Online has changed the way customers complain – but public relations can give companies a voice to strike back.
WHAT kind of customer are you when it comes to making a complaint?
The untroubled kind whose face never reddens pointing out to businesses those products or services not up to scratch or failing to meet expectations?
Or the type who doesn’t like to make a fuss and who will quietly accept failings, while forking out for something you feel is sub-standard?
Like so much else, the reality probably lies somewhere in between.
Even the most timid wee mouse can usually summon up the courage to take back faulty hardware, torn garments, or ‘fresh’ food that is actually fusty.
Yet even when a customer complaint is justified, many still suffer a twinge of embarrassment. Few would risk the beamer to return split shoes that have been worn for six months or cause a scene in a busy restaurant over tepid soup.
Complaining is hard, y’see. At least, it was until social media came along.
Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and online review sites aplenty sprung up, giving the customer a very loud voice – without having to stand in a shop/restaurant/hotel and look into the eyes of the very people you want to complain about.
When those social media platforms were shiny and new, they were scary places for businesses. The fear was that customers could – *gasp* – say exactly what they thought to thousands of other existing and potential customers.
Some businesses were right to be scared – those with products or services that suck; with customer service that is rank; who view their customers and clients as a big, fat cash cow which exists only to be milked dry.
However, most businesses in the small to medium bracket, are built on passion and pride and run by people who stake their reputation on the quality of their product or service.
Of course they slip up, so customer moans on social media and review sites can serve as an early warning, letting them quickly address problems and apologise.
With the real time web calling dodgy businesses to account and letting decent firms act quickly to fix customer issues, everything is rosy in the world of social media and online review sites, right?
I love the way an ordinary person now has clout they could only have dreamt of a decade ago. Businesses have to be mad to swing a deefie or give the rubber ear to a genuine customer with a legitimate complaint.
Unfortunately some customers aren’t genuine or their complaints aren’t legitimate. Moaning on social media is so simple and at such a distance that many are happy to badmouth a brand or business with barely a thought. A minority even choose to abuse this recently acquired power.
I’ve seen decent, well-intentioned businesses in sectors from property and utilities to restaurants and hotels on the receiving end of online behaviour which amounts to bullying or trolling.
In some cases the threat of a ‘negative review’ has been used to secure favourable treatment. In others disgruntled people have ignored attempts at reparation and willfully set out to cause long-term damage to a company’s online reputation.
So, I was interested to follow the recent case of chef Kiren Puri, who made headlines by challenging the claims of a diner who rubbished the food and service at his renowned pub, the Bladebone Inn, Berkshire.
That diner’s gripes – part of a one star review – were made anonymously on TripAdvisor. Perhaps the customer forgot that TripAdvisor allows those being reviewed to respond. When Mr Puri responded it was a belter, dismantling the claims against his venue.
The story broke round about the same time I was on a trip abroad, staying in accommodation booked via an online service called airbnb, which is most notable for its unusual review process.
Not only do guests rate the accommodation, but property owners give reviews on the quality, manners, tidiness and general disposition of the guests.
The online world has changed business for the better, by forcing companies to listen and respond to their customers.
Increasingly those businesses are finding they also have a voice. Customers who repeatedly complain, play awkward, demand freebies, or otherwise try to play the system may also find themselves being called out.
If complaining from behind a keyboard is coming too easily, you might want to think again.
If you wouldn’t stand up and say it politely to the face of the person you’re complaining about, maybe you’d be better not to say it at all.
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