We’re Not Sorry Thank You.

We do a lot of work with the service industry. Over the years, individually and collectively Springers have worked with everything from international hotels to restaurant chains to tourist attractions. Most of us have even waited tables or poured drinks on the way into the business. Between bigfangled advertising gigs, Richard actually started and ran a chain of sandwich shops in London.

The service industry is a world that is always walking a winding line between levels of customer satisfaction. Most of the time a good job is done, customers are happy, they spread the word and more customers get happy. It goes without saying that social media has amplified and accelerated this word of mouth process in the service of both good and evil.

I believe that well aimed customer feedback, politely delivered, helps businesses big and small (mostly small) get better. If nobody’s feelings get hurt, a complaint is a favour.

But the angry, vitriolic often cowardly attacks on well-intentioned hard working people by what I call toxic complainers (people you might have to strangle and eat if you should be marooned at sea with them) or worse stuck with in a line up for coffee… these are the people who are ruining the fun for all of us. Say there’s this great restaurant that you always wanted to visit. You check on Yelp or Urban Spoon and are saddened to see that it has 3 ½ stars. Why? Because its glowing rankings from happy customers who have been impressed enough to take the trouble to rate it are cancelled out by the no stars review from the guy with mommy issues who is throwing a cyber hissy because his meal wasn’t arbitrarily awarded to him for free.

This is not my imagination here. Yelp is dying of “3-½ stars disease” because toxic complainers like to Yelp at the moment of the event, when anger is giving them the energy to do so. Now they can pull out their smart phones and have at it before getting home and slipping into a frowning couch coma.

Check it out and you’ll see. Yelp is now a sea of 3 ½ stars.

But back to the service industry. We have a restaurant client that has run a great feedback system for years. They really want to know and they believe quite rightly, that immediate feedback has improved what they do for their customers. Another hotel client of ours – part of a chain, has been handling feedback and complaints in much the same way for decades. But in the age of the toxic complainers it has turned these outstanding organizations into part-time apologists.

My advice? Don’t say sorry. Say thanks. Be glad to hear about the feedback, tell them you’re really good at doing the thing that was screwed up and let them know it won’t happen again. Buy them a drink or an upgrade on the next visit. That way, all the high value feedback types will still respect you and not look at you as someone who is getting very well practiced at saying the word sorry, which never engenders trust. No matter what you do toxic complainers will never be happy. I suggest that you’d be well advised to politely tell them to eff off and send them in the direction of your competition. And save your sorrys for that competitor. It’d be more fun.

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