If you work in customer service, if you own a business, if you manage a team, you need to read this, and in fact, you need to share this with them.

Share this if you care about customer service. This is how severe the impact of Social Media, perception, and influence can be for a business.


I Discovered The Most Amazing Place

It was a beautiful day, breeze blowing softly and the temperature just right for a walk up the avenue. A pastry shop/cafe that I had never been into before was on the agenda for the day. I entered the shop and I was completely impressed and delighted. I was already planning for this to be my new lunch place. I couldn’t wait to taste the sandwiches, it was such a great variety that my friend and I couldn’t decide on any one and ordered a few things to share. I happen to be a bit of a modern epicurean, so it is rare that a place would be this impressive to me. As I waited for my food to be prepared at the counter, I not only looked forward to many more lunches at my newly discovered spot, but to return and pick up some pastries for the weekend, the cake for my next party – you get the picture.

When Impressed – You Tweet

I reached for my phone to take a photo of the cake display and just as I snapped my picture, a gruff, serious (and somewhat intimidating) voice behind me, (think Al Pacino, or Don Corleone) asked “What are you taking pictures of?”

I was surprised to be asked this. I was clearly taking pictures of the elegant and classic cake display.

I turned with a smile to answer, “The cakes-” I started, still filled with delight at the store, and very willing to share what I was taking pictures of – but was interrupted before I even completed the sentence: “I said, what are you taking pictures of…why are you doing that? Why are you taking pictures?” I was shocked by the level of aggression. Being in customer service, I am pretty good at dealing with aggressive people, and fairly patient, so I just maintained my positive demeanor, and hoped to share with this person the thrill I was having with the high quality and care that seemed to have gone into the store, and win him over. I said, in a very sweet voice,

“I am taking pictures because I want to share, and when people see this picture they will see where I am and see how good it looks and they will also want to come here.”


The Forbidden

His reply: “You’re not allowed” and went on to tell me that I have no reason to be taking pictures, that NO ONE (and yes I used caps, because this is appropriate to show the tone I was spoken to in) – “NO ONE takes pictures in here, unless I say they do.” – I still maintained my smile, I said “Oh, are you the owner,” – in a very admiring tone. He nodded. I went on, “Well you’ve done a fantastic job – it’s amazing in here- that’s why I took the picture!” And his response was the same, “NO ONE takes pictures”. Ever seen Al Pacino play one of his mafia roles? Enough said.


Show Your Customer’s You Value Them

I walked in as a raving fan – before I had even had a bite. Imagine the value a company has to find this kind of enthusiasm… Yet, rather than engage in conversation with me, or be grateful for my enthusiasm, the owner of the store created a very negative interaction.

The fear this “owner” had in having photos taken, superseded everything else important to business. He didn’t care if he was being intimidating in his manner, (which he was) , he didn’t care to even look at me and realize I was a raving fan, he didn’t care about me at all. His pride (?) in his sandwiches and cakes – and keeping this out of pictures (???) was more important than anything else.

I would have rather been involved in a conflict with Al Pacino, I would have felt more at ease. Much more at ease.

Even after all my answers, my explanation of intention, my flowery comments of praise, he didn’t stop repeating the question and reinforcing no one takes pictures. I realized there was no talking to this man – frankly, I didn’t need it. Consumers do not need this kind of conflict in their lives, they go places for service – for pleasant experiences or help, not to be harassed.

So, feeling intimidated, threatened and shaken by what could be defined as nothing else but bullying, I looked at him and said, I’m deleting the picture.

He didn’t even say thank you. He didn’t do anything. I went to pick up my food which had been waiting for me at that point and went to sit down to eat.

Social Media Didn’t Change Customer Experiences – It Added a New Dimension

I couldn’t eat. I was disgusted. I was too shaken, and shocked.

Being a fairly reasonable person, I didn’t have the heart to identify the place in a Tweet. It’s not my style. When I “share” I tend to want to share positive things. No one needs negativity in their streams (my personal philosophy). I didn’t end up eating very much, whether it was the food or the experience, it just wasn’t good anymore. If you walk away with nothing else from this post, walk away with this: Feel the “raving fan” I walked in as, feel how much excitement and enthusiasm I had – then see what this act of “non existent” customer service had : from thrilled to so sick I couldn’t even enjoy the meal – and I’ll never be back there. This is the impact one bad interaction can have. However, for businesses in this social world, it doesn’t just stop there.

A Tweet Can Change Everything

What would happen if I went on Foursquare, started tweeting and instagramming what happened there. Maybe I could go on Echoer, examples of what could have been in the picture below, and permanently paint a picture hovering on a map above the place telling the story?


Just Because You Don’t “Get” Technology is No Excuse; You Better Shape Up.

The people are talking and the people are seeing it, and the people are your clients.

Owners, service representatives, people need to understand that if not for beliefs in good service and valuing customers – then out of fear – you better start paying attention to every single person, you better treat people well and realize that as Mark Schaefer so wonderfully covers in his book “Return on Influence” every voice matters and can make the difference in the success and perception of an organization. “We are on the cusp of a marketing revolution. And it is being led by you” he says, and he is right. A tweet, a post, a blog can change everything.

Protect The Values of Your Business In Every Action

If you’re not sure what to do in a situation, social media or not, ask yourself if your actions serve your company values or commitment to service.

This shop’s “alleged” commitment is “to guarantee customer satisfaction“… to provide:

  • Warm and friendly welcome
  • Listening and availability
  • Irreproachable service and quality

Most ironically, the franchise also makes this statement to it’s franchisee’s to: “Become a real ambassador for our brand”

This disconnect between the Social Media departments, between what management’s thoughts and what the “trench” employees/leaders are actually doing, is a major issue for businesses and one that no matter who you are, if you are going to get social you need to address. You need to make sure that every single level of your organization understands what your commitments and vision are – it is the only way to assure that you will be socially successful – on all levels. In real life or in social media.

Back to the Consumer – Your Advocate

I was taking a picture to rant and rave about this incredible place I had just found. I left there, horrified, sickened, shocked and feeling harassed.

The owner of the store was so afraid of people taking pictures in his store – he responded with aggression, and what could be perceived as bullying.

There is a nice way to talk to people, there is a nice way to communicate. Even if I had been photographing prized and original cake designs (which I assure you I wasn’t), there would have been a better way to handle the situation.

“Hey, I see you’re admiring our cakes”

“Yes, they are incredible”

“We really appreciate that you like them so much, unfortunately, these are prize winning designs and we must protect them with our lives, would you mind not taking pictures?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that – ok…”

Or better yet, post a sign outside and say “No pictures allowed”

Manage expectations.

What are You Afraid Of?

Why was he afraid that I take a picture of a cake and share it with the world? The only explanation is fear of social media – and ironically what he did was create a situation that was truly disastrous.

He lost out on raving Tweets, FB posts, possibly a raving blog post, about very delicious (looking) food. (Twitter loves that)

He just lost a lifetime client, one who would have likely made that lunch spot a second home -not now, that 20$ lunch ends there.

Not only does the $20 lunch end there, but it just so happens his store is part of a franchise, one who in fact has a social media presence. I could be inclined to advise them about this lack of customer appreciation – but not only that, I am writing about it here, and although I didn’t name him – or the place – the reality is I could have.

The following is a real life example of something I saw when exploring an area. It really illustrates the disconnect and the effects customer feedback can have in this social scape.

Smoke and Mirrors

The lesson: You can make your store look as nice as you want, you can make your cakes and sandwiches as creative and as beautiful as anyone has ever seen. If you treat people like garbage, it’s not worth anything.

There is a huge parallel here between the store and the social business.

In business you can put up your Facebook Page and make everything look all pretty, but if you don’t manage your community your raving fans could turn into advocating opponents. At the speed of a tweet.

The “Watch Dog” of Good Service and Authenticity

The warning in this story is not in fearing social media – it’s be aware, if you talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk, social media actually turns into a “watch dog” . When you don’t really care about your customers, and when you treat people poorly – they aren’t going to stand for it, and with social media, they are going to share it not just with one person, or two – but potentially with thousands or hundreds of thousands. One Tweet. Think about it.

I shared a story in a post a few months ago ( “In Social Media , it’s the Nice Guys Who Win“) about one tweet with the power to move the public and force a company to end a law suit that had otherwise spanned years! One Tweet.

Fear and ignorance of social media causes agression in those who don’t understand it, and it causes potentially agressive responses on social channels from those who do understand it, and will not tolerate bad service anymore (as seen in the second screen shot above).

If all you are doing is putting up smoke and mirrors, it’s just not going to work. Get your mission, vision, product and service aligned – it’s the only way to be successful. Engage your raving fans and build your community!

  • What do you think, should I have left my “Echo” about my experience public?
  • Is your organisation really living the social business model, or is it just smoke and mirrors?
  • How should businesses prepare for the social customer?

*Thank you to EchoerApp for providing screen shots for me to work with in this article. You rock!


  • mim.gomberg

    I appreciate that you don’t want to name names and drag people through the mud. You are right not to raise your voice along with the restaurant owner. Are you helping them or any unsuspecting clients through inaction?  As a consumer, I read tips left by other patrons left on Foursquare or Yelp. I still prefer to make my own decisions based on personal experience but a heads up is much appreciated. I am surprised you were able to eat the food at all based on your interactions with the owner. I would have either left the food there or asked for a refund based on such poor customer service. Thanks for sharing your story. Miriam

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment Miriam, and nice to meet you via my blog 🙂 I completely agree that’s it’s essential for us as consumers to share these types of comments to serve as warnings to other consumers. In this particular case, I still want to give the owner a chance to understand what transpired – a chance to correct the behavior – or put up a sign- the reason is simply because every other employee in there was working hard giving great customer service with a smile – so it made me pause before writing something that would falsely represent the big picture. But I agree with you, so I’ll be giving my approach some thought. Is it worth my time to try and show the owner a new way to look at things so he doesn’t hurt his success? I guess it’s just the social media advocate in me and service manager looking to “fix” the situation and make it all good… The reality though is many business will not adapt, and I guess that’s why I’m sharing this. It’s so important to become familiar with the current market and really get an internal alignment!

  • KateNasser

     Dear Mila,Your post touches on a very hot topic.  As social
    media and technology have united to make everyone instant reporters, it
    has also heightened the need for old world etiquette.  Odd yes?
    Just because we can take pictures doesn’t mean we should take them
    without asking permission.  Years back (before social media) I was
    giving a keynote and the event was *not to videotape me.  During the
    talk, someone stood up with a video camera (they were large enough to
    see back then) and started to video me.  I stopped and very nicely asked
    him to turn it off.  His answer spoke volumes:  “Oh don’t
    worry, You are doing fine. Keep going.”   I thought, Huh?  He really
    didn’t get it. He believed he could walk through life doing whatever he
    wanted without any regard for the impact on others.
    Every action we take in this world affects someone else.  Social media
    and technology have not changed that basic rule of humanity.  
    Let’s remember to ask before we take pics, attribute intellectual
    capital to the source, and use social media and technology for the good
    of all while showing respect for all.Regards and thanks,Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

    • KateNasser Thank you so much for your insight Kate,  “Social media and technology have not changed that basic rule of humanity” – in this you summarize it all. This is so true, and you brought up an interesting point, we have evolved so much into a culture of sharing that it seems almost natural to just take out your camera to capture pictures of things we love, or that inspire us or move us somehow. Pinterest’s popularity or Instagram’s speaks for itself. Yet, is this really our “right” should we take a step back and think – do I have a right to take a picture of this, should I ask? I think that it woudl be polite to ask every time, but with the evolving world and the mobile camera revolution (if i can call it that) things in public places would be open to fair picture taking. Store owners and others who have reason to not want pictures taken, I think, should post signs if there is a concern. However, I agree that when in doubt, ask. Perhaps it is a matter of judgement, I know that if red tape starts dictating to me that I am not allowed to take pictures without asking everywhere I go, then I will probably decide not to bother waiting in line to ask the question, and won’t take pictures. I would advise store owners NOT to put policies in place like that because it slows down, if not eliminates the possibility of sharing, free advertising and raving fans. In places that are not public, or places that have design concerns, I think that you definitely want to ask – same with people. I wrote a post many weeks ago which was about good customer service, the subject of my article were Squeegee kids, I approached them and told them what I was writing about and asked them if I could use their picture. This was a matter of personal respect. Its a very difficult line we walk right now. When in doubt, your advice to ask is right on, it’s a matter of people skills – of courtesy and of human values. As consumers it’s something, we are taking for granted, definitely a great thought to pause on. Can’t wait to read your related article! Thank you again for taking the time to comment and read my post. It’s an amazing time we live in, so important to not forget humanity as we walk through life!

  • Wonderful post Mila!I completely agree with you about there being a way to handle costumers or your clients for that matter. No matter how great your shop or how good a writer you may be, or even if you have a good business, if you aren’t good at communication skills and don’t know how to converse in a proper way, you will lose your clients.I guess the restaurant owner was a person who may be very rich with a large variety of classic cakes, but having disappointed even one consumer means washing your hands off many other potential consumers you might have brought in. And after repeatedly trying to be polite, patient and trying to make him see reason, you had to give up. Such people aren’t actually worth wasting time over I feel. But yes, this is an important lesson to learn from.Thanks for sharing. 🙂