I am a customer service snob, and I think I have the right to be. I have worked enough retail and hospitality jobs – and now public relations, arguably the ultimate in customer relations – to know the customer is always right (even when they are very, very wrong.) From flustered customers misdirecting frustrations to mall rats trying to swindle some free goods, at the end of the day, as long as the customer is smiling, you’ve done your job.
Well, not anymore.
While companies still hold this to be true within their policies and jurisdiction, social media has made it very clear who decides who is “right” and who is “wrong” – the public. If the public doesn’t agree with a (publically known) customer/company interaction, the balance between appeasing the customer and opposing public can be a difficult task.
Two examples of customer service related judgment calls with two different viral outcomes.
Ex. 1 – Earlier this month, patrons at a restaurant in Houston requested to move tables so they were farther away from a boy with Down syndrome. The waiter overheard one of the complaining customers say a degrading remark about the 5-year-old and refused to serve them. The story went viral; the restaurant’s Facebook page exploded with praise and the waiter is now being called a hero.
Ex. 2- A customer at a St. Louis Applebee’s who was displeased with the automatic 18 percent gratuity (required for large parties) decided to leave her own “tip” (heh) by crossing out the amount and writing “I give God 10 percent, why do you get 18?” Another employee posted the receipt to Reddit, where the Internet soon sided with the stiffed waiter. What happened after that is one of every social media manager’s worst nightmares.
Applebee’s fired the employee who posted the receipt, thus fueling the angry mob. After a series of seriously bad decisions – from citing rules the company’s Facebook page already blatantly ignored to deleting or hiding any unfavorable comments (the holy no-no of social media crises control) – Applebee’s found themselves in a full blown crises.
Take a moment to read the whole fiasco here. It’s a good read. We’ll wait.
Welcome back – What did you think? I know, right?!?
There is a lot of “shoulda, coulda” talk surrounding Applebee’s. It’s no wonder; this has been possibly the worst handled communications crises in the History of Social Media, Vol. I. Responses posted at odd hours, in odd places, being defensive and accusing. Applebee’s obviously didn’t have a social media crises plan; something we’ve stressed should be in place before it is needed.
Two customers-vs.-staff member-vs.-restaurant situations gone viral, two very different outcomes. Of course the nature of the offenses dictates the public’s response – while not always black and white, some incidents are easier to decide who is “right” as in the case of the waiter standing up for the boy. Religious comments, on the other hand, can make people all sorts of crazy and uncomfortable.
But rather than discuss the philosophy of it all or make some moot suggestions of what Applebee’s could have done better, I ask you:
Is the customer still always right, even when the public says he’s wrong?