Customer service has always been an invaluable asset to every business. A single interaction can bring customers back, maybe even with new business, or drive them away. Now with social media allowing anyone and everyone to share their thoughts or experiences with a simple click, customer service may become all the more important. Customers are the ones writing the reviews, posting comments, and sharing posts they have read with their friends. Word can spread very quickly, and depending on the circumstances can be a huge asset or a major setback for any business, as I myself have witnessed over the past few days.

A few days ago I was browsing my personal Facebook page when I came across a status update that had been shared by one of my friends with the simple message, “Hope her business crumbles…”. I was curious what had happened to cause such a reaction, so I read the rather long status update. To sum it up, the original poster had been in a spa with her friend when a mother brought her young son in for a haircut. He was upset and crying, obviously a little scared, but was not bothering anyone. She thought it was a normal and understandable reaction for any 2 ½ - 3-year-old child getting his hair cut, and mentioned the music being loud enough to cover most of the noise anyway. 

A woman then approached the mother and child and began to scream at them, telling the mother that her son was out of control and she could not have behavior like that in her business. She continued to berate her for a period of time, the rest of the spa patrons and employees watching in horrified silence. When she had finally finished yelling, the mother, who was now crying, apologized and said, “I’m so sorry, he’s autistic.” The woman, who turned out to be the owner of the spa, still made them leave. The hair stylist followed them out and finished cutting the boy’s hair on the front lawn of the building.

While the story itself was shocking enough, what I found even more surprising was how quickly her status had gone viral. The rest of the online community seemed to share her feelings about the incident and the owner’s unacceptable treatment of the customer. Since the original post on Sunday morning, just three days ago, the status update has been shared over 35,000 times. The spa’s Facebook page was flooded with hundreds of angry posts and reviews not just from local residents, but from people all over the country. It was receiving so much negative attention that the company was forced to shut down the page. Review sites like Yelp are also being used to spread the word about the incident, with recent reviews from users in seven other states. There have also been multiple stories on local news stations and websites, all citing the outraged customer’s Facebook status. 

The owner’s attorney released a statement Tuesday afternoon stating that the owner’s actions were appropriate due to safety concerns, and even went on to say that the Facebook post was inaccurate. There was no apology anywhere in the statement. Instead, the attorney decided to go on the offensive, saying, “The spa regrets that some have taken this incident as an opportunity to malign both the integrity of spa ownership and the spa's excellent business reputation, but out of respect for all parties involved, the spa will have no further comment at this time.” Not surprisingly, the statement was not received well. While an apology may not have made the problem go away, based on the comments the story has received it may have at least helped to ease some of the hateful backlash towards the owner.

The woman who posted the original status update did not know the mother prior to that day at the spa. The friend of mine who shared the status does not know the original poster, nor do I. I’m sure the majority of the people who have shared that post had never even heard of the original poster or the mother before. Yet in just three days, people all over the country know their story and have vowed to never visit that spa.

This is a perfect example of the power of social media, even if it is a negative one. A small business in a small town can go from virtually unknown to hated by people across the country in a matter of days. Even if the spa does manage to come out of this and get back on track, the damage has been done and it may never see the success it had in the past. Applying the spa’s lesson to your own business, it’s clear that impeccable customer service is a must at all times.  Customers and the online community have unprecedented power to control the message about your business, and it’s vital that their message be a positive one.  In the event there is a customer service slip-up, always, ALWAYS apologize, even if you defend your position in the process. You never know who might post about it.

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