About a week ago, the owner of a diner in Maine demonstrated some of the worst customer service conceivable.
Perhaps you saw the story, which went viral on social media and many national newspapers, including The Washington Post. In summary: a family walks into a crowded diner on a Saturday morning. Their toddler daughter, stressed and hungry, wails (for a period somewhere between 5 minutes and 45 — the details vary based on who’s recounting events). The owner grows wary of it (and, allegedly, so do other customers) and decides enough is enough. She runs up to the table, points her finger at the child, and screams at her to shut up.
Apparently, that did silence the girl. But it had the exact opposite effect on her mother, who wrote a review on Facebook that described the situation and how much it traumatized her child. The owner wrote a profanity-laden response that called the child “a monster” and “a beast.” The diner now has 22,000 (yes, twenty two thousand!) reviews on Facebook, mostly of the negative variety.
Now, of course, I was not there to know how much of the mom’s story is true. Moreover, I take it on good faith that no florist would ever publicly berate a customer’s child. So rather than rehash the crying incident, let’s focus on the owner’s response.
Bad reviews sting. But if you’re a business owner in the service industry (i.e. restaurateurs and florists) and you have decent volume, they’re going to happen. And they’ll more than likely be tied to times when you are slammed — on a Saturday morning for a diner owner; on Feb. 14 for a florist.
If you take it too personally, you can lose control of your emotions, like this diner owner did. While it’s a good idea to acknowledge the ugly review, it’s never acceptable to do so with the f word or to insult the customer. Long-winded responses also have the tendency to come off as defensive (even if you omit the aforementioned customer service sins) and they invite the customer to answer, which only makes the conversation — which is public — all the more visible and damaging.
There’s a lot of literature available on how to keep your cool in these situations. Here’s a pretty straightforward guide, from Vivian Wagner, a contributor with American Express’ Open Forum:
Reading a negative comment about your business, your employees, or your products or services can make you want to justify yourself and claim that the commenter is just plain wrong, misinformed or simply off-the-mark. While these are natural reactions, they won’t help your brand or your social media presence.
Whatever you do, don’t say that the problem is a result of something the commenter has done, even if you think that’s true. Also don’t blame the commenter for a false or misleading comment. Never take a comment personally and write something emotional or accusatory in return. Instead, pay attention to what’s been said, then respond in a balanced, appropriate and professional way.
You don’t want to reveal too much in your response to a negative comment. Social media is a public space, and airing dirty laundry isn’t going to help your business or your customers. Try a simple “We’re sorry you’ve had this experience. Please call our customer service line if you’d like to talk about the specifics of your situation.” In some cases, revealing too much can have serious consequences, particularly with personal or medical information. Keeping it brief will help avoid problems down the line, and it will also encourage the customer to contact you directly to resolve the problem.
Consider Comments as Free Research
The comments you receive on social media are a kind of consumer research, and it can help both you and your business to look at them this way. Keep a record of comments as you respond to them, and make a note of any suggestions, tips, questions or problems people mention. After all, your customers might be giving you some valuable information that you’d normally have to dig to receive.
Yes, it’s hard to look at negative comments in this light when you’re in the midst of trying to think up judicious responses to them, but this perspective will help you to see the value in what can otherwise be a maddening part of maintaining a social media presence.
Remember That Everyone’s Reading Your Responses
Probably the most important reason to respond to comments—both negative and positive—is that everyone else is reading them. Although many people won’t comment themselves, they’ll read the comments of others, and they’ll pay close attention to how your business responds.
Responding to negative comments is a chance for you to demonstrate how caring, thoughtful and engaged your business is, and how it solves potential problems. If you show that your business listens to and responds to feedback in an appropriate manner, you’re creating a sense of trust that will go far beyond the particular commenter you’re dealing with at any given moment.
Hire Someone to Do Your Responding
To really get the most out of social media, you might consider hiring a social media manager to stay on top of interacting with the public. If you do go this route, make sure to set a clear, consistent policy about commenting and responding to comments, so your social media person is on the same page as you.
Having someone to manage your social media presence is perhaps one of the best ways to keep negative comments from ruining your day. Just make sure to check in now and then to see what comments are being made and what helpful information they’re revealing.
If you’re not chiming in, when relevant, to customer feedback online, you could be hurting your business’s image. It’s time to get involved and speak up.