When I was in sixth grade, I remember a rumor circulated around the school about a certain girl. Our teacher was Sister Raphael, and she got wind of the not-very-nice rumor. She sent the girl to run an errand and closed the classroom doors. While the girl was out of the room, she told us a story about a young girl who climbed a high mountain on a slightly windy day, carrying nothing but a feather pillow. When the girl got to the top of the mountain, she ripped open the pillow cover and let out the feathers. As you might expect, Sister said, the feathers flew all over in every direction. My classmates and I listened intently, staring at her very serious face, wondering where this story was going.

“When you spread rumors and gossip about people,” our wise teacher told us, “it’s like taking a pillow to the top of the mountain. Just like you could never get all those feathers back, you can never restore or undo the damage you’ve done to someone’s good reputation. You’ve ruined it.”

We sat in silence and shame, thinking about her words. I never forgot this little tale because it made so much sense to me, even at that young age. Sister’s words came back to me a few weeks ago when I was in a casual conversation with a local restaurant owner. I’m a big supporter of local business, so there was a part of the conversation that really resonated with me.

The restaurant owner told me how much damage bad reviews on social media can do to a restaurant. I was surprised at first because, personally, I like reading down the restaurant review pages, hearing what locals are saying about this place and that place, and I think Yelp and other such sites are terrific resources when deciding on where to go. Honestly, I never thought for two minutes about the restaurant owner’s side of it all.

One disgruntled customer, with one single bad experience, who takes to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to vent can really cause damage to a business, this local restaurant owner said to me recently. She does not like these local restaurant reviews that are on Facebook or Yelp, simply because they do not give restaurant owners a chance to right the wrongs. She feels they are unfairly one-sided and don’t present the whole picture.

“Instead of going on Facebook to trash a restaurant, I wish the dissatisfied customer would let the owner or manager know about the slow service or the undercooked meat or the lumpy mashed potatoes or whatever the problem is, so they could apologize and fix the problem and make things right,” the owner stated. “I would much rather handle the problem right then and there than find out later someone is bashing us on Facebook.”

Going through social media to expose the problem instead of complaining to the restaurant staff itself only damages a reputation of what is probably an otherwise decent establishment, she said. It also does absolutely nothing to resolve the problem. She also stated that long after the person vented and then went on with their life, the restaurant’s reputation is still damaged because people will often remember the harsh words and bad review.

“I wish people would just try to fix the problem at its source,” the restauranteur stated sincerely. “Badmouthing a place on Facebook or Twitter certainly doesn’t fix a problem, but it does cause lasting damage to the restaurant, sometimes even leading to a restaurant closing. I know that sounds extreme, but it causes a domino reaction in the reviews, quickly turning them from positive to negative. I wish every customer would give the restaurant a chance to rectify whatever is wrong because we all want happy, satisfied customers.”

She asked me to write about it so that people can ponder the flip side before they pick up their poison pen or, in this case, start tapping on their poison keypad or keyboard. I told her that I would, but I always have to present the flip side of the coin. Without knowing this, my friend presented a perfect flip side just a few days later.

My friend told me how shoddy she was treated by her car dealership. When she tried to tell them everything that went wrong, they have not responded to any of her phone calls or emails. As a last resort, she has decided to turn to social media to vent her frustrations so that perhaps she may finally get the attention from them that she deserves. She has tried to rectify her situation through the proper channels, but the dealership has been unresponsive. In utter frustration, she turned to Facebook and the comment section of their website. A former business owner herself, she has no regrets about doing this, she says, because she has exhausted every other avenue and has been totally ignored.

Social media is a powerful tool for both business owner and customer. We should all remember the story of the feather pillow on the mountain and use social media wisely.

A business’s reputation may not seem as vital as a person’s rep, but when it means the livelihood of many people, it certainly is extremely important. If we keep that in mind, we might give the business a chance to fix a problem before resorting to public bashing based on one mistake, although I certainly understand why customers would vent publicly when an owner brushes them off after many attempts at resolution, as in my friend’s case. After all, nobody wants to feel ripped off or gypped or not treated nicely. Business owners need to make customer service a priority and pay close attention to customers’ satisfaction. I think that it’s safe to say that we’ve all been in frustrating situations when the customer service is not just shabby or poor but completely nonexistent.

Conversely, if you have a really good experience in a restaurant or any other type of local business, remember to go onto social media and pay a compliment or two about the place. Except for in extreme cases, when all other avenues have failed, people should try to refrain from using internet platforms for only negative words and experiences, griping and complaining. As my mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And as Sister Raphael used to say, “Ruining a reputation is like tearing open a feather pillow on the top of a mountain.”

A little complimentary positive feedback here and there can translate into a big boost for local business, which is helpful to our whole community. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to tell the world about the cold soup and hard bread that you were served at that restaurant down the street but somehow forgot to mention to its owner.

Peg DeGrassa can be reached at pdegrassa@21st-centurymedia.com.

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