Monitor your brand online, keep an eye on your businessA hotel in Vegas failed to listen when a customer complained on Twitter about the hour-long wait to check in. (Ridiculous!) A competitor caught the complaint and responded. Rather than tweeting something like “Come to our hotel,” the competitor was empathetic and said, “Sorry about your bad experience, Dave. Hope the rest of your stay in Vegas goes well.”

The customer switched to the competitor’s hotel on his next visit. And upon hearing about his experience, a friend booked 20 guests for an event.

Clearly, companies can benefit from monitoring not only their brand online, but also their competitors.

Yes, people say negative things about companies in social media. But they also post compliments. So should you respond? Or should you just ignore it thinking it’ll die down?

When companies don’t address publicly posted complaints, they lose an opportunity to save a customer and perhaps gain a few more. Isn’t this worth monitoring online conversations?

What do I monitor?

Of course, you’ll watch for your company’s and competitors’ names. You’ll also want to look for mentions of your company’s executives, products, services and your company’s links.

Other keywords depend on your business. For example, you could use keywords containing geography and your type of business. Let’s say you run an Italian restaurant in Alexandria, Va. Monitor for “Italian restaurant Alexandria” and “Italian restaurant Washington DC” as you might find people asking, “Anyone know a good Italian restaurant in Alexandria Virginia?” When you do, you can ask a fan to respond or suggest your restaurant by sharing a few specialties. Better yet, offer a free dessert if they mention the conversation.

People may ask, “Where can I find good cannoli in Alexandria, Va?” So you can monitor Italian food items, such as “Alexandria Virginia cannoli” or “Alexandria Va spaghetti.” Adding “Va” or “Virginia” eliminates all the others as there are many, and not just in Egypt.

You can also use phrases and exclude terms to eliminate unrelated results. For example, the Italian restaurant wouldn’t want results for cannoli recipes. Use “cannoli -recipe” to have Google Alerts search for cannoli, but omit any that mention “recipe.”

How do I monitor conversations?

Many tools can help you monitor social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), blogs and comments, discussion boards and forums, videos, news, images and Wikipedia for mentions. It can be as simple as setting up a basic Google Alert where you enter search terms and the frequency of the emailed updates.

Some tools send you automated updates. Others require you to go in the tool and do the search.

Here are some free tools to get you started:

How should I respond to a problem?

First rule: respond quickly. You don’t need to have a solution when you respond. Just apologize and be polite and empathetic. Customers can be forgiving if a company admits its mistake. It’s how the company responds that matters. Accept there will be negative comments and reply to those comments as soon as possible.

Here are a few phrases for ideas of how a company can respond:

  • Apologize: I’m so sorry for your experience. I apologize for keeping you waiting.
  • Request follow up: Please follow us so we can DM. Please contact us at email@address.com or call 555-555-5555 and ask for Joe.
  • Show appreciation: Thanks for letting us know. Thanks for telling us about it so we can fix it.
  • Say what you’ll do next: We’re looking into it. We’re working to come up with a better way to prevent that from happening again.
  • Follow up in public and private until issue is resolved: We’re upgrading our software to permanently fix the problem. We’re revising our policy to reflect the changes. Everything is back online again – thanks for your patience!
  • Compensate the customer: We’ve given you a full refund. Please enjoy your next visit on the house.

The Vegas hotel is an excellent example of how to respond to a mistake a competitor makes. Rather than exploiting it, the hotel showed empathy and left it at that. Here’s an apology letter from Southwest Airlines to Kevin Smith – yes, that guy who’s a director – for kicking him off a flight.

Avoid deleting or requesting the removal of a comment. That adds salt to the wound and brings more attention to the negative comment.

Every situation is different. The key is to respond quickly and politely. It would help to create a plan with different situations and how you’d respond to each. A hotel could run into problems such as ventilation, housekeeping services, supplies, customer service desk wait times and the check out process to name a few.

Your brand stands a better chance of surviving and thriving when you monitor and respond. The complaining customer may turn around and write something positive. It means keeping customers, bringing in new ones, having an unhappy one turn into a happy one and maybe getting a few evangelists.