I don't know if it's because of the industry I’m in, but I find bad customer service stories--and the way that companies handle them--fascinating. Especially when it comes to dealing with customer complaints through social media.
Back in the days, the motto of most industries used to be that "the customer is always right," right? Especially in the service industry: companies tend to obsess over these things, knowing that one bad experience could wreck your reputation, because that customer would tell their friends, who would tell their friends, etc.
I think that logic has grown exponentially with the advent of social media, because now, not only can word of mouth spread about one bad experience, but customers can tell their story online, to a larger group of friends. And it gets even worse if the owner of the restaurant chooses to respond.
So I have a friend who went to a local restaurant on Easter and had a bad experience. In fact, it upset her so much she was motivated to post a one star review about it on Facebook. Here's what she said:
(Tedwords' note: In order to protect these damn fools from themselves, I am going to change the name of the restaurant for this story. Let's call it the...hmmm, let's call it the Madison House.)
"Had an awful experience on Easter. The woman at the check in desk would not look up at us just barked "wait in the bar or around the corner"...the man who rounded us up in the bar was rude, gruff, did the 'wrap it up' motion as he yelled come on, wrap this up I have a table ready...walked away from us about 4 times, barked at us asking what party we were with about 3 times and finally herded us like cattle to our table while pushing people out of the way. There was a lot wrong that day from overbooking so we were cheated of a lovely elegant fine dining experience and given a cafeteria experience instead. The worst part is I sent my review to Madison House, giving them opportunity to respond and make it right. I received 2 responses from a man named Ron. First was "Three kids were in the bath room at different times and threw up from eating to much Easter candy, we did our best with that also some guest turned the fan off" because I said the smell in the place had 3 people in my party gagging. I did not respond to his email but he took the time to send me another the very next day. "By the way get the rest of the facts one waitress was in a car accident Saturday night and did not work , and one of our waitresses who worked on Sunday just buried her husband the previous week! Yes I love people who always so quick to judge " My review (which you can find on google, urban spoon, yelp and others) stated the only redeeming fact was that our waitress did smile and was friendly. I felt bad for her. Staff was getting yelled at across the crowded room we were sitting in. It was complete chaos and I can't believe Madison House absolutely does not care if a customer had a bad experience but instead insults them."
I found the review interesting, and it's absolutely her right to report it as she sees it. And honestly, most of what she did was report back what the owner of the restaurant said to her.
What surprised me, though, is that she received a response from the restaurant on her Facebook page--for everyone to see--half an hour later:
Dear Janice, I AM TRULY PROUD OF THE EXPERIENCE MY ENTIRE STAFF PROVIDED TO OUR GUESTS ON EASTER SUNDAY! I am also sorry that you were not among the 1300 customers who thanked us for making their Easter memorable. I am always appreciative of customer f Dear Janice, I AM TRULY PROUD OF THE EXPERIENCE MY ENTIRE STAFF PROVIDED TO OUR GUESTS ON EASTER SUNDAY! I am also sorry that you were not among the 1300 customers who thanked us for making their Easter memorable. I am always appreciative of customer feedback in order to improve the quality of service and standards that we strive to provide, However, we cannot ensure a guests satisfaction if they tell us after the fact. Out of the several managers and 60-plus staff members on that day, I find it hard to believe that you couldn't ASK FOR A MANAGER so that we could have the chance to remedy any dissatisfaction you experienced WHILE YOU WERE THERE! We pride ourselves in providing good service which is not easy in any restaurant, on a Holiday! The hostess, by the way her name is Mary, has been managing for over 25 years and is the sweetest person I KNOW! ...and as for the gentlemen who seated you, who is my husband by the may , He may not be all smiles and giggles but is very efficient and from what you said, he did his job well by following up on you consistently to make sure you were seated promptly. As for the Bernaise, all you had to do was ask and ANY MEMBER OF THE STAFF would have been happy to get it for you. WE ARE HUMAN but we can't read everyone's mind. I AM TRULY SORRY YOU HAD A BAD EXPERIENCE.with absolutely everyone of us.! That being said, if you have been to MADISON HOUSE before, you must know that your experience is not indicative of the standards we provide. I believe this review is unfair but I will use it to maintain and improve our Quality of standards! I THANK YOU, ROZ KELLY, PROUD OWNER of THE MADISON HOUSE!!
Hmmm. That’s not exactly the response I would have given.
The thing is, I can totally understand where Roz is coming from. I sympathize. It’s tough owning a business, especially on a busy day like Easter, when you have thousands of people coming in to your restaurant. That must be incredibly stressful and fast paced, and I’m sure it wasn’t much fun if kids were throwing up in your bathroom and you were understaffed. It’s a truly thankless task, and you are bound to upset a customer or two. Let’s face it, the odds are never in your favor.
I also imagine that Roz is probably a bit older and maybe not as skilled in the fine art of social media as others out there. But that’s a high expectation, isn’t it? I mean, Roz is the owner of a restaurant that’s been around for a long, long time. Probably family owned, I imagine. Her job is to manage a restaurant, right? Keep the lights on, keep the food ordered, keep the place staffed, keep the customers happy. She probably has five thousand things to do besides respond to a Facebook gripe. But she did.
And that’s my point: maybe it would have been better had Roz simply not responded at all. Or simply said something like, “Sorry you had a bad experience. We’ll try to do better next time.” Or, “Sorry you had a bad experience. Can I call you so that we can talk it over?”
Because the thing is, some of what she said, if communicated over the phone, probably would have come off quite differently. The fact that they are only human, that they make mistakes, that it was a busy day. People get that. And accompanied by a sincere apology, people will understand. (In fact, I had a similar experience at a local place a few months ago and that’s exactly what happened. And yes, I have gone back since.)
Instead, Roz chose to make a ton of really, really unfortunate mistakes.
· First off, she spent a lot of time USING CAPS to make her points. I know, she was simply trying to emphasize what she was saying. But of course, everyone else reading it thinks she’s yelling at the customer.
· She decided to bury the fact that she was truly sorry that my friend had a bad experience in the middle of her long response. Instead, the first thing she chooses to lead with is that she’s proud of the staff and her husband. Understandable, but it is positioning the staff and her hubby as in the right, with my friend being in the wrong.
· Furthermore, the first time she says she is sorry is not to apologize to my friend. Instead, it’s to say she is sorry that my friend was not among the 1,300 who had a good experience that day. That is immediately setting someone up on the defensive: in essence, saying, “I’m sorry you didn’t see things the way everyone else saw it,” which minimizes that person’s experience and infers that what they are saying is untrue.
· Saying “we would have taken care of it, if you had just asked” is probably not the wisest thing to put in writing. What you’re basically saying is, “unless you complain, we are just going to treat you like crap.”
· You might not have meant it this way, but apologizing (once you get around to it) by saying “I AM TRULY SORRY YOU HAD A BAD EXPERIENCE with absolutely every one of us!” probably doesn’t come across as really sincere. In fact, it kind of makes it sound like you think the person was over exaggerating.
Of course, you can only imagine what happened after the response appeared. Dozens of people, ripping into poor Roz. Myself included. And probably thinking twice before going to Roz's fine establishment.
The point is, clearly this company was aware of the power of one bad review, which is why they felt obliged to respond so quickly. What they might want to do next time around, however, is think before they type, regardless of how unfair they think the review is. Take those high standards and use them in the response you’re sending to the outside world for everyone to see.
Aim before you shoot, Roz, I’m begging you. Seriously. The life you save may be that of your own restaurant.