Battling It Out On Social Media

COMPLAINING — Singapore’s favourite pastime.

Train delay — complain to SMRT. Unhappy at work — complain about the boss. Lunch not up to scratch — complain to coffee shop uncle. If we can’t think of anything else — there is always good old gahmen to complain about — How can be 70%?!

Social media has given an excellent platform for Singapore’s complaint kings and queens to air their grievances. Get on the Facebook page of any business — a taxi booking app, a restaurant, an airline, or other service providers — and you won’t need to scroll too far before finding a couple of complaints. It makes one wonder …  are we just an ugly society or are goods and service providers really that incompetent.

Some businesses have it worse than others. They make the mistake of reacting poorly to disgruntled customers and become viral sensations for all the wrong reasons.

How can businesses deal with a barrage of angry customers online? Can they avoid embarrassment and rescue a sticky situation played out in front of an Internet audience of potentially millions?

Sorry, no comment.

In writing this article, STORM.SG approached various companies that have found themselves in hot water in recent months. We wanted to find out what their experiences were in dealing with these incidents but the following refused to comment for various reasons.

With millions of rides every month, and new services like GrabHitch and GrabShare attracting more users, their social media pages are overrun with complaining customers. From fare disputes, issues with promotions, to complaints about drivers, Grab seems to have its hands full keeping passengers happy. It seems to be a thankless task however. While complaints are a dime a dozen, good feedback from happy customers are much harder to find. The latest story to make the rounds online has been the dispute surrounding who (driver or passenger) is on the hook for ERP charges incurred during a GrabHitch trip. Commenters on their Facebook page decry that they have been unable to get necessary support from Grab’s customer care department.

Grab refused to comment.


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Some 50,000 fans may have enjoyed the Guns N’ Roses gig last weekend but almost as many seem to be unhappy with everything other than the music. Axl Rose. Slash and company brought the roof down with some classic tunes but fans left unhappy with the organisation of the show — there were complaints about crowd control, lack of food and drinks, a problem with the RFID based payment system, and a traffic nightmare in and out of the venue. Head banging quickly gave way to a clobbering of LAMC as fans took to the Internet to lambast the concert organisers. Co-founder Ross Knudson stepped up to “take responsibility” and gave the media the company’s take on how ill prepared they were to handle a show of this size.

When approached, LAMC said they were too busy to spare the time for a comment.

In all fairness, they do have bigger fires to put out.

The budget carrier caused a kerfuffle online after responding poorly to a comment about inflight food made on Facebook. The unhappy traveller had posted that she felt deceived because the nasi lemak she had paid $18 looked nothing like the photograph on the menu. Scoot exhibited very little tact, for an organisation owned by industry stalwarts Singapore Airlines, in dealing with the complaint. The joke they used in an attempt to diffuse the situation fell flat, and prompted further ire for the unprofessional handling of the complaint. The post went viral and attracted more than 400 comments.

SCOOT could not be reached for comment.

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The Internet, and social media by extension, can be an unforgiving place. Stationery makers Pentel found out the hard way after making a grammatical error in their Facebook update.

Eagle eyed users were quick to mock them and prove that you can’t get away with anything on the Internet. Hilariously, the apology that followed the erroneous post was also found to be a little iffy!

Pentel was quick to point STORM to its digital marketing consultant but a proper comment was hard to come by.

They did let slip that “there was nothing wrong” and the situation “worked out quite well”.

True enough, they emerged almost unscathed and many online found the situation cute or funny. It makes you wonder whether it was all a ploy to garner a little attention and goodwill online.

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Raffles Hotel

The icon of Singapore’s hospitality industry had an issue with a local media about how the arcade attached to the hotel was in a poor state of repair in 2015. The hotel, which was part of the FRHI Group then (since acquired by the AccorHotels), which has overview of the arcade was defensive about its position.

However, that didn’t stop the issue from spilling into the social media space.

When asked to comment, the hotel’s PR person declined, citing urgent timelines.

Is ducking the issue a good strategy in such situations?


Tham Kok Wing, SVP, Engagement & Integration, Asia Pacific, Ruder Finn Asia

Customer feedback informs business owners and brand gatekeepers on the state of enterprise health. It also provides clues on what they are doing right or wrong.

In the past, much of the feedback (compliments and brickbats alike) was mostly channelled offline to customer service and call centres. However, living in the Internet of Things (IOT) era where almost everyone is connected via social media brings instant reality to life at the touch of a button. We live in a fish tank, totally transparent to those who bother to watch and listen.

Therein lies the challenge. Businesses use social media and electronic platforms for convenience and ease of customer transactions. It is natural that customers use the same channels for convenient and instantaneous feedback.

When customers’ expectations fall below satisfaction there is bound to be unhappiness and the clarion call for complaints is bound to hit social media platforms.

Businesses need to respond. It is not an option.

Burying one’s head in the sand and hoping it blows over will probably do more harm than good. That’s because interested people (not just the complainant but other customers) are watching your response.

There is ‘no one-size fits all’ solution. Here are some things to consider:

Metaphorically speaking, treat the complaint like an open wound.

Close the wound.

This requires a direct response to the injured area. The response must be one that shows genuine concern to address the issue raised. Start with acknowledging the complaint and work towards a solution.

Stop the bleeding.

If the complaint is legitimate, seek fair and reasonable ways to resolve the problem. Whether it is legitimate requires a Whole of Business Approach (WOBA) in getting to the root of the complaint. Taking some of the more recent F&B examples, customer unhappiness can come from a breakdown anywhere in the business chain from logistics (delivery, punctuality issue) to quality of product (packaging, storage, sourcing of food ingredients, food preparation, etc.).

Trading insults, calling each other names will only add to the spectacle, driving the emotional quotient higher to the delight of those watching (including your competitors) but does nothing to bring the issue to closure. This step is crucial and it goes beyond mere communications. The response (treatment) must be based on an accurate assessment (diagnosis).

Remove the barbs.

Clarify and rebut if the criticism is misleading or illegitimate. Seek to neutralise and balance the sentiments. Tell your side of the story, provide proof points and seek the moderating influence of other satisfied customers. All these must be done in a professional and measured manner to show that you are not out to get even or bring down the complainant.

Finally, promote ‘healing’ with the affected customer through follow-ups and put things to closure.

Genuine customers who receive fair, reasonable treatment over a complaint will probably come back and may even by the brand’s most ardent supporter.

Notwithstanding, there will be trolls and/or reputation assassins who want to make a quick return with their ranting. They will be exposed if you maintain your cool, stay professional and deal with them using the steps above. There is nothing personal here; it’s all about giving genuine customers an experience they deserve and winning their trust!


Keith Kok, Director of Digital Strategy, RHT Digital & Media

Social media is not at fault for all these PR nightmares that we have been seeing.

Problem arises when businesses:

1. Do not understand that social media is media. They treat it as just social, and their sometimes haphazard responses to customer’s complaints becomes an issue;

2. Underestimate the cost (infrastructure and training) needed to do social media well;

3. Mistake social media for an advertising platform. The way you treat an advertising campaign is very different from the way you treat a customer support centre;

4. Miss the fact that they don’t fully own their brands anymore. They co-own them with their customers and the customer has a voice and that voice can tarnish their brand very easily.

The good news is that all these issues have a fix:

1. Just as they take media training seriously, they should treat social media training and hiring of the right social media manager seriously. Getting fresh graduates, because they are millennials and use social media, does not mean that they know how to manage your brand on social media;

2. There are technology and escalation processes today that can help businesses identify and mitigate such issues quickly and more effectively;

3. Companies good at using the media can use it to their advantage. When used correctly and with the right safety net, it can help marketing, sales and PR. However, it is a double-edged sword that can easily cut the other way too;

4. The new connected audience is also low on attention and has fleeting focus on current issues. Most issues will blow over within a week. Unless the company comes back to draw more attention to the issues, most online communities would have moved on to the next incidence.


Lars Voedisch, Founder, PRecious Communications

First of all, it’s usually not about who is right or wrong or who’s fault it is. It’s about the perceived experience of the customer — all customers want to hear is a genuine ‘sorry’ to move on.

Think about your own perspective about a bad experience in a restaurant — usually it’s a proper apology that can solve anything!

Disputes easily get out of control when egos and emotions get in the way of looking at the actual facts of what happened. It is best is to follow a simple process:

Get it fast.

Once you hear about a customer’s bad experience, acknowledge that you’re on it and share at least that you’re sorry that they’re feeling that way.

Get it right. 

Figure out what are you going to do to fix the situation. Always start with an apology if the customer had a bad experience (remember, that’s not necessarily admitting that you’re at fault) and then offer a resolution — sometimes a small token compensation goes a long way.

Get it out.

Share what you’re going to do/have done.

Get it over.

Move on and always remember that not everything that happens on public social media platforms needs to get resolved there as well. Think of it as a hotel lobby. If an angry customer approaches the concierge, screaming and loud, you would usually see the hotel staff asking the person to move to a different place away from the centre of attention. You can always ask for people to direct-message you their phone number or call you to discuss directly. If they customer is overly angry — there is no way to immediately calm him or her down with a comment.

Beyond acknowledging that you regret the bad experience, you can offer a small compensation. That’s how you can turn disgruntled customers into a brand advocates.

Of course customers should also think about what they could do on their end to avoid any unnecessary escalation — most of the time that’s about the language used and charging a situation emotionally.


Steve Feiner, Co-Founder/ CEO, A Better Florist

Businesses deserve the flak they get online. When an angry customer shares their grievances in the public, there is certainly a reason for that. A business should deal with it as honestly and with as much transparency as possible. Businesses are a collection of people, and people make mistakes. In these crisis situations a business must own up to the situation, admit its mistakes and do the best it can to get through it.

Sadly, A Better Florist was at the receiving end of overwhelming pressure on Facebook just last month. We were swamped by the demand on Valentine’s Day and failed to meet them — this resulted in a very swift backlash online (and offline).

In this case, however, we had failed to deliver on our promise to the customer and have to take ownership of the problem.

Furthermore, as CEO, the buck stops with me and I have to think of ways to win back the trust of our customers.

It was an immensely humbling experience. It is genuinely painful to see customers put their trust in you and to disappoint them.

The only lesson I can share is to just deal with it head on. Do your best to own up to the situation and solve as many problems as you can and do so in a fair and transparent manner.

Social media has given people another avenue to reach out. I would prefer it be used to say good things about us but we have to accept the criticism and complaints it brings as well. The customer has a right to share their experience, positive or otherwise, in anyway they want. It is up to business owners to use the feedback to improve customer’s future experiences. As we work to improve on what we do, I hope that good comments will follow in the near future.

Main Image: hakandogu /

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  1. Young Singaporean need a lot of moral education.
    TV shows can help to educate the young to be humble, honest, courteous, respect the elderly and be filial to parents.
    TV programs should not often children arguing with their parents.
    Should not often show how rebellious, boastful and arrogant behavior.
    Children viewing will take it as acceptable trends or behavior.

    I should say that the moral standard of our older generation is much better than the younger.

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