Social Media Gives Customers Power To Make or Break. R U Listening?

In the days before social media, good news traveled fast, bad news travelled faster.  Today, good news still travels fast but bad news travels … let’s just say word-of-mouth advertising has become world-of- mouth on steroids. For those businesses still relying on customer comment cards and surveys to monitor customer satisfaction, that strategy is as anachronistic as sending an urgent message by telegraph.

In this post, the final installment of my Hard Rock Café customer service saga, I’ll repeat two of the five lessons that far too few businesses appreciate.  One is an old message that I’ve paraphrased:  “Hell hath no fury like an upset customer scorned.” The second lesson is really a corollary to the first, don’t underestimate the power of social media. 

If you’ve been following my story, I was up to the part where we confronted a manager at the Hard Rock Café in Atlantic City about how she handled the attempted theft of my wife’s purse.

Hard-Rock-post I sensed as she walked away that she felt satisfied in the way she handled the situation. Unfortunately we were not.  She obviously didn’t appreciate the power of social media and with that naiveté fully underestimated the damage that can be done by “an upset customer scorned.”

Immediately upon our return home, my wife told her story on Facebook. Within minutes, she received comments from nearly a dozen friends, who likely shared the story on the walls of their friends.  That’s the power of negative word-of-mouth advertising and follows closely the rule of thumb that one unhappy customer tells 13 others.

While effective, that’s naïve and 20th century thinking.  If you haven’t accepted the new reality, let me be the first to break the news.  If you are in business and you have customers, you better be listening all the time and ready to respond promptly because “hell that no fury like a customer scorned.”

My wife suggested that I compose a letter to Hard Rock’s management “because I write so well.” But no way was a letter going to get Hard Rock’s attention.  Instead I went straight to Facebook and posted our complaint on Hard Rock Café’s wall.  The audience: I reached nearly 1.7 million people just on Hard Rock’s page alone with a few keystrokes! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Because a Facebook business profile is visible to non-Facebook subscribers, the potential reach is hundreds of millions of people.  That’s a far cry from one person telling 13.  What’s more troubling for a business like Hard Rock when a customer wants to broadcast his bad experience?  What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet.  With a letter or email, the complaint gets sealed far away from the maddened crowd.

At this point, many owners and executives might be savoring their decision to ignore Facebook and the like in order to avoid receiving negative comments.  Not only is that just plain dumb, it will come back to bite them big time. 

Had Hard Rock Café not had a Facebook page, I would have gone straight to one of their competitors and posted my experience on their walls.  Don’t believe me. Do a search on Facebook and read how dissatisfied Toyota customers reacted after they were ignored for weeks after the gas pedal incident a few months ago.

Next I would have visited Yelp, a social networking site that allows consumers to share the experiences they've had with local businesses.  The potential damage?  Yelp is the 49th most popular website in the United States.  Or I could have posted our bad experience on Yahoo Travel, the 3rd most popular site in the U.S. and 4th most trafficked site in the world (according to Alexa).

Hard Rock is lucky too that I’m not 30 years younger. While quite adept at navigating the digital world, my mindset is still framed in a Baby Boomer world. Had I been a digital native, a Millennial raised when PCs and the Internet were mainstream, I likely would have been writing on Hard Rock Café’s wall from the restaurant, not my office 100 miles away over 24 hours later.  Young adults are conditioned to text quickly and share instantly. It’s part of their DNA. They share opinions freely and use social networking in interesting ways. They … and their technologies… are changing the face of customer service.

Are you getting the picture?  It doesn’t matter whether your business has created a social media marketing strategy or not.  If you haven’t done it intentionally, your customers and competitors are likely doing it for you.  Do a quick search about your business, your products, and your industry and you will find conversations about you somewhere on the Internet using one of the hundreds of social media sites available to anyone at anytime. No news is not good news anymore. If you aren’t hearing your customers talking, you’re just not listening.

But I digress.  I posted my comment about Hard Rock on Facebook at 9:12 AM. By 9:55 AM, I received a comment from the Hard Rock. Now that’s good service.
I accepted their invitation to “friend” them and within a few hours received a lengthy and sincere apology from the assistant manager.  What grabbed my attention was that our situation was being used as a training exercise for their managers and staff.  Management got it right even if the manager on duty didn’t. It wasn’t only my wife’s purse and personal belongings at stake that night…but our safety and comfort along with all the other customers.

The manager and I exchanged a few private messages. I then received a personal call from the assistant manager.  While a few words and gift cards don’t erase the bad experience from our memory, Hard Rock Café’s customer service recovery plan, which obviously includes social media monitoring, stopped further damage in its track.

In fact, they might have turned lemons into lemonade for some folks. In a world where bad customer service is the norm, a good recovery story creates good will.  If nothing else, a response to a complaint with some attempt to resolve it shows your customers that you are listening.  And listening to customers is a proven way to retain over 80 percent of your customers.  I’m not sure we’ll go out of our way to visit another Hard Rock but we certainly won’t avoid it either.

For companies dependent on loyal customers of all ages, social media is shaking up how consumers make decisions and how technology announces them. All of this can create tremendous business stress as well as value when organizations use it effectively.


Ira S Wolfe


  1. Francis - The Social Marketing Expert December 9, 2010 at 2:34 am -

    Social media marketing is certainly a powerful marketing tool. This marketing strategy has been evolved since long time and has also proven its effectiveness. This will help in getting more links for your website.

  2. Bob Mason December 2, 2010 at 11:42 am -

    I’m concerned about an aspect of this social media world. The very same social media opportunity that you used to resolve a real, and serious issue is also used much too often to vent without knowing the facts. I use the internet to check out those I may do business with and find that there are many posts which seem to be people just venting, or worse. Your example of Toyota is illustrative. While Toyota was admittedly slow in responding in this instantaneous world, what doesn’t seem to get nearly as much internet exposure is that subsequent government investigation revealed that almost all of the cases studied showed driver fault with no evidence of brake pedal application. I’m a Toyota owner and am quite pleased with the service I received. But I was a little surprised recently to receive a recall that basically said if I hadn’t followed the instructions in the owners manual, and ignored the warning lights in the car, I could have a problem. Therefore they were going to repair the damage I might have caused. That doesn’t seem like good business.
    Social media is definitely a two-edged sword. I don’t know what to do about that other than continue to preach that people must be careful what they read and consider it critically.
    Bob Mason
    RLM Planning and Leadership

  3. The Graduate December 2, 2010 at 7:46 am -

    The consumer-retailer balance has shifted so dramatically since the inception of social media. Active social media advocates have become ideal marketing fodder for organisations, as they can provide objective opinions to an audience that often the company can’t reach. Equally, negative word-of-mouth moves fast online and can really damage an organisation’s online profile. Online opinion moves like ripples over the surface of a pond. If you can set it in motion effectively, it can work wonders. Equally, if its negative, it’s very hard to rectify. It looks like Hard Rock did a really good job with you guys. Lucky for them that it was contained case concerning an individual party and not a lot of people.
    A great post!