Unhappy customers are part of doing business. You try to understand their point of view and offer a solution. But, what if that approach doesn’t work and the customer begins publicly attacking your reputation?

Smitty’s Lawn and Garden Equipment, Olathe, Kan., recently faced this situation when a customer started venting his anger on the dealership’s Facebook page. “It went out of control and the issue became bigger than life,” says David Wood, one of the dealership’s owners.

Wood says the situation stemmed from a quote for service work on a mower. The mower was owned by a new customer, who had bought the machine at a big box store. “Where our customers buy their machines doesn’t make any difference to us. We work on many brands and many mowers that we don’t sell,” he says.

David and Christine Wood own Smitty’s Lawn and Garden Equipment of Olathe, Kan.
David and Christine Wood own Smitty’s Lawn and Garden Equipment of Olathe, Kan.

The service department quoted a repair price of $299. The final bill came in at $349, which included tax and the dealership’s standard fees for shop supplies. Wood says they usually explain that the quote is not the final price because taxes and supplies have to be figured in after the repair is done.

“Sometimes we get going fast and maybe my service guy only said $299 and didn’t say tax plus shop supplies,” Wood says.

Regardless of what was said or not said, the customer became very angry and arguments began with the service department. The customer walked out without paying — and without his lawn mower. He headed to the dealership’s Facebook page and began posting negative comments about the dealership.

Wood says this was the first time he had faced such a situation on social media. The dealership has had a Facebook page for several years and found it to be a good way to share information about specials and equipment. Initially, Wood ignored the negative posts.

“I don’t believe that any single post is going to ruin my business. I don’t believe anybody has enough power to ruin a business that has been around for 40 years,” Wood says.

Smitty’s general manager called the customer after the initial posts to resolve the issue. They agreed to the $299 quote and offered to deliver the mower. However, that didn’t satisfy the customer. It was then that Wood decided it was time to get control of his page.

“I blocked his comments. Then, his friends started posting negative comments. I blocked those, too, and they just kept moving to different accounts,” Wood says. The incident continued on Facebook for about a week. Wood felt it was time to explain the situation online and posted an apology on his page for the dealership’s role in the incident and to assure customers of their dedication to superior service. Other customers then posted positive comments about their good experiences with the dealership.

Wood says the incident reminded the dealership about the importance of explaining fees to new customers. It has also been a reminder that a dealership does have a choice when it comes to working with customers, who they think may be difficult to please. “We’re familiar with having to fire customers.”

Manage Social Media

Gina Ehrhard is manager for Osborn Barr, an agriculture-focused marketing agency with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.
Gina Ehrhard is manager for Osborn Barr, an agriculture-focused marketing agency with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.

Gina Ehrhard, manager with Osborn Barr, an agriculture-focused marketing agency, says dealerships need to be careful about removing negative comments. “It’s very important to remember that people are going to have negative opinions. You’re never going to be able to get away from that. Everyone’s human and everyone makes mistakes.”

Negative comments can bring positive results. “If you’re able to address the issues, then you show others that you care about customers.”

However, she says dealers have every right to delete comments or block users if the comments go too far, such as if they use profanity or repeatedly post the same comments or comments that are off-topic. Regardless of the comments, she says it’s always best to try to resolve issues offline directly with the customer.

Ehrhard says dealers should have a plan for dealing with negative comments on social media. “Come together as a team to discuss how you would respond to different situations.”

And, dealers need to be prepared to make changes if those negative comments indicate areas that need to be fixed. Ehrhard says dealers can then share those changes on social media. “It doesn’t always have to be a ‘We’re sorry’ message. Posts can be about how you’re improving, too.”