The complaint department: A local example of social media’s impact on patron-business interaction

Originally published on the Money & More cover of the York Daily Record/Sunday News on Sunday, February 5, 2012.

***I found this story while trolling on Twitter last weekend. Some seemed shocked at the interaction that appeared on their Facebook newsfeed. I decided to pursue it as a local example of a situation that plagues business across the country.

By LAUREN BOYER 
Daily Record/Sunday News

Joyce Salazar was washing bar dishes last weekend when a frustrated group mistakenly identified her as a member of the waitstaff.

That’s when the owner of La Casa De Tapas, which opened last year, said she swallowed a profanity-laced insult from a member of the party, frustrated that a table wasn’t available on that busy Saturday night. They had made a reservation, she said, earlier that day.

Salazar made some space at the bar. She offered them complimentary drinks and tapas – small Spanish, Peruvian and Mediterranean dishes – while they waited.

Nothing, she said, seemed to calm them down.

“This industry is the toughest,” said Salazar, who helped open more than 600 businesses in her past career as a consultant. “I saw everyone just working, working, working. They didn’t get breaks. My employees weren’t standing around.”

Displeased, the group departed. Salazar assumed the tiff was over – until the next day, when an unflattering review appeared on her eatery’s Facebook page.

It was one of the patrons from the night before.

At this stage, social media experts recommend business owners calmly address their critics.

“First, we tell them to consider the ripple effect,” said Mandy Arnold, president of Gavin Advertising in York. “You’re not just responding to them, you’re responding to all the people observing everything.”

And Tapas’ more than 250 Facebook followers – along with the general public – could access Salazar’s 11-sentence response, posted early Sunday morning.

“I am sorry you were disappointed with your experience at La Casa De Tapas. I remember your group very well. We were extremely busy last evening and the circumstances surrounding your wait was lengthy,” she wrote.

“I understand your frustration with the wait for a table” she continued, “but we expect our staff to be treated with respect. They were obviously working at full speed to accommodate the customers … “

She offered the party drinks and dinner during their next visit “at no charge.”

“I wanted to say what really happened,” Salazar said. “I didn’t realize it was going out to like … a million people.”

Salazar is still learning to use Facebook to promote specials at her 251 N. George St. restaurant. She initially made a profile on the social networking site to keep an eye on her 16-year-old daughter.

But keeping tabs on review websites such as Yelp.com – where she said one reviewer labeled her spot “La Casa De McDonalds” – is a challenge for the budding restaurateur.

She just doesn’t let the negativity get to her.

“Social media is nice, but it can be very harmful to businesses in particular,” she said. “If someone reads that, they might say, ‘I’m not going to go there.’ If you look at restaurants, people are very destructive.”

But deleting a complaint – no matter how harsh – is never advised, Arnold said.

“If someone’s expressing a concern, you want to validate it by leaving it up there,” she said. “Consumers understand there are going to be mistakes. They want to see how you are going to fix an issue. They want to know that if there’s a problem, you’re going to fix it.”

Salazar didn’t delete the scathing review. In fact, she said, she wouldn’t know how.

It simply disappeared shortly after – likely deleted by the original poster – leaving only the restaurant’s response, which garnered reactions ranging from support to questions about professionalism, she said.

In this case, experts recommend moving the conversation to a more private arena, like email, phone or Facebook message.

“You want to realize the communication channel you’re using and what’s appropriate,” said Kim Walsh-Phillips, president of Inside Out Creative, a marketing firm that manages social media for other downtown establishments, such as the White Rose Bar & Grill. “Deal with the problem on a one-on-one basis, so you’re not stealing someone’s newsfeed with a negative exchange they might not want to see.”

This type of interaction is far from new. It has challenged businesses long before the advent of the Internet. Competitors, Walsh- Phillips said, would once wage war, slamming each other through newspaper ads.

“(Facebook) is just easier, faster and free,” she added.

But, Walsh-Phillips said, Salazar made the right choice in immediately addressing her critic.

“You want to let your other customers know that every business makes mistakes and that nobody’s perfect,” she said. “Every social media entity gives businesses an opportunity to comment back. You can’t control the conversation, but you can respond.”

And that’s what Salazar did. She just wanted to get the full story out there.

“I didn’t like the way they acted, and I wanted it to be clear that we didn’t want that type of incident here,” she said. “It didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t think people should be treated like that.”

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One response to “The complaint department: A local example of social media’s impact on patron-business interaction

  1. I get to be the first to comment on this :) hooray.

    One:Facebook has options where you can approve comments before they go up. I strongly suggest this and I disagree with what Gavin industries says about leaving up negative comments. This is their Facebook page a marketing page in fact, there are plenty of places to place reviews. Check out the Coca-Cola Facebook page, they get hundred of comments an hour and none of them say Coca Cola tastes like POOP or the Like (BTW I think Coca Cola is delicious).

    Second the case mentioned was an angry customer, in the response on the page by the owner, they mentioned things the customer said and where the customer worked. This is bad form in many ways. Also, the owner never actually addressed their restaurants problems, they blamed the customer, they blamed “unexpected business”, they blamed everything, but what they did not do was accept that they took a reservation and did not fulfill it. When you run a business the rule of thumb is never offer anything you can not make happen. If they lack the responsibility and planning to keep a table free for people showing up with reservations then they shouldn’t offer reservations. People make plans and an hour delay on dinner can really screw up a night or a business meeting.

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