Handling Digital Trolls & Difficult Customers Online

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  • 0:03 Don't Feed the Troll!
  • 0:33 What Is a Troll?
  • 1:59 When a Troll Is Not a Troll
  • 2:38 Difficult Customers and Trolls
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

That angry customer: is he a troll or does he have a legitimate concern? In this lesson, you'll learn more about identifying each type of customer and how to handle both in an online setting.

Don't Feed the Troll!

What comes to mind when you think of a troll? A cave-dwelling dwarf from a favorite fairytale? A gnarly, mythical creature who casts spells and stirs up trouble? Sadly, today's ''trolls'' are a bit more difficult to spot. They may look like that guy across from you on the bus or the woman in line behind you at the bank. Yet, they're all about stirring up trouble.

This lesson is all about trolls: who they are, what they want, and how you, as a customer service representative, should handle them. Let's get into the lesson.

What Is a Troll?

You've probably seen trolls in action. They're on message boards heckling you about your favorite team. They're sprinkled through online forums or social media, ready to call names or post outlandish comments simply to provoke a reaction. They may even be in your inbox or direct messages, taunting you with controversial statements that make your blood boil.

Digital trolls may not look like the trolls you remember from childhood stories, but they can be scary nonetheless. A troll, for the purposes of this lesson, is an online participant who uses offensive or jaw-dropping comments or photos to attack other users, to offend people who are reading, or to generally disrupt the conversation. Before the internet came along, we might have simply called them a troublemaker.

In customer service, it can be difficult to identify who is being a troll and who is simply a disgruntled customer with an ax to grind. Here are some immediate red flags:

  • Trolls go for a ridiculous position in an argument, making outrageous or unbelievable comments
  • Trolls fight not with facts, but with inaccuracies
  • Trolls hurl personal insults and attacks
  • Trolls can't let an issue go, even after everyone else has stopped talking
  • Trolls don't abide by the rules of the online community
  • Trolls question things that don't warrant questioning
  • Trolls are in it just to start a fight or get people keyed up
  • Trolls will insinuate you said something you didn't, putting words in your mouth

When a Troll Is Not a Troll

So, you've got a pretty good grasp of what a troll is, but how do you know if the angry person on the other end of the computer keyboard is simply an irate customer with a genuine concern? The first thing to pay attention to is the content of their comment. Are they badmouthing the entire business or a specific problem they had with a product or service? If you engage them, they'll likely explain the situation to you rather than hurl personal attacks. Reach out to them and give them an opportunity to talk. They may start off angry or hostile, but will eventually shift toward trying to get help with their issue. That's how you know: When a customer presents a legitimate concern and is looking for a legitimate answer.

Difficult Customers and Trolls

Dealing with these type of people online can be a difficult, but not impossible, task. Particularly in customer service, it is important to have a solid plan in place for how to manage these types of individuals. If you need a set of steps to follow, we've got you covered:

1. First, set - and know - your policy. How should you respond to these individuals - or should you? This step requires a substantial amount of training so that all business departments who encounter trolls are on the same page. If you're monitoring an online forum, such as a social media account, be sure those forums have visible policies for how users are to conduct themselves.

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