For the last week, I have been watching a small business self-destruct via Facebook. It hasn’t been pretty and it was totally preventable if the business owner truly understood the power of social media.
I am part of a Facebook group for a vendor I use for my own sewing hobby/ business. The people in the group are not only very active in that particular group, but also in many other related groups. Over the last month, customers have noticed a sudden drop in overall quality of the vendor’s product. Naturally, these customers have reached out to the company’s customer service – but unfortunately, they have gotten less than satisfactory responses. Some customers have even been on the receiving end of responses that are accusatory in nature, with the company blaming their customers!
Customers are understandably upset & are now taking their concerns to the business’ Facebook page, which is common in the “social age.” This is where things are getting ugly. Instead of addressing negative comments & customer complaints, the company deletes them. The company owner has started sending rude Facebook messages to complaining customers, telling them not to post concerns or negative comments to the Facebook page, and going so far as to bring up comments the customers made in other groups.
Yes. The owner is “e-stalking” the customers & monitoring their activity on pages that are NOT the owner’s business page!
Further, customers are being banned from the group for “bullying” because they dare to post dissenting opinions. While all of this is playing out, these customers are talking in other groups and even posting screen shots of the messages they received from the business owner. The negativity is getting around and lots of people are talking…which also means that lots of customers are choosing not to shop there anymore. This includes people who have been customers for years and who have spent thousands of dollars with this company – and all of them are now taking their business elsewhere.
This sort of negative attention and resulting customer exodus will certainly have a long-term impact on this vendor’s business. As Maya Angelou famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – and you can probably imagine that being insulted by the owner of a company that your dollars helped succeed makes someone feel pretty terrible for a long, long time. In fact, research shows that 39% of consumers will continue to avoid vendors two or more years after a bad experience.
What’s more, a handful of bad customer service experiences can have far-reaching effects - 54% of consumers have shared bad experiences with more than five people. Websites like Yelp! have not only made sharing poor experiences easier, but they’ve also broadened the audience for these tales. This means that even consumers who have not personally been affected by a company’s bad business manners may steer clear of it anyway – as much as 88% of consumers have been influenced by an online customer service review when making a buying decision.
The owner of the company I’ve been watching implode on Facebook could have handled it so much better simply by being transparent over social media. Addressing customer concerns in real time and in a public space makes them feel appreciated & important, and other customers who witness the exchange can rest assured that they will also be heard if they have a problem. Peter Roesler at Inc. offers some good advice:
“A key tenet of good PR is that whenever a company makes a mistake, they need to make an honest effort to acknowledge the problem, apologize and ameliorate the situation. Trying to hide or ignore a problem will only make the effects worse in the long run. This is especially true with complaints on social media networks. Ignoring, deleting comments from, or banning consumers with a legitimate complaint only makes them angrier and they are likely to attack the social media page, or the brand itself, in other ways. For example, they may use a friend's profile to continue posting negative comments, ad infinitum. They may also take their angry comments to a review site or list the business with a scam site.”
The message here is clear: if a business doesn’t properly manage its social media and proceeds to ignore the concerns of customers, then it is just digging its own grave.