Before I get to the topic, I want to confirm that I’ve eaten at Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale and enjoyed the meal and service. No opinion change there. But I want to use the giant kerfluffling flapdoodle recently on Yelp (and then on Chow Bella, in Phoenix New Times and on a hundred blogs and Twitter) to talk about some lessons everyone can use. Update on May 14, 2013: Please do not leave comments or advice for Amy. She doesn’t read the blog. They’ll be removed. The times I have been there, the food was good and I got excellent service. But I was also told that Amy does all the cooking and baking, and that was not true. And food servers not getting the tips? Inexcusable.
Here is a telegraph-version of the kerfluffle. A man who writes Yelp food reviews ate at ABC in Scottsdale, AZ and did not enjoy the experience. He blogged about it on Yelp. Amy, the owner/chef at ABC responded in anger and defensiveness. As happens on the interwebs, people who hadn’t been involved originally piled in to give their opinion, advice, and dig up ugly ancillary stories. Yelp took down the whole thread so it moved to Chow Bella and still continues–last time I checked, it had 240 responses, many of which start by telling people to stop posting, and then cheerily go on to voice their opinion.
Let’s pause to recall the old business fable of the migratory bird, the cow and the cat. The little bird didn’t migrate in time, because he loved the trees on the farm where she’d nested. And early snow buried the bird in a drift, and she was sure she was going to die.
She was sobbing, her tears turning to ice, when a cow walked by and pooped. The cowpie fell on the bird, covering her in unimaginable stink, but also warming her and saving her life. The bird, delighted to find she was still alive, began to sing her heart out. A cat wandered by, heard the cowpie singing, and then noticed the bird. The cat snagged the bird out of the cowpie and ate it, feathers and all.
The moral of the story is: Not everyone who poops on you is bad; not everyone who saves you from poop is good; if you are up to your neck in poop, for heaven’s sake, keep your mouth shut.
Now, the social media lessons:
- What you write on the internet is forever. It lasts longer than anger, than love, than the mistake.
- The internet is faster than the speed of anger. You think you are setting one person straight, and all of a sudden there is a Twitter presence, a Facebook Fan Page, and T-shirts that read “I’m not CrazyAmy.” (No, I’m not providing links. Enough damage has been done.) People way outside of your social circle, your friends, even your state, can weigh in.
- Everyone who deals with the public needs to be social media savvy. Media savvy is not enough.
- Anyone can create a presence using your name, your business name or a riff on your name. For that reason alone, get social media accounts in your name, even if you don’t want to use them
- Google is not a research genius, it is a popularity meter. With this flap going on, anyone searching Google is much more likely to run across the flap and the fallout than any of the restaurant reviews. This will last longer than the flap itself.
- Anonymity promotes meanness on the internet.
- The same people who rubberneck car wrecks will be happy to research damaging information and toss it into comments on a car-wreck comment thread, whether or not it has anything to do with the original problem. That unsavory portion of your past is then linked to the original story on Google.
The How-To of Anger
If you are angry, you are probably rightly angry. Your emotions run high, and you want to defend yourself and get revenge. That’s normal. You are not in control of your anger.
1. You are in complete control of how you use your anger. When you are angry and you are in your store (or in the big fishbowl of the internet) get out of sight (or out of site, in the case of the internet) and wait. Do not react while angry. It never works. Revenge, hitting back, yelling–all are bad moves, especially on the internet. Even if you are right, you will not appear right, you will appear out of control, and attract a large audience who is not on your side, but wants to watch your anger. Leave. Write down your hateful thoughts, but never in an email. They are too easy to accidentally send. Use Text Edit or a Word document. If you must use an email, address it to yourself before you start.
Wait until you are in control of your adrenaline and runaway emotions. This can take minutes or weeks.
2. If you are a retailer, or in public, apologize first. This is not a weak move, this is a strong move. Life is not a movie, but it might be wise to watch the trailer of The Untouchables, and notice the ideas expressed in violence. Then remember that Jimmy (Sean Connery of the “they pull a knife, you pull a gun” line) died in the movie, and Al Capone went to prison and lost all his power, his friends, and his mind. Who won? Nobody.
3. Ask the customer how they want you to make it right. It might be easy. It might be something you can do with no effort. It might be worthwhile. And making a customer happy is not an admission of your guilt. It is a sign of a generous nature.
4. If the customer is insulting, get to his intention. I once had a client who asked if my artwork was inspired by Satan, and if I was in league with the Devil. When I expressed concern and asked her what made her think that, she told me that the work wasn’t symmetrical–not visually the same on both sides, and that indicated I was in league with the devil. She even had a Bible quote. I talked to her for a while, treating her with dignity and answering her questions while assuring her that symmetry is a matter of taste, not salvation. It was an interesting conversation, and she left with answers, not anger.
5. Stay on the high road. It’s not fun to fight against nice. If you stay polite, ask how you can fix the problem, do what you can, you will feel better about yourself than if you give in to your anger. And you will build favor in the site of onlookers. The audience favors the underdog. Don’t turn the audience against you. They will leave and not come back. Another aphorism that works well in almost any situation: Do not get off the high road to wrestle with a pig. You will get dirty and the pig will enjoy it.
–-Quinn McDonald owns QuinnCreative, is a life-, business- and creativity coach and trains people how to communicate clearly.