Opinions

The Western Co. Fiasco Is A Prime Example Of What NOT To Do In PR/Social Media

[Update: 8 Nov, 1:49pm] It also seems like they’ve threatened to sue popular food blogger Seth Lui.

[Update: 8 Nov, 1:38pm] It seems like their Facebook page has been taken down. https://www.facebook.com/thewesternco/

The Western Co. might have started off as an eatery well-known for their Swiss raclette cheese wheels, but with a single Facebook post, they have now achieved a new height of social media notoriety in Singapore.

It started off pretty commonly enough – disgruntled customer takes to social media to rant about bad service standards, friends shares sentiments and the post, complaint makes its way around mutual friends, owner attempts to clear the air…so on and so forth.

Except this time, the entire internet got involved.

To date, the post has over 1,300 shares, 1,600 reactions and 640 comments – a feat that can only be achieved by not just one, but many dissatisfied customers.

And to make things worse, the owner themselves had played the defence card, and resorted to not only commenting:

Image Credit: Andy Wong's FB post
Image Credit: Andy Wong’s FB post

But also putting up a post (which had been taken off) on their page in their own defence:

Image Credit: Vivian CMP on FB
Image Credit: Vivian CMP on FB

Now, what truly happened between Wong and The Western Co. crew is something that only both parties will know, but when the rest of the internet comes in with their own (and some, backed-up with photos) horror stories to share, that’s when matters should be dealt with even more delicately.

Seems like owner Larissa Yang didn’t get that memo, and Coconuts Singapore published her response to the fiasco yesterday afternoon, in which she asserted that Wong “reacted with extreme hostility”, which “left her no choice but to ask him to leave”.

“He is out to hurt the establishment. What more can I say? […] Do you really think we opened a business to chase customers out? We need a living. I have seven staff members to pay. I have rent to pay. Why would I ask him to leave for no good reason?”

In response to the other complaints that have been unearthed by the post, she states that they were “from when they just started, and that haters will just keep bringing up the past”.

“People are watching me; they want me to fail. But if I really do, I don’t think its a shame. I have learnt.”

However, her sorry-not-sorry response not only failed to appease the mob, but acted like kerosene to an already raging fire.

This incident has been called by commenters to be a ‘case study’ which reveals the absolute don’ts when it comes to social media management, and I fully agree with that.

Now, I’m no business major, but here are some pointers that we all can definitely learn from.

1. Social Media Is A Tool To Build Relations, Not Break Them

Almost every business has a Facebook page now, and more than just a platform for announcements, it has also become a space where customers can post positive or negative reviews.

This is actually beneficial for both sides, since customers can be more informed, and the business owners can take note of points to improve on.

By engaging in dissatisfied guests and making sure their grievances are addressed in a fair manner, customers would grow to have more respect and trust in the establishment, which is extremely beneficial in the long run.

However, many have pointed out that The Western Co.’s aggressive ways of handling complaints on social media are not just one-off.

Image Credit: Mae Tan on FB
Image Credit: Mae Tan on FB

The mantra that “customers are not always right” is a commonly utilised defence by service providers, and while this holds true in certain cases (having dabbled in F&B, there really are customers from hell around), The Western Co. used it as a weapon to spite instead.

And asking for your customers’ understanding on your practices should never be thinly-veiled attacks.

Never.

2. Sarcasm Is Never An Option

Image Credit: Sophia Ling on FB
Image Credit: Sophia Ling on FB

On that point, many of the personal experiences brought up in the still-active post reveal rather snarky remarks from the team.

Image Credit: Caocao Chia on FB
Image Credit: Caocao Chia on FB

It’s understandable that one might feel upset when one’s pride and joy is given a negative review, but responding to the comment with sarcasm is simply unprofessional.

3. Feedback Is A Chance To Improve, Not Engage In Self-Defence

Image Credit: Vince Poon on FB
Image Credit: Vince Poon on FB

What started off as balanced and polite feedback to the team immediately soured when an overly-defensive and blunt response was issued.

Feedback and reviews are actually a business’ best bet in finding ways to improve, and engaging in the fierce protection your practices without consideration of suggestions is simply short-sighted.

The rule of thumb is, if one person finds a particular issue a problem, there are at least a few others who are definitely bothered by it too.

4. Even On The Worst Days, Service Should Always Be Tip-Top

Image Credit: Nazri Shamsudin on FB
Image Credit: Nazri Shamsudin on FB

As a new company that’s building up your clientele and reputation, customer service is your best tool in making a great impression.

While many might be able to tolerate veteran hawkers’ occasional quick tempers (usually paired with an efficiency that one might think is humanly impossible), the same doesn’t hold for newcomers.

The starting period is a time for learning, and blocking out suggestions with a wall higher than what Donald Trump intends to build will just stunt the growth of your business.

Image Credit: Louis Chia on FB
Image Credit: Louis Chia on FB

5. The Internet Never Forgets

The point explains itself.

In a time where screenshots are just at a press of two buttons (I’m an iPhone user), you can consider anything you post online to have the potential of being eternalised…and possibly used against you.

This is especially so if you’re a public figure, and even more so, a business. So before you hit the ‘Enter’ on your keyboard, do think extensively (and obsessively) about the possibility of backlash.

The Western Co. definitely learnt that lesson the tough way.

Is It Too Late Now To Say Sorry?

At around 10pm last night, though, the team emerged from the rubble and issued an (unprecedented) apology, urging readers to understand that they “are a small and very new restaurant [and] have a lot to learn as far as customer service goes”.

Published at around 10pm last night
Published at around 10pm last night

They also revealed that they will be appointing a social media agency to “help [them] serve [customers] better”.

Responses so far have been less than encouraging, though, and it seems like the only way that they could recover from this would be by proving their change in attitude through both actions off and online.

Feature Image Credit: Andy Wong on FB

 

Subscribe to Vulcan Post Newsletter

Stay updated with our weekly curated news and updates.