HAS it died down already? Is it safe to come out now and talk about it? In the last week or two, Crab in da Bag and Lavastone Steakhouse have shown us how sometimes it’s better to not respond to negative feedback- especially when it’s for the whole world to see. And yes, that applies to your personal page too.
But on to the lessons in brand management.
Online user reviews are a dime a dozen in our online world. Such reviews can range from a simple ‘liked it, will try again!’ to a level of detail that sometimes borders on the obsessive compulsive. With great power, however, also comes great irresponsibility: smartphone-brandishing customers are also known to use social media to threaten eateries with the dreaded threat of a bad review. Sometimes this prompts a counterattack.
In a bid to rival Ms Joan Soon’s eye for detail, Crab in da Bag decided to cyber-stalk the customer, uncover private details of her life and post it in a passive-aggressive reply/defence. Just the kind of behaviour customers like to see from the restaurant they are thinking of patronising. Wait- is that waiter secretly taking my photo?
There are always two sides to every story. There have and always will be customers who are unreasonably picky. On the other side of the battle-line, cases of brands mishandling customer feedback pepper the internet landscape. Readers pick sides, fire off comments, thus starting a small war.
But as far as a brand is concerned, does it matter if there are voices on your side? Most people stop and watch a brewing fight because it is a chance to gawk at two idiots, and not because they care about the reputation of your brand. This sort of engagement forgets the objective of replying to customer feedback – to make the customer feel better.
Lavastone Steakhouse’s management, however, seemed like it was only interested in how the management felt. About everything.
The eatery, which coerced customers to give five-star reviews on Facebook in exchange for a free “upsized” steak, nonetheless copped a few bad reviews. Their response? Hit back hard with personal insults, capitalised words, exclamation marks, horrible spelling and other signs of immaturity. One bad review even received four raving, rambling replies from the steakhouse, which included accusing the customer of having a “poor attitude” and “no guts”. Now that is a unique dining experience.
The result of all this publicity was that people visited their Facebook page just to give them a one-star review, without even eating there. Their rating plummeted and the management felt compelled to publish another defensive post explaining that the one-star reviews are to be disregarded.
That’ll teach us to trust a public rating system.
Sometimes it helps to not fight back. Polite answers might not make it to the headlines, but there is a reason why the best customer service staff are always impeccably polite, even while kicking an unruly patron out of the establishment. Politeness helps de-escalate confrontations and keeps things under control. You can’t win over an unhappy customer by arguing with them.
But what may be the best way of all is to take things out of the public eye, where ego and public comments can really get in the way of two people trying to communicate.
Having the matter settled through PMs, email or a direct phone line not only allows for a more tailored one-on-one approach but signals to the customer that you’re giving weight to their opinion as well. While taking things offline means that the public will not be able to see you fix things, it ensures that a more personal touch is taken (the good type, not the CCTV I-know-your-friends-and-family type). If everything goes well offline, a follow-up comment may be added that to say that everyone is happy with the outcome.
Meanwhile, Lavastone Steakhouse continues to argue with reviewers online. At least we know which Facebook page to go to when we want to watch an online fight. Please feel free to rate the verbal combat.
As the saying goes: “Let them have the gutter. You take the high road. The view is better and there is less traffic.”