Wednesday, March 3

Changing PR: Customers Are Media; Complaints Are News

Never mind all those customers on your company's Facbook page. Don't forget the customers standing right in front of you.

That seems to be one lesson learned by the vice president of Evergreen Entertainment LLC, which operates St. Croix Falls Cinema 8 in St. Croix Falls, Wis. His chain of five theaters is now the target of a Facebook BOYCOTT page that has drawn 5,100 fans and counting, after he wrote the following response to a complaint (* are mine):


Drive to White Bear Lake and also go fuc* yourself. If you dont have money for entertainment, get a better job, and don't pay for everything on your credit or check card. You can also shove your time and gas up your fuc*ing a**. Also, find better things to do with your time. This email is an absolute joke. We don't care to have you as a customer. Let me know if you need directions to white bear lake.

Steven J. Payne - Vice President

Payne has since apologized, but the apology came too little too late. It seems other customers have had complaints about the theater, but never had a forum to complain. From our viewpoint, they represent the most dangerous loss of revenue for a company —customers who never complain but never make another purchase.

Not everyone who comments on the boycott page is sympathetic to Sarah Kohl-Leaf of Taylors Falls, Minn. They say her original letter was the catalyst for the response. I cannot agree with that. Retail customers write impassioned letters all the time. Her complaints:

• Lack of an ability to pay with a credit or debit card.
• An ATM cash machine that was out of cash or service.
• A movie interruption to check ticket stubs against the count.

Payne didn't need to be offended by the complaint. They are all valid, and might explain why more customers are not visiting the company's establishments. Sarah deserved a thank you more than she deserved a fu*k off letter.

Everyone has the potential to be the media.

As the Facebook boycott page takes off, mainstream media is starting to pick up the story, including The Minneapolis - St. Paul Star Tribune, Consumerist, and The Sun in Osceola, Wis.

A few customers are even concerned that the theater chain might not survive. While larger operations might fire an employee for such an infraction, this chain seems to be a family-owned theater.

Three other takeaways to consider: Customers do not have to be celebrities like Kevin Smith to gain traction. The lack of a social media presence may one day come back to haunt your company because you won't have any loyalists to lift you up like Toyota, which did far worse than Steven Payne. And, as always, the initial mistake (with the exception of gross negligence that affects public safety) is never as impacting as how we respond to it.

Ergo, we might not be reading this story today if Payne had accepted the criticism and offered up a free popcorn. And we might not be reading about it today if it wasn't for social media. But nowadays, anyone can become a publisher and every manager has to wear a public relations hat now and again.

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