Monday, 31 January 2011

Why fear customer conversation? Benihana, please listen up.

This has been a week full of mixed emotions with Liverpool on the verge of losing Fernando Torres, Egypt fighting for a revolution and the blogger / Twitter community standing united behind a Kuwaiti blogger, TWOFOURTYEIGHTAM, in his fight against Benihana.

For many of you, you may be wondering where did Benihana and a Kuwaiti blogger enter the picture from?  Basically, one half of the blogging team, Mark, had made a visit to Behihana in Kuwait when it opened there recently and did a food review on it.  For the many nice comments he had, there were a few aspects that weren't to his satisfaction which he wrote about on his blog.  In short, Benihana responded by issuing a lawsuit against TWOFOURTYEIGHTAM and the bloggers are now being sued.  (More details of this can be seen on Alexander McNabb's blog here).

This really makes you wonder why as a brand, franchise or retailer, would you sue someone for voicing their opinion? With my day job being in managing a retail business, I know that the most critical part of my job is to ensure as an organization we remain a part of the customer conversation.  This conversation takes place on the shop floor, in our marketing, our PR and also in our social media activities.  For us to be engaged in a true conversation, it requires two people to be involved, a customer and us.  Dictatorial rants are old school and won't gain you any respect.  A conversation is essentially a dialogue that must happen if you want to retain a customer.  The days of expecting customer loyalty are history.  No one is loyal today.  If you want a customer to remain with you, you need to engage in customer conversation.

Customer conversation happens at different times, whether it be pre-sales, during the selling process or post-sales when returns or service issues may arise.  

One thing I've learned though, no matter how good a job you're doing, there is someone doing it better and there is someone you're inevitably going to upset along the way.  This is where being a part of the customer conversation is essential, as you need to listen, improve and move on.  There will be times where you fail to meet a customer's expectations.  Take the positives out of it, acknowledge it, work improve on it and in return, you will be appreciated for taking the initiative.

No one expects us to be perfect but they expect us to treat each other with respect.  In the case of Benihana, this has clearly not been the case and the bottom line is Benihana has probably lost an entire segment of customers who might've otherwise visited their establishment had they listened, acknowledged, improved and moved on with wanting to do a better job.

Unfortunately for Benihana, there are not many ways to make up for what they've done but even now, at the very least, they should own up and admit that they've over-reacted and maybe hope they can redeem themselves by engaging themselves more with the community that exists on social media.  As the saying goes, the customer is king, so please Benihana, start listening to your customers.