In life, and in business, you learn that everyone and everything is open to judgement. One of the most challenging parts about this is that impressions can be made instantaneously, and word can travel just as fast. It is difficult to change someone’s mind once it is made up, but not impossible.
In the business-to-consumer world, customer service is so important, but it can become frustrating and exhausting for all involved. Everyone has heard the mantra that “the customer is always right,” and for the most part, companies should err on the side of caution (and human nature) and follow this. The drawback is that there has to be a balance of sincerity, honesty and integrity between both parties, which isn’t always the case.
It might be easier for a company to dismiss a customer as “wrong,” but they should be taking the time to reevaluate their customers’ experiences to create a more efficient or tactful way to interact or engage with them. Now, I’m not saying that every time a customer thinks they deserve a free appetizer that you should question the entire integrity of your restaurant, but if the reasoning isn’t clear and it is a recurring issue, you may want to take stock of these requests and find the root of the problem. Is it that the pricing and audience don’t align? Or is it poor customer service that makes customers feel they should be compensated in some way?
It is true that customer complaints aren’t always rational, but it is the company’s responsibility to stay professional and find a diplomatic way to handle it. And this doesn’t just apply to complaints; any commentary or observation about you or your company is an opportunity to improve business, build a new relationship, or at least gain some respect.
Positive or negative, these kinds of conversations are happening on- and off-line, whether you are aware of them or not. Rather than trying to control the conversation, get in front of it, be an active participant, and remember to stay positive. The moment you start responding out of anger, fear, or frustration, you will lose.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (i.e. the Mormon Church) was a surprising example of keeping cool in the face of what could be seen as an offensive strike against their community, lifestyle and beliefs. When the creators of South Park wrote the controversial play The Book of Mormon, they could have shied away and cut any ties with the play. Instead, they looked at this as an opportunity to inject themselves into a conversation that was already being had about them. The church’s advertisements in the playbill are humorous and informative, quipping that “The book is always better.” Will this make me join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? No, but it did start some interesting conversations about the play as a social commentary, rather than just a comedy, and I respect what they did with these ads.
When it comes to criticism, especially online, it is not always constructive. Companies should, however, thank their patrons who take the time to express their opinions because it opens up the conversation that might not otherwise have happened. The LDS Church was aware that criticism about their beliefs would come with the opening of The Book of Mormon play and decided to inject themselves into a conversation in a way that did not bash the play, but turned the focus back on them in a more positive light.
Of course, as a company or organization, you would never wish for an angry Yelp review with false accusations or an undeservedly bad BBB review. With an online review or publicly stated opinion towards you, however, you are now given the opportunity to respond to something you might have otherwise been oblivious to (and ignorance isn’t always bliss.) If you owned a restaurant and all of a sudden you noticed that the crowd has been thinning night after night, wouldn’t you rather know what the issue is so you have a chance to fix it? In other words, you don’t know you’re the smelly kid in class until someone tells you.
There isn’t always going to be something so blatant and obviously aimed towards you or your services (like a direct Yelp review) so being active will give you the upper-hand and ultimately provide you with knowledge on how to make your customers’ experience better.
- Ask about a customer’s experience privately (preferably without incentives to keep it organic and honest)
- Respond immediately to any negative feedback by staying neutral and, if possible, offering something that will make their current or future experience better
- Respond immediately to any positive feedback (it’s just good manners)
- Aim to educate an audience that may have a bias against you or your industry
- Look into more than just your specific brand – is there a stigma around your product or service? Elevating the entire industry will ultimately help your business grow.
The bottom line is that people want to be heard, and want a chance to be a voice for their community. Consumers should be empowered to share their opinions and companies or organizations should embrace the good with the bad.
Be a part of the conversation that is already being had about you, stay honest and genuine, and remember that it is about building relationships, not being right. This will help to keep any negative sentiment from being exacerbated by a customer who feels they are not being heard.