Naming and shaming customers

I was asked to do an interview on BBC Radio Tees the other day where we discussed the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook as a means of complaining about the levels of customer service in restaurants and hotels. It seems there’s a growing tendency for people to use these outlets as a way of making sure that the places they’ve been are punished for perceived bad service.
I argued that, despite what some people might think, the thing that all restaurants and hotels want is to see their customers leave happy so that they’ll return again and again. There’s absolutely no point in spending effort and money in attracting a new customer to come to them only for that customer never to return if there’s a possibility they could. Not only is it a waste if they don’t return through ill feeling, it’s also likely that they’ll spread bad reports about the business and nobody in the business wants that.
Therefore I made it as clear as I could that it was essential that a disgruntled customer should talk to the management or staff before leaving as this gives the business a chance to put things right. Everybody, including you, makes mistakes but we don’t always know it and can’t do anything about it if we’re not told.
However, the radio presenter suggested that it takes guts to complain and not everyone’s that brave. I responded, possibly controversially, that it’s rather a cowardly act to post an online criticism of a place, frequently anonymously, before giving the business a chance to correct what is possibly an unknown and unintentional mistake.
When someone starts a business, they obviously don’t do it with the intention of upsetting their customers and, therefore, it’s essential that they get feedback as soon as possible if they’re doing something wrong. Leaving unhappily without making your feelings known helps no one. And placing a disparaging review on a social media site may make the poster feel better but it’s done without thought for the consequences.
There’s little comeback for the business. Sure, a reply can be posted but the damage is already done and responding can appear overly defensive.
It’s important to remember that as soon as we order in a restaurant or place a reservation in a hotel, we’re entering into a contract with the business and there are responsibilities on both sides. The most upsetting thing I find in our line of business is people making reservations and then not turning up. It happens very infrequently but when it does it spoils everybody’s evening. Should we then broadcast the booker’s name on Twitter and tell the world what they’ve done? It’s a thought, if not a serious one. Yet.
Obviously, those in the customer service business decided to put their heads above the parapet when they decided to do the job in the first place. And I know that we’re happy to accept fair reviews, even if occasionally we get a bad one, because that’s life. But I can see a time when some businesses start to review their customers. Just because a diner doesn’t like a particular restaurant or hotel due to it not being “they’re sort of place”, does that give them the right to criticise it? Possibly. But is the business entitled to criticise the customer for choosing badly? Or not knowing anything about food? Or not knowing how to behave at the table or in a hotel?
Would you like to see yourself criticised online – especially without being given the chance to correct things first?
This social media stuff’s a powerful tool and, as we’ve recently seen in the Lord McAlpine case, easy to use irresponsibly. If you’ve got a complaint about a business, no matter how shy you are, surely you have a responsibility to make it known to that business before broadcasting it to the world.


  1. servicekaizen · · Reply

    Excellent post! I think this is the most powerful statement, “I responded, possibly controversially, that it’s rather a cowardly act to post an online criticism of a place, frequently anonymously, before giving the business a chance to correct what is possibly an unknown and unintentional mistake.”

  2. You are absolutely spot-on! Businesses strive for excellent customer service, and consumers should give the establishment the chance to fulfill that initiative.

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