Kate Caufield – There it was, for everyone to see.
When she saw it on her company’s facebook wall, the owner of ACME Event Center was horrified. With a quick click of her index finger on the X, it was gone. No one would see it again. She breathed a sigh of relief, and went on about her day.
It reappeared on the facebook wall of the local Chamber of Commerce, the local Main Street Organization, and the local Independent Business Alliance. It popped up on facebook pages for several local magazines and non-profit walls. Each of these pages had more than 500 ‘likes’- so now, potentially thousands of people had seen the negative post. Not only that, something new had been added: “ACME Event Center didn’t reply to me, and also had the nerve to delete my complaint!”
So what actually happened?
A customer attended an event at the venue on a large and notoriously raucous holiday. The venue simply hosted the event, and had nothing to do with the actual presentation and flow of the evening. According to the customer, things were crowded, loud, and the bathrooms an absolute mess. When they approached what they thought was a staff member of the venue, the staff member was rude and unhelpful. Enraged, the customer did what many do these days: He turned to social media and explained his frustration with his experience.
At that point, ACME Event Center had three choices: 1. address the issue directly on their own facebook wall, 2. Ignore the issue and/or delete the post, or 3. Write a private response back to the customer either via facebook or email. Obviously, they chose number two, and from there the situation snowballed and multiplied on every page where the customer re-posted the story.
While that could have been a disaster, ACME Event Center’s CEO realized fairly quickly that she was going to have to address this customer directly, on all seven facebook pages that he’d posted on. She carefully and professionally explained that she was very sorry that he’d had such a bad experience, and that the event he had attended was actually put on by a third party. She also offered him a refund, and free attendance to a future event, at her expense. It took a good portion of her afternoon to track down everywhere he’d posted, and to answer each with her response.
So what should small businesses take away from this story?
First- whether you’re on social media or not, your customers are, and they’re talking about you. Most of the time it’s good stuff, but know that they’ll not hesitate to share the negative as well.
Second- When a customer DOES post a negative experience they’ve had with your business, do not EVER ignore it or delete it (assuming no inappropriate language has been used). No matter the complaint, leave it up on your wall, and use it as an opportunity to showcase your customer service skills. People are watching to see how you handle this, and they will judge your company by your response- or lack of response.
Third- Don’t just respond when your customers post negative experiences. Express appreciation and gratitude when they take the time to post their good experiences, too! We are all customers somewhere, and let’s face it, we like to be heard and acknowledged!
Everything turned out fairly well for ACME Event Company, and they avoided the fallout that would have happened had they continued to ignore the issue. No small business is immune from the open forums that social media provide, and neither is yours. Whatever you do, make the time to keep up with what your customers are saying, and address it as it happens. You’ll keep your customers and make new fans!
Kate Caufield is a Business Advisor for the Southeast Indiana Small Business Development Center, an organization with the mission of having a positive and measurable impact on the formation, growth, and sustainability of small businesses in Indiana, and to develop a strong entrepreneurial community. Kate can be reached at [email protected].
*Image via facebook.com