The Tyranny of the Social Customer

A small section of a recent post called 3 Ways Social Media Affects Brands on the Practical Commerce site sent a chill up my spine.

What was so horrifying, you ask? Well, if you’ve got the stomach to see the terrifying sentences I saw, read on. If you manage a brand or sell a product, you may not want to continue.

Best Buy You Disappoint Me

Some rights reserved by Rob Boudon

OK, enough warning, here’s the passage, in a section called Customer Experiences Become Public:

I’m aware of a shopper who recently tried to return a pair of logging boots to a retailer. The boots had been worn for nearly three months. They were scuffed, scratched, and torn. When the retailer offered to refund half of the purchase price instead of returning every penny, the shopper threatened to post to Facebook about his bad experience.

OMG, the guy tried to return worn out shoes for full credit and then threatened the retailer with Facebook! The worst thing about this is, we don’t know if the shop owner caved. The writer, ARMANDO ROGGIO, doesn’t tell us!

The very fact that an unreasonable customer can get his or her way by threatening an adverse review on social media should have anybody who sells anything shaking in their fashionable boots.

If the poor retailer did cave in, it’s only because he or she doesn’t truly understand a fundamental truth about social media: the crowd knows. Put another way: the best cure for negative speech is more speech. In still other words, if you’re doing right by most of your customers, you don’t need to worry about—may not need to even acknowledge—the occasional nasty remark.

Roggio suggests this in the next paragraph of his post: “Similarly, a shopper recently posted on the same retailer’s Facebook page about how helpful the company had been during a recent shopping experience.” He goes on to say that this kind of experience (the negative one, not the positive ones) can negatively affect a brand’s reputation.


Let me give you a counter-example from a recent article about a review on Yelp, the restaurant (among other things) rating site.

Here’s a Yelp review of the restaurant Anella:

…we’d gone out of our way to make reservations for 7 of us, and while 3 of us showed up on time, the rest of our party was lost somewhere in Gpoint. At which point the uber bitchy hostess says, we can only hold your table until 9:15pm and then we’re giving it away. We offered to go ahead and order for our lost compadres and apologized profusely, promising that our companions were definitely on their way, but she refused to make any accommodations. She snidely suggested we try to sit at the bar. ALL SEVEN OF US.

Now I’ve eaten at a lot of hoity toity restaurants, but NEVER have I encountered such a terrible attitude from a hostess. You’d think we were trying to get a table at Daniel. And we made a reservation!! This is Gpoint, dude. How do you get off with an attitude like that for a sweet neighborhood restaurant in Gpoint?!?!?! I am never coming back.

Maybe she just needs to get laid.

That’s a pretty bad review, right? But Anella gets four of five stars from 134 reviews on Yelp, so what’s the worry? There are a handful of one-star reviews, and, of course, any business can have off days, just like any customer can. However, the hostess involved in the review took offense to the personal attack, and posted a reply that not only follows our dictate to Be a Person but also turns the negative into a positive:

Hi Joan. I am the hostess, although most people know me as the owner. I just wanted to say thanks so much for making it clear what our super reasonable seating policy is. We do not seat incomplete parties in our 30 seat restaurant, especially on a Saturday night, especially when we have other customers who have been waiting an hour for a table. And lets be honest Joan, you and two of your friends arrived at 9:15 for your 9:00 reservation, the rest of your party was still not complete at 9:25 when I finally gave away your table. Your friend had made the reservation that afternoon for 8 people and I explained to him our rules. He said no problem. Sorry you felt the need to personally attack me about this, Joan. Seems likes it best for all involved that you’ve sworn to never return.

Nicely done. The customer is NOT always right, and people know that. I’m sure you have  been out on the town with a friend who has gone ballistic over a small fault in service. How did you feel? I mean, besides embarrassed? You felt like your friend was acting like a jerk.

It’s the same on social media. If a prospective buyer sees hundreds of good comments or reviews and one or two cranky ones, the buyer will understand. We all encounter trolls in real life and tend to discount what they say. It’s exactly the same online.

So don’t go crazy if you see a negative comment online (see the post, CIOs: Techniques for Handling Social Media Negatives, from our What CIOs Need to Know About Social Media series for more info), and don’t panic.

If you’re really worried about the negative Nellie, you can encourage your best customers to either address the matter directly, or (preferably) just comment honestly about their own experiences. In a recent example, in the CNBC article, Defending Your Reputation With a Strong Offense, a dentist was dismayed to find negative reviews of her practice online:

[S]he encouraged her patients to write their own reviews. While those more favorable contributions helped push down the negative ones for a while, they started to reappear a month later.

Since subscribing to about six months ago, the negative reviews have  become harder to find.

By the way, this all doesn’t mean you don’t need to worry about negative reactions on social media. See our Social Media Hall of Shame for examples of companies who have been bitten by social media negativity. But if you act honestly and respond respectfully when necessary, you’re going to be lots better off than if you act like, say, Nestle or Motrin, to name just two hapless companies inducted into the Hall.

I hope that doggone lumberjack didn’t get the full refund he demanded, or even the half refund the retailer so graciously offered!