Social media gives businesses a chance to interact with their customers, with real time customer service and troubleshooting. However, this access comes with a price: for every twenty satisfied followers, you will assuredly run into a vocally dissatisfied customer. Many may have legitimate complaints, but there will also be those who use social media solely to make personal attacks on you and your business.

How do you handle complaints, without alienating customers or increasing tension? While far from complete – every situation is different – here is a list of some best practices to consider for handling and preventing customer complaints:

1. Do not try intimidation

When someone attacks your business online, your first inclination may be to threaten or otherwise intimidate the attacker into taking down the complaint. Do not do this! Far from helping you, this only serves to add fuel to the fire. Threatening your customers online never solves the harm they are causing you, and it often backfires dramatically.

Trying to hide, censor, or remove a piece of information usually has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely. This is referred to as the Streisand Effect, so-called for when Barbara Streisand sued a photographer in an attempt to remove a photo of her house from a website. Like Barbara, you will find online arguments costly, due to the additional customers and prospects watching from the sidelines. So make sure everyone that works for your company knows how to slow down, breathe, and watch their responses – consistently. Train them to think about the big picture – your company depends on it.

2. Reach out to online complainers directly

The first thing you want to do when you read an insulting tweet aimed at your company such as, ”Company X is awful, they charge you twice! Must think we are suckers. #FAIL.” is respond angrily. Do not do that!

You and your staff need to keep calm and craft a response that is thoughtful and positive. Most importantly, you need to respond to the original complainer with a message that acknowledges their complaint and invites them to discuss it with you. Offer various methods to contact your customer service, on- and offline. Do your best to take the conversation to an offline arena, where you can both calm down and work towards finding a solution. Once you resolve the problem, you should ask the complainer to take down or amend their original message.

3. Do not delay responding

Time is of the essence! Your social media representatives must be constantly and consistently monitoring mentions and interactions. The only thing worse than getting into a social media situation is realizing you are embroiled in it after everybody else. A small error + slow response time = colossal public relations disaster, even if the response time is the length of an afternoon. As soon as something pops up on the radar, you and your team should be formulating a response – or better yet, already have a company procedure in place for them to follow.

4. Train your social media representatives in customer service skills

Social media response is, for all intents and purposes, a customer service job. Yes it is customer service at a breakneck speed, with various hazards and quirks, but you are still serving the needs of customers. If your users are expecting your company to meet their needs online, you should be prepared to meet those needs superbly, energetically, and as quickly as possible.

Start off on the right foot by staffing your online presence with people, not technology wizards. The latter may have more technical skills, but by making your focus customer-centric, you will strengthen your brand, your relationships with customers, and your business will win out in the end.

5. Prevent complaints in the first place!

Unhappy customers are more likely to complain on places like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Twitter, and other public online forums if they are not receiving the help and attention they need in the first place from your company’s customer assistance. They want to know that your company is only a phone call, email, or online form submission away, so prove it to them.

Offer live chat on your website, especially for when your FAQ’s fail to assist. Offer “chime-in” forms everywhere. Provide an easy way to respond at the bottom of every corporate email, and ensure that it reaches the mailbox of someone who cares. Ensure the first impulse of your customers is to reach out to you, day or night, instead of lashing out online. Proving your rapid responsiveness will keep customer complaints in the family – and improve your business’s bottom line!