The Receptionist Couldn’t Find my Reservation

“I was charged a no-show fee even though I canceled a week before.” “The studio smelled funny.” “It’s hard to find parking!” “I’m allergic to the lavender-scented spray they use.” “Classes are too expensive.”

It used to be that a disgruntled client would just tell a few friends. Now anyone with a smartphone can broadcast a problem or negative impression to the world. And it will stay out there practically forever.

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“When you receive negative feedback, especially in a public setting, it can feel really personal,” says Holly Furgason, founder and CEO of Blue Sparrow Pilates in San Francisco and Oakland. “Your first instinct usually is to immediately respond in a defensive way. After all, we’re doing the best we can to keep our studios running and to satisfy every customer! But of course that’s not always possible.”

“Customer service isn’t about fixing problems or covering up weakness,” explains Warren Whitlock, a digital business development strategist and author of Profitable Social Media: Business Results Without Playing Games (Xeno Press, 2011). “It’s a chance to show that real human beings run the business and that they care” about their customers.

If you haven’t had negative feedback yet, you probably will at some point. But your social media presence is a large part of the public perception of your studio, so it’s in your best interest to know how to manage nasty, snarky or disapproving comments on Twitter, Yelp, Facebook and other sites.

We asked three studio owners to share their experiences with negative feedback on social media, and reveal how they turned the situation around.

fa “fc ‘fc ‘fc Dealing wiTh a frequenT YelPer Owner: Hope Cowgill of inBalance in San Antonio

In three years of operation, we had received only positive reviews on all social media. Then about a month ago, a client gave us a two-star rating on Yelp. Her complaint had to do with the treatment she got at the front desk and the level of the class. After reading it about 50 times and getting more and more irritated, I looked the client up on Mindbody [a scheduling software] to see when she came in and what class she took.

InvestıgatIng The Problem

I also did a little research on this particular Yelper and found out that she was a frequent reviewer and was very detailed in her bad reviews. That made me feel a bit better, knowing I should take her criticism with a grain of salt.

I also knew that the instructor of the class in question is the most demure, sweet-spirited woman, so I knew anything said was not in poor taste or meant to be rude. I asked my instructor about the class, how it had gone and if she’d had any problems with any new members. As I suspected, nothing out of the ordinary had happened; she didn’t even realize the disgruntled student was disgruntled! She confirmed my suspicions that the Yelper had taken things out of context. But I also reminded her and my other instructors to be on top of their game anytime a newbie walked through the door, because first impressions are everything.

“Customer service isn’t about fixing problems or covering up weakness,” explains Warren Whitlock. “It’s a chance to show that real human beings run the business and that they care.”

As for the class, it was exactly as described on our website, so I suppose the woman had been expecting something else, or maybe she just didn’t read the class description.

The Personal touch once I knew the background story, I contacted the Yelper via email (I didn’t think she would respond to a phone call). I offered her a couple of complimentary classes so she could come back and see that her first impressions were not representative of my studio, the instructor or the class. I didn’t really expect to hear back from her (considering her history on Yelp, I suspected she just wanted to get her opinion out there!).

Outcome: She didn’t respond to my email, but she immediately added a comment to her Yelp review. She said that I had contacted her, adding that she was extremely impressed by the level of personal interest and care. She then went on to note that the studio had rectified the problem, so I know she appreciated my email.

I feel good about how we handled the situation and think we have our grievance procedure down pat. It shows how much people really appreciate getting just that little bit of extra attention from the owner: Directly contacting someone who has had anything less than a great experience is the only way to resolve the dilemma.

My desk manager has tried to call the reviewer since then, just to follow up; she has not responded (I checked out where she lives, though, and it’s pretty far from the studio). I’m hoping perhaps this summer she will find time to give us another shot.

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