In todays age of social media, people can vent their opinions everywhere– whether you like it, or not. You can pan the book you read on Goodreads. You can complain about the inferior quality of the headphones you ordered from Amazon. You can rate the movie you just watched on Netflix. By offering up our opinion, not only does it empower us, but it also empowers other consumers. One of my favorite websites around is Yelp.com. If you aren’t familiar with it, Yelp.com allows users to read and write reviews on local businesses. If you are new to an area, it is almost invaluable. Like all user-review sites, you have to take some reviews with a grain of salt, but (generally) you can get a pretty good feel for a business by overviewing the reviews.
We all know that person. The one who complains about the drought and then turns around the next day to complain about the rain. There are just some people who can only communicate through complaining. You can generally tell who those people are by the fact that you are exhausted after talking to them. Nobody wants to get caught talking with those people, but it inevitably happens. But, I don’t want to talk about THOSE people. Those people have given complaining a bad name. Complaining, when done right, can be a GREAT thing; something that informs and spawns change. Complaining isn’t just about grousing, it can also be a way to make things better.
I write this because, recently, I had just such an experience. Josh and I took some friends to one of our favorite local bars. On all previous trips, the experience had been phenomenal. The drinks were spot on; the waitresses attentive and informed. We had bragged so much about this place that we made our friends drive up from West Hollywood on a school night to join us. Upon arriving, the waitress informed us that the bar was under new management. This (to me) is, generally, a red flag. We were handed a scaled down version of the menu and our service went downhill from there. The drinks were all ice. It took the waitress 30+ minutes to get my friend some water. She didn’t know what was in the drinks and never came back with an answer. In Coralie’s great post about Top Ten Tidbits to Keep in Mind When Dining Out she mentions that under these circumstances to go find the manager so they can fix it. I hate causing a fuss… and I especially hate doing it in front of my friends. All-in-all, I was so embarrassed that I had brought guests there that upon returning home I immediately wrote a yelp.com review. In my review, I gave an honest opinion of the nights activities with all negatives couched between all the things I had loved about the establishment. The review was not written in malice (except towards our waitress) but in confusion and concern for a once-loved watering hole. I wasn’t writing it to elicit free drinks, just to get some answers. Here is where the point of this post comes in (finally, I know): complaints can be a businesses opportunity to either further ruin the relationship with a client/patron, or turn it into such a positive experience that the business gains a life-long, loyal customer. And, just as people complain to anyone who will listen about how BAD an experience somewhere was, they will also be some of your best advertising if treated appropriately. Happily, the latter was the case. Upon reading my review, the General Manager emailed me the next morning. He apologized for my experience and asked for the opportunity to invite me back in for a few rounds on him and to talk about all the new changes to the restaurant. He gave me his personal email address and we agreed upon a time. I was skeptical, but curious and went back one week later. Not only did he pick up the drinks, but he came and answered all of my questions. The waitress had been dismissed (I doubt just because of my review) and he laid out the reasoning to the changes at the bar. Yes, I appreciated the free drinks… but I really appreciated the fact that someone cared enough about the success of the establishment to pro-actively reach out to dissatisfied customers and try and rectify the situation. He genuinely thanked me for my input– and I (generally) have a pretty good sense when people are just giving me lip-service. Not only did I make a new friend, have a great evening, but I also turned around and upgraded my review to the maximum 5-stars. The situation went from me “never going back” to “be there again next week”.
In all things, you can be irate… and sometimes that gets you places, but more oft than not, “complaining” from a place of confusion and concern generally gets you further. I’m curious to hear Coralie’s take on yelp.com from the perspective of someone in the hospitality industry… but, I’ve already checked… and the yelp reviews are pretty high for the establishments where she works!
I am embarking, starting this week, on the most epic of complaint experiences as I begin the claims process against the moving company that botched our move this summer. The company, at a national and local level, has the opportunity to make this right. I have no confidence that they will, but would love to be surprised. If the experience doesn’t end on a positive note, the kraken of my wrath will be unleashed… and the last thing a company wants is a lady with a blog intent on internet justice! Wish me luck!