Culture

Liberty’s Last Stand

By now social media has seen plenty of business-world meltdowns. We are used to seeing high-profile C-level executives panic, delete tweets and apologize profusely in a desperate attempt to save face before ultimately losing their jobs—showing just how seriously companies take social media interactions with customers.

In Your Facebook

But what happens when it’s the customer having the meltdown? Ryan Clark, the COO and co-founder of Liberty Bottleworks in Yakima, WA, knows this all too well. He recently got embroiled in brouhaha with a customer who complained rather harshly about his company’s customer service on their Facebook page:

ryan-clark-responseAfter the post went viral, most of the blogosphere have supported Clark in his decision to confront the customer, which brought some interesting lessons along with it:

1. The customer is not “always” anything
As Aristotle observed, the only thing that is consistent about people is that they are inconsistent. The phrase “the customer is always right” was dreamt up by retailers in the late 19th Century to boost low consumer confidence, and it remains nothing more than a marketing gimmick. The customer is a person, just like the COO of a bottling company, and a person can only take so much. The more sensible approach is, “we want the customer to always be right.” This acknowledges the willingness to compromise without being so obsequious.

2. It’s okay to stick up for your employees
Perhaps the biggest reason Clark got so much populist support was because of this statement: “I will not do business with anyone that threatens my employees the way you have,” which rings like sweet music in the ears of anyone who has ever worked a retail job. Negativity and abuse from customers can make employee engagement levels plummet, but it’s nothing compared to what happens when they feel like it’s their job to take it. You have to eventually draw a line as to what you’ll accept as a reasonable conversation.

3. Social media is a blessing and a curse
Social media is a fantastic application when it’s working for you—increased customer loyalty, revenue creation, and search engine optimization await the companies who do it right. However, it’s also an open forum for your customers, and if they have a problem it’s going to be the top post or tweet in your feed. The trick is to be prepared for when that happens and handle the situation with some common sense—in other words, judge each encounter by its own merits, and don’t react like this guy did.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Liberty Bottleworks’ strong response paid off.  After their Facebook rebuke made news, they enjoyed a surge in business that has not waned. After all, turning negatives into positives is what great customer service is all about.

Full Text:

Unnamed customer: “DON’T DO BUSINESS WITH THIS COMPANY IF YOU WANT IT HANDLED RIGHT. THEY WAIT OVER A WEEK TO LET YOU KNOW – THEY LOST YOUR PAYMENT – THEY PROVIDE A PHONE NUMBER THAT NO ONE EVER ANSWERS. IF YOU HAVE A DEADLINE- LIKE CHRISTMAS – FORGET ABOUT IT. product is great – COMPANY is NOT.
Ryan Clark: “Ryan Clark, Liberty’s Co-founder and COO, here. I normally do not hop into Facebook rants but this one needed addressed. First of all, Ms. X thank you for your oder (sic) and your desire to support American Companies, Job Creation, Green Manufacturing and the Hiring of Vets. We did receive your numerous voicemails and emails. The bucks stops with me. This will I am sure will upset you but … my customer service team will not be helping you on the weekends. Your voicemail stated “it is the holidays, you should be working” and you (sic) email stated, “instead of doing my Christmas cards and enjoying the holiday spirit, I was dealing with this”. Perhaps, you need to spend a bit more time embracing the holiday spirit. You see, my employees were home with their families doing their cards, baking cookies , etc. Family first, product second. If you want immediate service on a Saturday, try supporting your local retail establishment such as, Bill and Pauls Sporthaus, People’s Food Co-op, Barnes Ace Hardware. As you your original complaint, we emailed within 24 hours of your order concerning the Paypal issue. Second, we called you first thing this morning in response to your angry voicemails but you hung up on us when we introduced ourselves saying, “I never want to speak with anyone from your company.” Ms. X, we pride ourselves on doing things well, we pride ourselves on doing things right, we pride ourselves on doing things the American way. Not instant gratification, 24 hour shopping on Thanksgiving type of American way but, family and country type of American way. The way our grandparents did things type of American way. I am sorry you are upset and I will gladly give you your money back, but I am not sorry our employees were enjoying the holidays. That right is not exclusive to you. If you would like to discuss this is (sic) on the phone you may call my personal cell (509) XXX-XXXX. If I do not get back with you right away understand I may be eating dinner with my wife and kids. Please be advised we will not be shipping you your order, you will not be charged. I will not do business with anyone that threatens my employees the way you have. Merry Christmas!”


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