop making false allegations.

How to Deal With Online Bullying from Trolling Customers

KFC’s social media response to the trolling stopped it relatively dead in it’s tracks as they:

  • addressed the claim directly & head on
  • took a strong stance from the start
  • did not back down or engage with others commenting on the conversation other than with their agreed statement on the matter
  • called the customer to task for the claims that they had made.

KFC in the UK recently conducted a similar response to claims surrounding trialing halal in only certain store with a direct response to a tweet stating: ‘Please do not spread false claims’.

So KFC it seems are managing the trolls the right way. I can fully understand why, when you are attacked like this online the first panic is of the impact that these negative comments will have on your brand. Typically however when tolls and non-genuine complainants take to these channels they don’t have the ‘sway’ that they think they have (what with the ‘pay to play’ aspect of Facebook nowadays and the non-stop noise on Twitter).

It takes a pretty well thought out and always on social media campaign to make a big difference. The other thing to bear in mind is the self-policing movement that I have witnessed over these recent events- when genuine customers can see right through the claims and insults and take to policing the matter themselves. This phenomena is quite often seen when brands are well known and loved and is an example of when bad PR can result in good PR.

So retailers and brands: be aware that there are people out there who may try to troll you for their own gains. Don’t shy away from taking a strong and direct stance and don’t panic!

Get your facts right, decide on your stance, decide on your response and stick to it. Ask directly for an apology and you’ll soon find that this strong and direct approach will shut down even the most fervent of trolling episodes.

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