The customer is not always right…..BUT be careful how you respond when you think they are not!


47 king street west

It is very likely you have not heard of 47 King Street West – a French restaurant based in Manchester in the UK. Although you may not have heard of it, it is possible that the eatery will become infamous as an example of how NOT to respond to customer feedback. When an organisation considers its strategic approach to Customer Experience, it is important it accepts that ‘perfection’ is not realistic. All businesses will get things wrong – it is inevitable. Customers are now free and able to tell the world when they feel you have got it wrong. It is how you deal with things when they do go wrong that can often be the difference between the best exponents of customer centric behaviour….. and the worst!

So let me fill you in on the 47 King Street Story. In 2013, the restaurant was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor. At the time of writing this blog post, it still has a ‘four star’ rating on the TripAdvisor site…… whether or not it will still have this rating by the time I finish writing this post is a different matter!! To all intense and purposes, 47 King Street appears to be a restaurant that could quite comfortably feature on your list of places to eat in the North West of England.

However, closer inspection of TripAdvisor reveals that all might not be as well as it seems. You only have to scroll down to the review posted on the 28th February 2015 – it does not make good reading (for the restaurant that is):

47 king street west1.jpg

If you were the owner of this establishment, you would quite rightly be horrified to read this brutally honest feedback from a customer – a customer who had no doubt spent a significant sum of money in your restaurant. You would also appreciate that it in 2015, any customer has the ability to share their experience with millions of others at the click of a mouse.

Anyone reading this review has a choice – a choice to believe everything contained within it, or to look at the balance of all reviews and form a rounded opinion of the restaurant. One would expect that when a negative review of this nature has been posted online that the company concerned would leave a suitable response to clarify the situation – whether the customer was right or wrong. At the end of the day, the internet is now as much of your shop window as your physical premises are.

In the case of 47 King Street West, the manager of the restaurant DID respond to this review……just not in the way you may expect. Although his comments have been removed from their social media streams, here is his unedited response posted on Facebook:

47 king street west2.jpg

Describing customers as ‘the chaviest worst most vile people ever to grace our restaurant’ is perhaps not the best response to their feedback. To dish out a tirade of abuse dismissing those customers as ‘trash’ is almost unbelievable. To  do it so publicly is remarkably naive. The problem with the way that 47 King Street responded is that other potential customers are now likely to base their opinion of the restaurant on his behaviour – even if his customers were wrong, you just cannot do what Mike Hymanson, the owner of 47 King Street has done.

The visibility of this story is only just picking up pace – how viral it will become is yet to be seen. Mr Hymanson has now described the incident as regrettable (not surprising really!) – it is not clear whether he has directly apologised to the poor customer concerned. You can read more about the incident here.

Learning how to deal with customers who you perceive to be wrong is vitally important in maintaining the credibility of your brand and the experience it is intending to deliver. In the same way that you do not want to do something to affect your personal credibility in the future, it is just as important to not ‘retaliate’ in a way that makes the situation worse.

Only yesterday, on an Easyjet flight from Athens to London Gatwick, I witnessed what I saw as completely unacceptable behaviour from a customer. There is no doubt in my mind that I was observing a scenario where the customer was undeniably wrong. The customer was not particularly pleasant from the moment she got on the plane. Carrying her baby daughter, she seemed to expect that the seat next to her should be vacant. The bemused passenger sat in the seat kept her cool remarkably well. The excellent cabin crew managed the situation brilliantly and were able to move the bemused passenger to another seat.

Sensing all was well, I sat back and prepared myself for a restful flight. Shortly after take off, with the fasten seat belt sign still lit, the ‘unpleasant’ passenger unbuckled her belt and vacated her seat to get something from the overhead luggage rack. A member of the cabin crew walked down the aisle and asked her very politely to remain seated until the ‘fasten seat belt sign’ was switched off. A perfectly reasonable request I am sure you will agree. The passenger responded with a torrent of very strong words including – ‘leave me alone’; ‘I am pregnant and you are going to make me miscarry’; ‘why do you treat passengers like this?’

It was really quite unbelievable. The cabin crew members response was in my view the perfect example of how to respond. She replied in a steady, polite, and confident manner – ‘I understand madam’. ‘Please take your seat as quickly as you feel comfortable’. Although quite clearly shaken, the Easyjet employee did exactly the right thing. She did not retaliate. She did not quote policy or procedure that would most likely rile the passenger even more. She quietly left the customer to it.

Now imagine what COULD have happened if she had responded in a different way? What COULD have happened if she demanded that the passenger be seated (as I am sure she had every right to do)? It is perfectly feasible that this lady could have resorted to social media to say how a pregnant lady travelling with a baby was mistreated by Easyjet cabin crew.  It COULD have gone viral, and got in front of the eyes of journalists. Instead, a potentially damaging situation will never be heard of again. In fact the actions of this excellent ambassador for Easyjet almost certainly won her the admiration of other passengers on the plane, thus enhancing the reputation of her company.

Customers will not always be right. Customers who are not right are able to share their thoughts with the world. As the owner of a business, whether you think they are right or they are wrong, it is absolutely critical that you deal with their feedback in a way that does not detrimentally and potentially fatally damage your business. The end to end journey for many consumers now starts with the assessment of feedback found online – the last thing you want is for them to see the public face of your organisation publicly abusing customers who leave what appears to be honest feedback.

The phrase ‘feedback is a gift’ is often an overused term. I personally believe it is and always will be the perfect phrase for describing feedback. Like all gifts, handle it with care!

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