Yesterday, I spoke at the Social Media Plus conference, and finally got to meet the great Jason Falls.  In Jason’s presentation, he spoke about how sometimes, a relationship with a customer gets damaged, and there may be no going back.  Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to make someone else happy.  But if that person is noisy, how do we make them at least pacified and less of a thorn in your side?  How can you declare a truce or at least an end to open hostilities?

A friend of mine had an issue with a local coffee shop, that I happen to love.  There was an issue with credit card numbers being harvested, most likely by an employee, and this caused a headache both for the customers and the business.  My friend now has a vendetta against the shop, because she felt they did not act fast enough, or seem to take it seriously enough from her perspective.  From an outsider’s perspective, I see the notice in the shop about the incident and why they no longer accept credit cards.  I’ve always paid in cash, so I am largely unaffected, and feel like the business has done what it could to make the situation better, and solve the problem.  Yet, when I check in on Foursquare at the location, I receive a warning text from my friend not to trust this business.

I get that my friend is irate and sees this as an opportunity to both protect others and send a message to the business that they should treat their customers better.  But I wonder when this bad experience becomes slander.  When is it a vendetta?  What can the business do to show my friend that they made a mistake?  That they get it now?  That they have done what they can, and need to move on?  When will my friend decide that they have done enough electronic mayhem and decide that it’s okay to let go now?  (Side note- What’s the difference between a pit bull and a REALLY pissed off customer?  A pit bull will eventually let go.)

In social media, we openly acknowledge and encourage everyone we know to use the platforms out there to talk, both good and bad, about the experiences you have.  We tell businesses to listen to their customers and respond, because a quick response to bad stuff is primarily good customer service, and secondly, tends to minimize the “I hate (insert business name here) and will do everything at my disposal to let the world know- and aren’t you unlucky that I know how to make this part of your digital footprint???”

From my own perspective, I make every effort to resolve any issues I have locally first.  Then, if it’s a chain or franchise, I may escalate up the ladder.  If I am not getting satisfaction, I may take it to my blog or twitter to see if I get a response.  But mostly, since I know the ‘net is a powerful tool, I save it as the last ditch response to problems, rather than the first.  I try to be someone who is all about building good relationships, especially since you never know if you’re going to need that bridge you’re about to burn later on.  I basically always want to solve the problem, forgive and move on, because frankly, anger takes too much of my time and energy, and does more harm to me than good.

The plain truth is that we’re never going to be perfect.  We’re going to make mistakes.  Acknowledging them early, and doing what you can to solve the problem and save the relationship is optimal, but sometimes, it’s just too far gone to repair.  Asking what you can do to make it better or help make amends goes a long way to dampening down the fire in the belly that happens when people are mad or disappointed, but sometimes, nothing will work and the relationship, like with that old boyfriend or girlfriend, is simply over.  If you can both part and go on about your business- that’s the best for both parties.  Turning someone into Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and creating a stalker, set on doing you harm, is far from optimal.  But the more you can do to help that person let go and move on, the better off everyone will be in long run.  Preserve everyone’s dignity.  Acknowledge mistakes.  Acknowledge their feelings, and that there’s little you can do to make it up to them in a way that will be satisfying.  And agree to move on, as best as possible.

The metrics we use to repair relationships with friends, family members and coworkers work the same way with business relationships.  Treat everyone- your customers, your business partners, your suppliers, your bosses- everyone- with respect, and the likelihood and frequency of the irreparable relationship will go down.  And that’s for everyone’s benefit in the long run.