Customer Service: Walk, Talk, Tweet And Take The Heat

by

I share EVERYTHINGJoe likes to take the team out for lunch eats :: often :: cuz he knows how to motivate a hungry crew of digital toughs.  And now that we’re located in downtown Naperville, our feeding choices have increased 10-fold.  Thus far, we’ve had some really good experiences. Heaven on Seven has some crazy awesome gumbo and unique cornbread with jalapenos infused. Flat Top Stir-Fry Grill is also a favorite because everything you make tastes good with sriracha. We also have some great fast options that always deliver top quality food and good customer service such as Five Guys and Chipotle.

But recently, we had a negative experience at a nearby eatery :: and of course, social media was involved. I won’t name the restaurant, but I’m going to tell the story, because I think we can all learn from it. First, some context…

Your Customers – Talkers vs Walkers – Taking The Heat

About 7 years ago I took customer service training classes through my former employer. I learned three primary concepts that will help us as we explore this topic (I already know that most of you are skipping down the page looking for the negative details of the story aren’t you?) But stay with me and understand these three concepts ::

  • Taking the Heat – when a customer is upset or expressing a problem, whether right or wrong, you as the manager need to take it in! Let the customer vent their frustrations. If possible, ask them probing questions that help them express their discontentment directly to you :: by asking them about their issue, you show that you care, and then you earn the opportunity, based on rapport building and first hand knowledge, to rectify it. Take that heat :: show you care :: never assume a solution without proper detail!
  • Talkers – some customers are talkers – these are the ones that will gladly tell you everything they don’t like about their experience. This is a positive thing as it creates opportunity :: opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. You need to let talkers talk so you can find the best way to help them. Never assume you can fix a problem with a talker before you’ve actually let them express themselves.
  • Walkers – these customers typically won’t say anything during their bad experience. They will just leave your establishment never to return. These folks are tough to help because they rarely give you the opportunity. They do, however, tell their friends about the bad experience. If you get a chance to converse with a walker, you must seize the opportunity and make it right! Walkers often just want someone to admit fault and nothing more.

Social Media Ups The Stakes

You know which type uses social media? :: Both! Make fun of me (and people like me) if you will, but I’m one of those who shares pretty much everything I do somewhere online. I’m a social “walker AND talker.” In certain situations in the real world, I will call over a manager and give them my opinion right on the spot – but in others, I am more passive :: but I ALWAYS share on social.

I share good and bad, funny and foolish with the people I call friends. For restaurants specifically, I almost always Check In on Foursquare (many times leaving a pic) which also auto-tweets the checkin on my Twitter stream. I often will check in on FaceBook as well and tag friends who I’m with. If the place has good craft beer, I photograph my brew of choice, write my thoughts of the flavor profile, and upload to my beer circles on Google Plus. Yes, I share EVERYWHERE :: and I’m not alone.

When it comes to taking the heat with social media, the business owner or manager has a great opportunity to converse with a customer directly while that customer can remain somewhat anonymous. This allows both talkers and walkers to express themselves and hopefully the experience will help the business improve while winning the customer back or making them more loyal. Monitoring your brand online is important :: engaging is important :: the way you engage is most important. (take that heat!)

When Social Interactions Become Face-to-Face

With social media talking and walking – there are opportunities for those checkins and Tweets to become face-to-face interactions. If you catch that Tweet or Checkin while the consumer is still in your store – you can make a real difference :: you can help them while you still have a chance to turn things around :: but be careful! This can seemingly “cross the line” based on the anonymous or separated nature of social media (I tweeted this to my friends and not you – for example) - so you have to be careful to handle these situations properly or you could make things worse.

So here is our story ::

Thursday, January 3rd was a big day for us :: a “kickoff of 2013″ so to speak :: we also had two new associates starting that day. After a productive team meeting we all went to “Restaurant Unnamed” around 12:15PM. There were initially 15 of us and we all sat up at the bar, but a couple minutes later, another 15 or so of our coworkers came in and took up residence at tables in the bar right behind us :: we were all on one tab. There was one server behind the bar – taking care of the entire restaurant. He was working hard.

We got our drinks within about 5 minutes of arriving – but from there it went downhill. 20 minutes passed and none of us had our lunch orders taken. It was at this point that I realized “Holy crap, I have tons of work left to do today and I’ve already spent 25 minutes here with just a Diet Coke.”

slow service tweetsI mentioned to a couple of my co-workers that I was thinking of leaving and grabbing something fast before going back to the office. But then I was told, “The guy is getting ready to take our orders right now.” And sure enough, he had started making his way down the line. Plus, da boss was paying and that was a strong reason to stick it out as well!

Because of the number of us there, it took about 10 minutes just to get our orders taken. I began to wonder, “Is this guy the only one here?”

It was at this time that I checked in on Foursquare and left the following message (that also auto-Tweeted)

1 server covering entire place for Thursday lunch. #slow #service (@ Restaurant Unnamed w/ @cordman31) http: //4sq . com/______)

Let’s pause here: when someone is waiting an inordinate amount of time in a restaurant and the small talk is all used up – what do they do?

Answer: they start updating social media sites on their smart phone.

What do they talk about?

Answer: whatever is on their mind – including the frustration of waiting in a restaurant.

After an additional 35 minutes or so, our food began to trickle out. When I say “trickle” I mean – 5 plates would come out, then 5 minutes later, 5 more and so on. It took about 20 minutes for everyone to get their food – because again, only one guy was there to handle all 30 of us plus the other tables of patrons in the place. I was one of the first to get mine – dinner salads are easier I guess.

I finished my salad quickly, and it was great! Really it was – I’d almost say it was worth the wait. Who knew red Bartlett pear and blue cheese with dried cranberry worked so well?

Anyway, I was sitting there waiting on others to finish their food and still others to get theirs when I caught out of the corner of my eye a woman walking briskly on the other side of the restaurant. She was dressed in all black and looked like maybe she worked there. My first thought was “they called in someone to help – too little too late,” and then I noticed she kind of smirked at me.

About 30 seconds later she came up behind me and introduced herself as the General Manager of the restaurant and said “I got your Tweet.”

(her earlier smirk came because she recognized me from my pic on Twitter and probably right at the same time I looked over at her)

Needless to say, I was completely caught off guard (which doesn’t happen often).

My reaction to her was “I didn’t Tweet you.”

“Yes you did and I want to let you know that I’m sorry this happened – we were not expecting such a large crowd for lunch 2 days after New Years.”

“Oh,” I said as I was able to collect my thoughts, “You must have seen my Checkin on Foursquare and that auto-tweeted to you.”

“Yes,” she replied, “And for your trouble, we are going to take care of your meal today, what did you have?”

“Oh, I’m not looking for anything free,” I said, “And what about my other 29 coworkers who have also waited all this time?”

“I’m just concerned about taking care of your meal right now, so what did you have?” she said.

So I told her what I had and she promptly walked away and into the back, not to be seen again.

Meanwhile, some in our party still had not gotten their food.

Some of you reading this may be thinking – she did a great job! Maybe on the surface, but I can tell you that she actually failed big time, and made things worse from my perspective (the customer).

What Should Have Happened

Remember what I said near the beginning of this article about “taking the heat” and identifying “talkers vs walkers?”  That needs to come into play here. Responding to a customer is great :: responding and engaging in social media is great too :: responding in person is also cool :: but you can’t get a feel for a customer in 140 characters or less. You have to truly care about customer feedback, embrace it, understand it and use it to make things better. It starts with listening – and that did not take place in the above conversation. It’s ripe with assumption and it misses the mark big time. The other issue is that I was not alone. You might even say that my Tweet was representative of all 30 of us :: but this manager did not see that broader picture.

If the general manager would have stepped back a minute and after her apology and explanation said, “I really want to help make things right, what can I do to help you?”

I would have asked, “Well why didn’t you come out here an hour ago and help your one server? Why didn’t you dig in and get some refills for us? Why didn’t you approach our large group when we first walked in and say ‘Hey guys, I’m going to ask for your patience with us since we are bit short staffed right now, but I am the GM here and I will personally work to expedite your lunch today’?”

(she could have allowed me to vent a bit :: she could have taken the heat)

Then a proper response from her could have been, “You’re right and I am sorry, I dropped the ball and that’s my fault 100% ::  has everyone gotten their meals now and if not, let me personally ensure those are brought out immediately.”

She could have ended with “I want you to know that I value your feedback and will use it to improve things here at ‘Restaurant Unnamed.” Next time you come back, Tweet me again and let me know if we’ve improved ok?

I would also recommend that a couple hours later, she go on Twitter and Tweet to me something like “Thank you again for coming in today – and thank you for your honest feedback – hope to see you again soon.

But none of that happened :: instead she assumed that I was just looking for something free and that was going to fix things :: but instead, she embarrassed me by singling me out among my coworkers. I won’t be going back there again :: probably never.

Conclusion

I’ve said this a couple times already :: but it’s worth repeating :: monitoring social media is great, but it’s what you do with the info you gain that really matters. And when you have the opportunity to take an anonymous social interaction and make it personal :: make sure you truly are personal :: listen, take the heat, offer solutions and learn. Then finally, and most importantly, use social media to follow back up with the customer and let them know they are important.

Final Note: I’ve often wondered why companies don’t put as much effort behind “thanking” their customers that share, Tweet and post positive messages about them. I rarely post anything negative but I often post positive messages and when possible, tag the business in question. If you’ve read all 2100 words of this post so far and you’re a business owner, I’d like to recommend you read Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, The Thank You Economy to learn a bit more about this concept.

What do you think? How would you have reacted to this situation if you were the manager? What if you were the customer? I’d like to know…

Meet Allyn Hane

Allyn Hane is a blogger first, and a blogger always. In 1993, serving as a photojournalist in the US Air Force, he became editor of a weekly base newspaper ::: there he learned the power of social interaction and its direct correlation to interesting and useful content... pre-internet.