One of the concerns about Social Media that I rarely hear voiced among small and medium-sized businesses is the fear of "Getting it Wrong." While few people ever actually come out and say it, it's clear that many business owners fear saying something stupid and being branded negatively, as a result.
Let's get this out of the way right off - you can't make everyone happy. Not all the time, not some of the time...never.
No matter how carefully you behave in social spaces you're going to make a fool of yourself one day. Putting our feet in our mouths is a time-honored tradition of the human race.
So, how do you handle a negative situation? By remembering that, at the *very* beginning of your interaction, the other party has no anti-you agenda.
A person comes into your store and you are on the phone with something very important. Important enough that you simply cannot put it on hold, or talk around it. The potential customer waits, waits, waits. They walk around the store a few times, so clearly, there is something you can help them with, or they'd leave right away. And still, you really, positively can't get off the phone. You watch with increasing frustration as they try and signal you, or they start to look frustrated and eventually, after 20 minutes, they leave muttering.
That night when you login to Twitter, there's someone saying how you couldn't be bothered to help them, even though they were right there in the store! The person is angry and hurt and you are cast as the bad guy.
Yes, you could offer an explanation, but that probably won't solve the problem of the angry would-be customer. And explanations don't fix the problem. But there are ways of effectively handling the situation.
1- Prioritize your response
This person is angry for...what? Because you seemed to ignore them? Because you were on a phone call and didn't get off? Because they *might* have brought you business or because they *were definitely* going to bring you business?
If the person was just shopping around, they may or may not have actually given you business. Your phone call might really have been more critical. Could you have made/taken that phone call at a different time, or had someone else watch the front while you dealt with it?
Assess what, exactly, you are responding to.
2 - Apologize anyway
"I apologize - there was a terrible misunderstanding" covers a LOT of territory. Take responsibility for the situation. Don't try to explain it away at this point. It'll sound like an excuse. Own the mix-up, say it was on you. It shows that you get that there is a problem. Saying, "well there was mix-up, but there was a 'closed' sign on the door" still sounds like you want the other party to take responsibility but, from their point of view they did nothing wrong except enter your store.
Don't waste time assigning blame. No one cares. it doesn't help the potential customer to know that Jimmy the store clerk was at fault. All anyone wants is for the business to take responsibility and *do* something about it.
3 - Don't ask questions they've already answered
I once vented about a bad company policy online. The company asked me what happened. I explained that if they cared what happened all they had to do was look at my tweets - which they did not do. They then ignored the point of my complaint and offered to help me by "looking at my paperwork." This was a bad suggestion because 1) I had none, having left the store without a making a transaction - something they would have understood has they read the thread - and 2) because that is not a suggestion that any human is inclined to feel is meant to be helpful. By offering to "help" in a way designed to get them out of blame, they didn't "help" me feel any more inclined to give them money ever again.
4 - Understand that the other person is angry
When you've been hung up on, you get angry. When the checkout person is obnoxious, you get angry. When your order arrives broken, you get angry. Understand that the potential customer is *angry.* Treat them the way you want to be treated if it were you. Anything else is disingenuous and will not help you. Presuming they have some kind of agenda and were out to get you in the first place is delusional.
And here's the money shot:
5 - Offer fair, equitable and open-handed options
If you have no options to offer your detractor do NOT respond to him or her. You cannot make yourself look better by saying "Sorry, oh well." If you really think their business is worth it - offer something fair to make it up to them. Don't be half-assed or underhanded about this. You might be angry too, but taking someone for a fool is unforgivable.
If you're not going to follow through all the way in this process - do not engage the person at all. You cannot fake being a reasonable, kind person with good business ethics if you are not *actually* a person with good business ethics. Either you put up - or shut up.
Never, EVER, reply to a comment about bad customer service with some boilerplate line about how your "customers are important to you" or how "you are working to serve the customer better." It's just about the most asinine thing you can say to a person who just received crappy customer service for whatever reason.
With every step you take towards resolution, you have many ways to turn situation around. Treat your potential customers with dignity and respect and even when you got it wrong, you have a chance to make it right.