Kevin Smith was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for being "too fat to fly." Now while there's two sides to every story, Mister Smith made national headlines about the experience. Why? He told people. He told everybody.
It's something of an old saying that a happy customer will tell 4 or 5 people about their experience with a business but a dissatisfied customer will on average tell 8 to 16 about it. I'm not sure that's not true anymore in the age of social media. Nowadays, it's more that a happy customer will tweet about their experience once or twice. A dissatisfied one is tweeting it five or ten times. Southwest wound up with a black eye in the opinion of the on-line masses and they've done a terrific job of addressing the situation. It's an unfortunate, uncomfortable event for the company and the consumer, but it wound up being played out in the court of public opinion literally in front of millions of people.
Recently, I had a frustrating situation with a local business. Again, there are two sides, but mine involved something I believed to have been misrepresented to me. So I tweeted about it a good 5 or 6 times and had conversations on Twitter with 8 people about it that evening, one of whom told me they recently had an experience that disproved what the company told me. Would any of this happen if I wasn't operating under information the company gave me and then says was incorrect? Of course not.
Mind you, I have 1,041 followers on Twitter, of whom 265 are on my list of "Cincinnati People." I also have 371 Facebook friends, 56 identified in Cincinnati and another 9 in the surrounding region. This is not a lot of people. Most of these people however are exciting, well-connected, educated consumers. I have fantastic friends and talk to marvelous people online. We all bring something to the party and we see what other people post. They're in all walks of life and all sorts of professions. Someone like me goes out and tells over 1,000 people about their experience. Some, but not all of those people I tell are listening at that moment. Several of those people share their own opinions and experiences, and some of those who listened to the whole conversation will remember.
My opinion on if I should even bother to try some local places have been decided by the experiences of people I trust. Should I spend my precious time checking out a new locale if six close friends have already stated a variety of reasons they didn't like it which would also be concerns I had? Should is actually a moot question. Will is the question and the answer is "no." That's not about letting others make decisions for you. It's simple pragmatism. I love to try out new places but there's so many to choose from and so many other things to do that trying them out is an occasional, special experience. If somethings get ruled out after being vetted by others, so be it. I also love all the sites out there, like cgyp.net, that you can search for other people's experiences with and opinions about businesses.
Does this mean I'm out to trash this company? Certainly not. The instant power of the internet means a customer has a megaphone to vent every impulse, good or bad, that they had. I'm not saying I was hot-headed, but I have all those people hearing about my experience and the information I received. If I wanted to slag off or exaggerate they'd hear that as well. It's an uphill battle for companies with all these opinion-makers and opinion-voicers out there. Likewise, t's a cyclone of information and opinions for us poor consumers to be barraged by and have to sort through. Thankfully, this company has a Twitter presence who's monitoring what is said about the company online. I'd interacted with them once before to great effect and I contacted them that evening about my issue. Anyone who's in business should be keeping an eye on what's on-line. Now that you can have fans of your brand on Facebook and Customer Service outreach on Twitter, there's little excuse to let a situation go by where you can interact with that customer. When I'm contacted like that, which another company did recently to great effect, I feel like I've been noticed and the company became aware of what was going on and left me feeling good about them. I also have a part-time job at a business where we took a look at our citysearch.com listing this weekend. We were appalled to find ourselves low in the rankings and looking at outdated information, but excited to see that we could take ownership of our listing there and make sure that information was corrected. That's taking the bull by the horns.
Be it my mom with 13 Facebook connections, a middling on-line presence like myself or, say, Kevin Smith with his 1,669,184 followers (at the time of this writing), it's always a good idea to keep an eye on who's saying what about your business and you online. Get on Twitter and Facebook and set up a Google Alert. SEO and Social Media Monitoring services are out there.You'll be glad you did. It'll probably make you green and ill with dread, but it's a whole new realm of opportunities. Get in front of potentially bad word of mouth that reaches 160 or 1,600 or 1.600,000-plus people instead of 16 and possibly even win over that one, lone voice who's talking about you. Most of those voicing issues aren't slagging off on you. They just want to be, to feel, heard by a person who can help address the issue.