Just because you have a gun, doesn’t mean you have to use it.
There, I said it. And perhaps the title of this piece is a misnomer because there are no hard and fast rules about how customers are supposed to act (and remember, ALL of us are customers at some point)…but I sure wish there were. We spend a lot of time talking about how businesses need to use Social Media to provide great customer service and handle complaints. But what is the role of the customer? Just because we can complain via Twitter or Facebook, should we?
This makes me think of Teddy Roosevelt and his admonition (taken from a West African proverb) to,
Speak softly and carry a big stick.
The problem is that with Social Media so handy, and smartphones in our pockets, we all carry big sticks. Or what I like to call “megaphones”. We have power. And with a few high profile studies of consumers who have brought businesses to their knees via a single tweet, we have become impatient. Poor customer service? Tweet about it! Post it on Facebook!
But this troubles me. Should this really be our first reaction, especially in relation to small local businesses?
About a month ago I saw an exchange on Twitter that just irritated me. It got under my skin for a few reasons. You can see the exchange below, and let me preface it by saying that I merely observed. I have not contacted any of the parties involved so I don’t know the end result of the exchange. I’ve also redacted the names of some involved because my goal, as my friend Gini Dietrich says, is to “attack the idea, not the people.”
As you read the following exchange on Twitter, remember a few things:
1. The person starting the exchange is a public relations professional.
2. The restaurant in question is a rapidly growing chain of fast food restaurants, and this particular franchise had been open less than a month.
3. The third person who jumped in is listed as a small business and communications coach who offers Social Media services.
Now, here are my observations:
1. I believe the PR Pro went too far. Did she let her feelings known to the manager at this particular franchise? If not, why not? And if so, why then escalate things online? And I think we overuse, and are too quick to use, the hashtag #Fail. Also, it was her first visit. I don’t know how bad the service is, but sometimes stuff happens.
2. The restaurant responded properly. Not only did they respond to her tweet, they responded very quickly (I believe it was in less than an hour, possibly within minutes). And they offered to help.
3. The PR Pro’s response was again out of hand. I don’t like reading tone and inflection into the text of tweets, but that’s all we have. And my perception was that she was being a bit uppity by questioning their request for a DM. Social Media 101 dictates that when you respond to a negative comment or complaint, you start the customer service process online and in the same public realm in which the complaint was made, and then you move the conversation offline, perhaps via email or phone. I believe the restaurant did everything properly here, and she called them on it. I advise all of my clients to do exactly what Smashburger did. She was wrong for questioning them on this.
4. The Business/Communications Coach fanned the flames. This third party observer chimed in and praised her for “creating a ‘case study quality’ tweet about whether a biz gets it or not!” Sorry, but he’s wrong. Yes, it is a case study, but not the one he’s thinking. It’s a case study in how NOT to use Twitter as a tool of complaint.
5. The PR Pro again responds improperly. She retweets the Biz/Comm coach’s tweet and says “Yes! Transparency is key.” This is not an issue of transparency. Even if the restaurant had responded to her the first time via DM, it’s not a matter of transparency. They were quite transparent in their response. Transparency doesn’t mean that the entire conversation has to happen publicly. Have we really come that far? Would transparency dictate that I reveal the names of the other parties involved in this situation? No, I don’t think so.
I’ve actually been sitting on this post for quite a few weeks but it came to mind because of something that happened locally yesterday. A popular regional restaurant opened up their first location in my city (their 6th overall). There was a lot of anticipation, and according to the owner (who happens to be a friend), the turnout was much larger than they expected. Sadly, at least one person used their Facebook page to complain about getting back to his office only to find it wasn’t the right burrito. The tone of the complaint was rather bitter, and again led me to believe that he never called them to complain. There were long lines and long waits, wouldn’t he think to check his order before he leaves?
I believe that our responsibility as consumers is to try to resolve things privately before using more public social channels. And even if we use public channels it should be more along the lines of, “Hey I had some problems in your store today, I’d love to chat”, as opposed to just calling the business out publicly and trying to shame them. Just because a company is using Twitter and Facebook, it doesn’t mean we have to hammer them with our big sticks. This is why so many small businesses are afraid to jump into Social Media.
Yes, businesses need to be prepared for negative comments and have a plan for how to handle them. In both of these cases, I believe both restaurants did a great job. But I don’t think either of them should have had to deal with our foot stomping and public temper tantrums. After all, that’s what they really look like to the rest of us.
Perhaps we need to take a cue from singer Dave Carroll of “United Breaks Guitars” fame. We hold him up as a hero of the consumer because he called a major corporation to task for their poor customer service. But what we forget is that when United broke his guitar, he didn’t rush to Twitter and Facebook to trash the airline. He didn’t go right home to record his humorous song and video and post it on YouTube quickly.
No, he first went through the proper channels, behind the scenes, via email and phone calls, and it wasn’t until nine months later that he finally threw his hands in the air and recorded the video that has made him a universal case study in the power of social media. Nine months! I don’t know anyone who has that kind of patience. I certainly don’t.
Just because you have the big stick, doesn’t mean you need to use it. As the old saying goes,
With great power comes great responsibility.
Social Media gives us, the consumer, great power. We need to be careful with that. I believe that speaking softly is not only the right thing to do, but that in the long run it can be more effective.
How quick are you to rush to Twitter or Facebook when you have a complaint? Are you willing to think first, and react a bit more discreetly? As a business, are you ready to respond properly to negative comments and complaints, whether they come privately or publicly?
- Six Reasons Social Media Doesn’t Work (spinsucks.com)
- Everything You Need to Know about Social Media Etiquette (inklingmedia.net)
- Three Examples of Social Media Gone Bad (spinsucks.com)
- Crisis Management: Six Keys to a Great Apology (spinsucks.com)
- Picking through the bones of Social Media failures (businessesgrow.com)