Wild Honey restaurant slammed for favoring foreigners, and what we can learn from it
April 24, 2012 by Terence LEE
It was a bad day for Wild Honey, a popular all-breakfast restaurant in Mandarin Gallery, Singapore.
A customer named Gary Tan posted a complaint on the company’s Facebook Page alleging that he has been discriminated against.
Apparently, his request to get a corner table for three for himself and a guest was rejected. However, a foreigner that came in later was able to do the same. Think Rosa Parks, 21st Century version.
What really pissed people off, however, was the response from Guy Wachs, the restaurant’s founder. He said: “Dear sir, we have an international staff including many Singaporeans and respect all people. We deeply regret your remark (emphasis mine). Guy Wachs, Director.”
Some of you may be shocked by the venom thrown at foreigners in these forums. It’s a political issue, which I’m not going to dwell on, but here’s the gist of it: Many Singaporeans have been rather peeved lately by the government’s liberal immigration policies, and they feel like they’re not being taken cared of enough.
In this context, the tepid reaction towards the restaurant’s actions wasn’t surprising.
Regardless of who’s right or wrong here, there are many lessons startups can learn from this incident. While I’m certainly no customer service expert, I intend this article to be the start of a fruitful discussion — a departure from the mindless raging you see in the forums.
1) When interacting with customers on social media, think twice before posting anything.
The Internet forgets easily, but it doesn’t forgive. Deleted articles and comments are easily captured and live on for perpetuity. While Internet users are generally fickle-minded and move quickly from controversy to controversy, rest assured that any online misdemeanor, real or perceived, can be easily dug out online.
With that in mind, it really pays to think carefully about how you respond to angry customers. As slighted as you feel — and that’s understandable since your business is your baby — a badly handled PR situation could boomerang on you, a hundred times.
In Guy Wach’s case, perhaps that terse comment wasn’t the best way to deal with the situation. Perhaps he did it in a moment of anger, and angry heads are not rational.
2) For God’s sake, read the news.
This controversy might have been avoided had the owners been more careful about the cultural context they operate in. As far removed as it sounds, understand not only the business environment, but also the society in its entirety. This can really help you get customers.
Had the Wild Honey folks been sensitive to the anti-foreigner sentiments brewing in Singapore right now, they might not have responded the way they did.
Whether or not this favoritism towards foreigners is really happening, the managers might want to ensure it will never occur, given how Singaporeans despise it.
3) If you decide to apologize to a customer, remember to validate your staff too, especially if they did nothing wrong.
As an entrepreneur, you aren’t just a PR spokesperson. You’re an employer, leader, and cheerleader. It’s often the case that the customer thinks they are right when in fact the employees did nothing wrong. In such instances, be sure to also pull your staff aside and reassure them that you have their backs. Public chastisement can backfire and bring down company morale.
4) Deleting negative comments on Facebook doesn’t help.
Tempting as it might sound to delete the negative comments that flood your Facebook Page as a result of the negative backlash, remember that a Facebook Page does not work the same way as your company newsletter. It is not a one-way street.
Deleting comments willy-nilly might give the impression that you’re hiding something or being insincere. A balance has to be struck here: While there are comments that deserve to be deleted for whatever reasons — being racist, for example — others should stand because they’re valuable feedback.
You have to roll with the punches.
5) Customers are not always right, so there’s no need to bend over backwards for them.
You are providing a service, not a sweatshop. Customers make all sorts of demands, and a lot of them are unreasonable. In the age of social media, people like to make a huge song and dance about a company when they feel offended, so giving them what they want — an insensitive comment — is the surest route towards a PR disaster.
To defuse a tense situation when you feel they are unjustified, make your response as uncontroversial as possible, while giving the impression that you are dealing with the situation behind closed doors. No need to give a public account. Do apologize, but do it without saying that the errant customer is right.
An alternative approach to consider is to give them exactly what they want, and more besides. It is the “turn the other cheek” method.
A good case study would be this incident that occurred between OCBC Bank and a customer who demanded a cake on her birthday.
She literally got her cake and ate it. And some backlash of her own on the side.
OCBC Bank came out the winner.
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About The Author
Terence LEE - Editor
Terence writes mainly about technology trends and startups in Asia. He believes in crafting smart content: Not just a regurgitation of text, but well thought-out pieces that serve the reader using a combination of data, design, narratives, analysis, and visual impact. His articles have been published on Venturebeat, Yahoo!, Straits Times, Today, and The Online Citizen. He also co-founded NewNation.sg, a satirical news site covering Singapore affairs. Engage him on LinkedIn and Twitter.Read other posts by Terence LEE