A recent article I wrote for In and Out Magazine.

Here’s a Before Internet (BI) scenario: A consumer has a problem with a business. Consumer informs owner. Owner rectifies problem or does not. Consumer decides to forgive and forget, or decides not to patronize the business ever again. It’s simple. Here’s an After Internet (AI) scenario: A consumer has a problem with a business. Consumer jumps on the keyboard and slams the establishment through blogs, forums, social networks, and consumer rating sites. There’s no face-to-face constructive criticism given to the owner/manager,  no opportunity to immediately address the customer’s complaints and possibly send the customer home feeling validated and satisfied. Condemnation over the internet leads to repercussions that will exist for an infinite amount of time. This is not so simple.

You show me a business that doesn’t screw-up now and then, and I will show you a unicorn. Stuff happens. Be realistic. I spent two decades owning a small business that was built on customer service. Anytime a customer shared a problem or bad experience with me, I felt like he had given me a gift; I had the chance to rectify the problem and improve my operation. Other, unsatisfied customers chose to leave and never return.   No gift.

They keyboard can be mightier than the sword.  It can be viewed as the modern-day, school-yard bully. At least on the playground you know who the bully is.  The internet fosters an environment that allows for anonymity and no accountability. Recently, it was my turn to choose a restaurant to dine in with friends. I was bombarded with comments from my pals: “reviews weren’t the greatest”, “service was slow”, “Joan, from Utah, said she would never eat there again.” My replies were: “Food is subjective to individual taste”, “Maybe the customer was in a super rush”, “Joan could be a competitor, ex-employee, or an ex-spouse.” We ate there, and the result was I picked another winner. My entire party had a great time. We would gladly return and recommend the restaurant to friends. Lesson learned: Take reviews with a grain of salt. Of course, I understand that there is truth and consensus on blogs, forums, and consumer rating sites. I take issue with the disgruntled customer who would rather try to destroy someone’s business than allow them an opportunity to address complaints in person or at least directly. This is what makes us humans and separates us from keyboard tyrants. I guess it’s okay if and only if that person admits that they have never made a mistake. I have seen a lot but I’ve yet to see a unicorn living in a glass house.

So be thoughtful when a business or an individual makes a mistake. Maybe you can implement a 24 hour cool down period before you pull out your keyboard and go for the kill.

Larry Vivola is a business coach. He works with entrepreneurs to help improve their business results. He can be contacted at Larry@InLineBusinessAdvisors.com