Social media damage control: Is the customer always right?

Published: Monday, Nov. 19 2012 3:12 p.m. MST

Social media can be a boon or a disaster depending on how you promote your business and deal with unhappy customers and complaints online.

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I cut my teeth in small business driving the delivery truck for my dad’s small industrial supply company. “The customer is always right,” he would say. He was wrong — or was he?

Small businesses rely on happy customers to keep their businesses alive and thriving, so it really doesn’t matter if they’re right or not, it’s important for us to treat them like we believe they are. Particularly in a business climate where unhappy customers have the powerful forum of social media to air their grievances and complain, successful small business owners know that one unhappy customer can turn into dozens — or even hundreds — very quickly.

Not long ago, a friend on Facebook made a comment about a local restaurant that wasn’t very flattering. Apparently, an unreasonable customer made a public complaint about how they were mistreated and the restaurant argued, justified, and ultimately told that customer that maybe they should go to McDonald’s next time. The snarky and sarcastic comments over how the customer was trying to take advantage of a loyalty punch card drew the ire of my friend who weighed in and pretty much told the restaurant off.

I don’t know what was really said, but the restaurant pulled the negative Facebook comments down, did some more arguing and justifying and blocked him from making comments on their Facebook page — all this while lauding the openness of the public forum to discuss these types of issues. Positive and supportive comments are still up on the site as of this writing, but any negative comments have been deleted.

As a result, my friend took his comments to his network on Facebook, and shared his displeasure with the several hundred friends that follow him, comments the restaurant will never see and never be able to address.

Social media can be a great way to promote your brand and build a network of friends and customers. It can also be the harbinger of doom for those who don’t pay attention to or respond properly to unhappy customers. Here’s what I would have done:

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