The internet’ can seem like a vast and overwhelming sea of voices that is amorphous and rather anonymous but when you’re providing a service to consumers you have to be prepared for some of that comment to be coming your way. And by being prepared I mean you need to be listening, checking what is being said about you online and, if necessary, responding. The power of the digital sphere means that you can very easily find yourself with a reputation that your business neither merits nor wants but once that mud is thrown then it can very often stick. This is why monitoring what people are saying about you – and how they are saying it – can be instrumental in heading off a PR crisis before it has begun. You can not only answer your critics but also prevent a negative thread from becoming a bandwagon that any old troll will jump on just for the hell of it.
A prime example of the value of digital listening comes from a restaurant in New York, which found itself the target of a very negative review from a very annoyed customer. You might think that this is par for the course with restaurant reviews – and in most circumstances it is as you simply can’t please all the people all of the time. However, in this case, the review was based on something of an unfair assumption – the customer wanted the restaurant to provide ‘take out’ for a meeting they were having just across the street. The restaurant refused. It was quite clear from all its listings and advertising that it didn’t provide take out. Nevertheless the customer became angry, demanding that take out be provided and highlighting that the restaurant offered customers doggy bags for uneaten food and, as a result, should also be able to use the same containers to provide the take out food it so wanted. The review gave the restaurant just one star and went as far as branding the staff at the restaurant rude and ‘too good for its customers.’ If you read the review as a standalone piece of information you would have avoided said restaurant like the plague.
However, the restaurant, monitoring online for comments, picked up this review and replied. With the reply it was able to clarify that its policy was not to offer take out, that this was made abundantly clear across all of the restaurant’s online presences, because it felt that its food should be plated in a certain way. Yes, doggy bags were offered but that was not how the food was served – to anyone. The review also dealt with slurs against its character but pointing out that in fact the customer had been the first to get irate.
It then provided a clever analogy of itself (i.e. a restaurant that does not do take out) and another establishment (i.e. a restaurant that does do take out). This took the form of an imagined discussion concerning lawyers – as the customer had apparently repeated his status as a lawyer many times during the conversation when demanding take out. The restaurant asked the customer to compare being a non take out restaurant faced with a request to provide take out, to being a tax lawyer asked to manage a divorce and to consider the implications for reputation of a customer demanding a service that isn’t actually available.
Although the restaurant didn’t exactly hold back it managed to remain professional, to clear up misunderstandings and also to introduce an element of smart humour, all of which recommend it far more to potential customers than either leaving the comment without response or replying with equal ire. It was a smart strategy that is applicable to just about any service based industry.