When I need some downtime, I pick up my phone and scroll through my Facebook feed. It gives my mind a much needed break, and I can catch up on the latest happenings with my friends at the same time. Like most of us who use Facebook, I subscribe to various groups for various reasons – parenting tips, Hollywood gossip, and groups that pertain to my companies.
Yesterday, I came across a sternly worded post in a group that started with “Avoid (business name) and (business owners name) at all costs!” Reading further, I was then privy to nothing short of a rage-filled rant about this person’s experience with the local company, followed by 66 comments with varying degrees of support. Included in the comments were screen shots of emails exchanged between the business owner and the furious client, interspersed with threats of legal action. By the time I finished reading it, (and yes, I shouldn’t have read it, but it’s the whole driving past a car crash thing…) I had felt as though I was punched in the gut.
Here is a sampling of some of the comments:
“..is the most awful excuse for a business…”
“…sounds like this business should be shut down.”
Sadly, some of these comments are from (soon to be removed) Facebook friends of mine.
Why does this affect me so much you ask? Well, it’s because, as a local business owner myself, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that me or one of my companies could one day be the target of this type overreactive rage. I’m certain that there is likely some truth to the accusation; that the poster was perhaps in fact “wronged” by the business and is upset. It happens all the time…because none of us are perfect. I have never met anyone who hasn’t had some sort of negative experience in a local establishment. Does this warrant a social media rant like this?
What a lot of people don’t necessarily realize in moments like these is that people who own businesses use the income generated from their company to provide for their families, much like employees use their paycheque. Imagine for a moment that, when you followed a policy or tried to work out a dispute with a client at your job, or made an error, your boss initiated a post on Facebook that started with “Jane is the most useless employee ever. You would not believe what she did today…”
How would you feel? What would happen after that if 66 people commented with things like “What?! That Jane is just TERRIBLE! She should be fired!”
Regardless of the level and amount of truth in the initial post, you’d likely feel hurt, threatened, defensive, sad, emotional, violated, sick to your stomach. If social media told you that your livelihood, or an error you made, or anything was “awful” it would suck.
Here are some guidelines (from my vantage point) on how to proceed with disputes with any organization:
1) Do it in private – Facebook, and other various forms of social media, are not appropriate ways to get what you want. Have a conversation, one that you can look back on later and say to yourself “I was really nice to that person, despite feeling upset.” Use peace, grace and kindness as the overriding principles when dealing with local business owners and never, EVER publicize emails or other written communication. At the end of the day, the conflict involves you and the other party, not the rest of your friend list.
2) Be reasonable – Remember that you might not get your way. A business owner doesn’t “have to” refund your deposit, pay you damages, publicly apologize, or any such lunacy, much as you wouldn’t have to do that sort of thing if you screwed up at your job. Being a bully as a result is never the right answer.
3) Handle it yourself – It’s fine to seek advice from others. But dealing with a situation with 66 “backers” means you need to bring the whole rugby team to beat up the school wimp. It means that you don’t have the strength to fight your own battles.
4) Pick up the phone, or pay a visit in person – So many disputes get escalated in emails and texts. The written word is greatly misunderstood at times, and if we are all being honest, we are MUCH meaner and more courageous behind a keyboard. So pick up the phone. Use email only as a way to schedule an appointment to discuss the situation in person.
5) Talk about you, not about the other person – Phrasing is critical. I have found that phrases like “I feel that I have been wronged here and I am hoping you might consider refunding my deposit” rather than “You screwed me over! Give me my money back!”
6) Promote the resolution as much as the problem – You know how bad customer service spreads like wildfire? How about a Facebook post that says “Hey everyone! Guess what, (business) and I figured out a reasonable compromise!”
7) Be humble – I have never bought into “the customer is always right” – because it’s not true. Every disagreement or conflict requires at least TWO participants. Which means you, customer, are also somewhat wrong. Own it. You didn’t read the contract? Admit it. You misunderstood something? Say it. It will get you so much farther.
8) Don’t be a jerk – Ever. Seriously. Airing your disputes on Facebook is low, and it sucks. And that makes you suck. So don’t do it.
9) Be productive – Are you really, REALLY going to hire a lawyer over a dispute of $50? No. You aren’t. So don’t say you are going to. Speak the truth and have every interaction take you one step further to the resolution.
10) Season with salt – This was the best advice I had ever received, by way of a message at Grassroots. It’s derived from Colossians 4:6 which says “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” How I interpret this is to always let your words be live giving, instead of life taking. Deep down, is there ever any real satisfaction from “showing them” or “sticking it to the other person?” No. If we are all honest with ourselves, it makes things worse.
Yesterday, I reached out with some words of encouragement to the fellow business owner. What I’m hoping is that the rest of the population that reads the post takes everything that is written with a grain of salt (pun intended).