Over recent years, a number of South African restaurant brands have taken to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube in a bid to not only market their brand but also to attempt to convert complaining customers into lifelong patrons.

With more than 4.4 million ‘Likes’ on their Facebook page and 161 000 followers on Twitter, it is no wonder that Nando’s is considered a trendsetter as far as interacting with customers is concerned.

Here, Gardener provides three insights into how Nando's can teach marketers how to turn angry customers into lifelong fans:

1. Defuse uncomfortable situations with humour

Whether on social media, television or in print, Nando’s has mastered the art of combining good humour with even better food. If there is one thing South Africans have learned to do over the past few decades it is to laugh at ourselves despite the curveballs that life in Mzansi so often throws at us.

Ad campaigns 'taking the mickey' out of what could easily have been perceived to be ‘serious matters’ such as load shedding, Robert Mugabe, sexism, racism and even guide dogs admittedly raise a few eyebrows – but with excellent marketing results.

The brand has very successfully managed to create a very diverse online community where customers can interact with the brand not only about their food but current affairs as well.

2. Handle customer complaints as a matter of urgency

The first thing you will notice when visiting the brand’s Facebook page is that it allows guest posts. While they may not be viewable by the public, it does give customers an additional platform to gain feedback with regards to their concerns and complaints.

When making use of the messaging function, the brand is known to typically respond within an hour. Such a timeous response can go a long way in defusing a volatile situation and turning a bad customer experience into a good one.

3. Never underestimate the power of well-trained staff

While it has become habitual for disgruntled customers to complain about a product or service on social media, many still make the effort to complain at the restaurant. Well-trained, compassionate managers and staff can make a world of difference as far as placating an angry customer is concerned.

A testimony on HelloPeter states how a customer had to make a call to the restaurant after getting home and realising that she received the wrong order. Guns blazing, she was met with what she describes as a ‘humble and soft-spoken man who apologised for the error’.

A situation that could have cost the food chain a customer ended up gaining them a lot of respect, and possibly a life-long patron.

So what is the best way to deal with an unhappy customer?

While Nando’s is doing pretty well with a humble and often humouristic approach, it may not work for everyone. Before responding to any complaints, make sure you are calm and in a good frame of mind. Rather delay your response by a few minutes than reply in anger.

Don’t ever ignore an upset customer, as problems such as these can escalate very quickly – especially on social media. Make sure you check all your social media pages and email regularly or appoint someone to do it for you. Refrain from fighting online at all costs and always try to formulate an open discussion.

Regardless of how popular your brand is, problems are bound to arise that lead to customer complaints. More often than not, handling the complaint in a humble yet professional manner will not only rectify the matter at hand, but it will also lead to increased sales through very effectual word-of-mouth advertising by a life-long patron.