Not long ago, a disgruntled customer would ask to talk to the manager or call customer service to complain. Now with social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and online blogs, consumers have a new way to get companies' attention, and it's not always pretty. One negative comment or review on a public forum can dent a company's reputation, depending on how the company responds.
"It used to be in customer service, one dissatisfied customer could tell many people. Now one dissatisfied customer can tell 20 million people, so it's really changed the dynamic of customer service," Mike Wasnorowicz, president of M. S. E. A. Solutions, a human resource management company in Auburndale that also offers customer service training.
Depending on how the situation is handled, he said, it can result in a win-win, win-lose or lose-lose outcome.
When a customer posted a comment on a public Facebook page about her dissatisfaction with the service at Winners Circle Sports Bar and Grill in Lakeland, it led to a long conversation with varied opinions. Winners Circle owner Bill Alcock then posted on the thread, inviting her to contact him directly so he could make it up to her.
"Email me personally because I would like to make this up to you if you are willing to give us another shot," he wrote.
Although the comment wasn't favorable, Alcock said, it was better that he found out than not knowing at all that a customer wasn't happy.
"As much as you wish that your business is perfect, you know it's not at times and you have to make a positive out of a negative," he said. "We find that it's an opportunity to get better."
But 25-year-old Farah Zamor's confrontation with Just Call Bob Auto Repair in Lakeland didn't go as well. After posting on Facebook about what she said was bad service and a dismissive attitude, Zamor said, it resulted in an unpleasant online confrontation with the company. While both parties disagree on what happened, Just Call Bob's owner Bob Barr said in retrospect the situation could have been handled differently.
Zamor, a Lakeland resident, said she didn't want to sue or bother with the company anymore, so she turned to the very place that had recommended the company.
"I got their attention but in a negative way," she said.
Problem solved or not, in both cases, the customers got management's attention.
Donovan Tinsley, principal at tmr Agency, an advertising and marketing company in Lakeland, said there's a lot more good than bad from social media, which allows businesses to connect directly to their customers.
"The downside -- which is a good thing for the consumer -- is that businesses have to maintain a good ear to what the customers are saying because if they don't, the customer can use that same social media and talk about what they didn't like," he said.
And once it's out there, there's no stopping it.
If the conversation goes really negative, Tinsley said, a business should find a way to get the conversation offline by offering the disgruntled customer an opportunity to have a private conversation about it.
"The good news is when you do a good job, they will talk about it," he said.
Some companies have an employee in charge of managing and monitoring online conversations about their business. But some don't or are not proactive enough with web maintenance. So what's the worst mistake a company can do when there's a negative comment about it online?
"Either they ignore it or they don't see it in the first place, and those companies can suffer the wrath of the consumer and can suffer the consequences of that customer's complaints being in a public forum," Wasnorowicz said. "If you ignore a customer service complaint, no matter how crazy it is, it doesn't go away a lot of times."
Deleting the comment doesn't solve the problem either.
"The smart companies will take that problem and see it is a golden opportunity to solve a problem in the social arena," he said. "They want the world to know that they can trust their company to make it right."
But traditional means of getting to the manager aren't dead and may still be effective in getting customer complaints solved before turning to Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr. Calling to speak to the manager or the owner is still a good first step, and it works sometimes, Wasnorowicz said.
"Overall, I have to say social media does give the consumers an extra platform and a very powerful one at that," he said. "Now the onus is on the business side to take care of those people."
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