@Burger bungling: Lessons from Ekim

Five lessons on dealing with customer complaints, from business social media expert Wendy Thompson

The telling thing about the Ekim burger case, says Wendy Thompson, managing director of business social media agency Socialites, is people were generally not upset about the possible food poisoning.

What people got up in arms about was the rude treatment of a customer. When Cuba St burger van owner Mike Duffy posted a vitriolic response to a customer mildly pointing out her son might have got food poisoning after eating an Ekim burger, he violated her privacy, and was mean and disrespectful, Thompson says.

People will forgive mistakes, but not rudeness.

(Not that Duffy seems to care. In fact he seems to be enjoying the attention his outburst has spawned, Thompson says.)

It is okay (in fact good) for businesses to show emotion. But if you get it wrong – and the impact can be dramatic. In Duffy's case, the negative sentiments about his business more than outweighed the support (often from other food retailers).

Here are Thompson’s five tips for responding via social media to customer concerns:

1. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.  If there was a problem you weren’t aware of (true or false), be grateful the comment brings it to your attention. Plus you get the added benefit of being able to rectify any issue and/or set the record straight in public, in front of your community of fans.  People on social media will give you the benefit of the doubt as long as you are honest, upfront and take responsibility.  

2. Is the "customer always right" notion still applicable in the internet age?

Now it’s more like: “The customer always has the right to be heard”.  Sometimes, the customer is wrong. This is why building a loyal social media community is so important. Because that community will often stand up for you if the customer does get it wrong. Even in the Ekim case, there are people standing up for the food. But there aren’t many supporting  his disrespectful attitude and behaviour.   

3. From a business perspective, is it fair people are giving Ekim burgers 1 star ratings having never eaten there?

This one is interesting. It shows clearly that people use ratings to assess more than just the food. They are evaluating the whole company and don’t necessarily need to have been there to do this.

4. What are some of the absolute do-not's for businesses on social media?

  • Don’t react in the heat of the moment. Take a deep breath, think about possible reactions to your post, and try to take emotion out of it.
  • Don’t lie or pass the buck. You will get caught. If you are in the wrong, own up quickly and apologise. People will forgive mistakes, but not being lied to.
  • Don’t delay. Don’t ignore comments or “wait to run it past legal”.  Even if you don’t have all the facts, it’s better to say something to show you have heard what your detractor is saying, rather than waiting. For example: “So sorry you had that experience. I have the team looking into it now and will get back to you asap.” And of course (unless you really are a douchebag), you are still sorry they had a bad experience, even if its not your fault.

5. Don't ever drink and tweet!