Handling Feisty Feedback

I wanted to share my thoughts on fielding questions, complaints and suggestions on social media.

It's such a tough time for business owners. Social media is the true democratisation of power, and as much as businesses can benefit from the two-way communication with customers, it's a catch 22 because it gives a loud and public voice to the customer.

Every now and then someone will be brave (or disgruntled) enough to question the WHY in a public forum.

This is where having solid strong reasoning behind all decisions you make as studio owner is so important- however that is hard. As the leaders of our studios, we have to make hundreds of decisions a day, most on a whim. And it's easy to fall into the pattern of doing things a certain way "because that's just the way we do it". I've got a slightly rebellious maverick personality type so I'm the first to be second-guessing the why, and constantly re-evaluating processes, procedures and general operations. "Does our concert have to be here? Does it have to be in December? Do we really need costumes?" No, Maybe and Yes.

When "feedback" (often hiding in the form of a question) is given by a customer via email, it's lovely. It's a private conversation. It's the polite way for a customer to communicate with a business. I like to call and discuss, because an email is often going to take to long, and can often sound argumentative when giving reasons for things.

But sometimes it's done on a public forum. Occasionally this is done on purpose to harness the power of visibility and "mob mentality" - safety in numbers. But most often it's just someone who means well but doesn't quite get it. They really just want to know, want to be heard, or want to provide advise.

I like to try and encourage questions that question the "why" of a process or policy - and anything that sounds a bit complainy - to be discussed privately. I'll do this with a minimalist professional (cold even) comment like "Hi [parent], I'd love to discuss this with you over the phone. Give me a call at a time that's convenient so we can chat." Generally the others get the hint, that some things are appropriate for a public forum and others are not. And over the phone it's usually less than 2 minutes until resolve, and a much cleaner happier conclusion.

For example I recently got a question from one of my customers on social media regarding the process of concert ticket sales that my studio uses. My response was measured. It helped that I've spent a lot of time considering what process of ticket sales works best for us.

We do a ticket sales launch day at the studio, and some die-hard fan parents line up in the early hours of the morning. Most come around 8am, which is when we start selling. And by 9am we've served a couple of hundred customers. We have the whole thing down to an art, with 8 staff on site, different tables for different shows, raffle ticket numbers so people don't have to physically wait in a line and can relax on our lounges or on chairs we put all around our car park. I do a free BBQ bacon and egg rolls for people, and it's a really fun community vibe I don't like online ticket sales for so many reasons. So I was confident in my stance on this.

That's why I chose to respond publicly. I'm a bit of an "over-explainer". I always have been. Sometimes it's a blessing and sometimes it's a curse. I like to be very transparent, and I think my customers appreciate that. They feel at ease knowing decisions are being made with carefully considered reasons and aren't just random blind proclamations from a power-hungry ego maniac.

Here's the breakdown of my response:

  • I thanked the customer for their feedback. Customer had good intentions, and even when feedback is bullshit you don't agree with and is just a big unfounded whinge, "Thank you for your feedback" is the polite way to say "I see that you're passionate about this and I appreciate that you want to be heard."

  • Then I established my authority. Speaking from my position of experience and connectedness to other studio owners, so that my voice had more power.

  • I gave three clear reasons why we do it the way we do.

  • I minimised the size of the perceived problem by bringing it back to reality "Being at sales day isn't essential, tickets can be bought at the studio". Rationalising why it's not such a big problem to begin with.

  • I then put a positive spin on the problem by stating the upsides. The fairness of our system and the fun vibe of the morning (that some people really like... even if she doesn't).

  • Then I reiterated that it's a decision that was made with care, and will be re-evaluated regularly taking into consideration all information and feedback.

  • I reminded them that the convenience to my studio's customers is important to me.

I think this same blueprint could probably be used for a range of different similar situations.

  • Thank you

  • Establishment of authority

  • Reasoning / explanation

  • Reduction of dramatics

  • Positive spin

  • Promise of further consideration and evaluation

  • Reminder of importance of customer

But don't confuse reasoning and explanation of WHY with arguing a point. These are different things. There's not even a hint of argumentative language in my response, nor any opportunity for her to open one. This is important!

I hope my little dissection of an online interaction with a customer in this new era of business owners can offer a framework that allows studio owners to remain diplomatic and responsive to customer feedback.

Obviously this was an easy example. however with the more difficult complaints it is often best to just delete and call.

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