The New Reality for Small Business Owners

Finnegan at Raleigh's Cupcake Shoppe

Finnegan at Raleigh's Cupcake Shoppe

I have a 3 year old that loves cupcakes. We’ve driven 30 minutes on a whim to drop in on The Cupcake Shoppe. When my in-laws moved to the town next door, they found a great cupcake shop in Fuquay called Cupcake Bite.

The first I heard about Cupcake Bite was from my mother-in-law who said the cupcakes were delicious! The next day my wife and son tried it out. They also liked the cupcakes, but the person handling the counter was brief at best and rude at worst. After about 8 or 10 visits mt wife finally left a message for them on their Facebook page and on their Yelp listing.

Both the Yelp review and the Facebook post were basically, “I love the cupcakes, but the service is so bad I’ve stopped going”.

So this is the part where the world has changed.

In 1995, the only customer who mattered was the food critic from your local newspaper. Now everyone is a critic. Even scarier, you have no idea who has influence until it’s too late.

My wife received a Facebook message from the owner that said:

Hi Kristen,
This is Gina, the owner of CupCakeBite. I saw your post and I wanted to reach out to you. I appreciate your business and am happy to hear you enjoy our cupcakes. I’m sorry that you’ve had a bad experience here and of course, would like to prevent that from happening again. That being said, I would have really appreciated you talking to me first before posting on our Facebook page and writing a very negative review on Yelp.

Every small business owner would like that, but the hard reality is that’s not the way the world works anymore. People post on Facebook the same things they have always chatted about to their friends, but now everyone can listen in. Almost nobody ever says, “let me talk to the owner”.

It doesn’t matter if you think the new way sucks, it just is.

People in general don’t care about your business, they care about themselves. A small business just getting started has to give people a reason to love them. People want to support small businesses in their town, they want to be the one that tells their friends that they found a great new place, they want to be the one that is known by name at the cool new place. In exchange for that kind of passion, you need to make them feel special.

The not so secret part of the equation is that the more love you push onto your customers, the more love they’ll bring back to your business.

If I was advising the owner as a social media strategist, I would recommend the following:

  • Stop removing negative comments on your Facebook wall and fix the problems creating the negative feedback.
  • If you ever find yourself writing the phrase “with that said” in an email to a customer, stop writing. No customer cares about how hard you have it.
  • The people who leave you negative feedback may be your biggest fans in disguise, love them more to find out.
  • Learn the names of your best customers, or at least their faces so you can greet them. That goes for everyone in the shop.
  • Every once in a while, ask someone what cupcake their next-door-neighbor would like, then give it to them in a separate bag so they can hand deliver it to them. Word of mouth is powerful.
  • Stop looking at comments as positive and negative, and instead think, “that’s interesting”. Respond to both types with the desire to learn.
  • Try to stay positive with yourself, your staff and your customers.

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  1. What’s worse than everyone being a critic is they also think they are special. I know your wife went back plenty of times and still experienced bad service, at which point I believe she’s justified in writing a negative review, however she is an exception. This new era of being able to review and alert people to bad service and products immediately has resulted in a mindset that they deserve instant gratification for their problems. I see tweets/facebook updates from people who have waited too long to be served while they are still at the restaurant. Sorry but that is still not the way to handle that situation despite the realities of our brave new world of social media oversaturation. You should be talking to your server or the manager at the restaurant at that time. And even though I agree with your wife’s decision to give a negative review after so many visits, what is wrong with talking to the people who work there? They are not a faceless corporation. They are a local shop. Bombarding them with faceless, negative reviews does nothing to engender a sense of community. And isn’t that what social media is partly about?

    It is for this reason that I don’t give credence to any “1 star” reviews for services or products. These are the usually the result of people who demand instant satisfaction and the feeling that they are special, or are too dumb to understand the product they bought. “5 star” reviews are often shills. 🙂

    • She actually did talk to the woman who handles the register, and her reviews were certainly not “faceless”, each had her actual face attached in fact. It was because she could be contacted from either one of her comments that the owner was able to reach out to her.

      I think that shops that have only 5 star reviews are suspect as well, but I will say that I expect to see reviews of any product, service or restaurant have reviews from 1 to 5. I look more for where the mass of reviews are.

      So my last response to your comment is that YOU choose to leave a fake email address ( when you commented, so should I disregard your comment? [ is a restricted domain that is only for documentation purposes]

  2. Well you can’t tell a story and leave a piece of information out and then tell me I’m wrong when I comment on the information given. You did not mention she had talked with people there, so fair enough then I guess.

    And you can do anything you’d like with my anonymous comment Phil. Although having a blog where you must put in an email address that is meant to be hidden, and then posting it is kind of sketchy, despite the erroneous nature of the address I gave. Which is why I don’t give my real address 🙂

  3. Dear Mr. Knopfler, first off, loved you in Dire Straits! “Money for nothing and the chicks for free”…

    Now just so I am on the same page with you. Your issue with Phil’s post was that his wife should of spoken to the manager before posting her negative review online because it was a small business and the owner deserved a more personal approach, right?

    But at the same time, you are posting to Phil’s PERSONAL blog with a fake name and BS email address??? I think before you start discussing things like “instant gratification” and knocking the customer, you should step out of the 80’s and come to realization that in today’s world it is all about the customer. If you own a small business and don’t realize that you have someone representing your business poorly, why should it be the customer’s responsibility to tell you the owner? That’s your job!

    And by posting here with a fake name and email address, you have clearly shown that you might want to look over those recommendations Phil made above. They might help you out moving forward. Oh and if you would like to discuss this further with me, my real name is Cord Silverstein as listed above and my email address is cord.silverstein at Thanks and hope to see you and the band out on tour real soon.

    • You have a) not comprehended my comment as I said very explicit and positive things about how she handled the situation (and issued a mea culpa when Phil revealed information he had not given before) and further those points were more general in nature and b) decided instead of discussing my argument you will attack the maker of the argument. If you have anything specific to say about my points rather than the perfectly legitimate way in which I posted them to the site, I’m more than happy to respond, but until then I will not respond to attacks for my use of anonymity where provided.

      If Phil does not want people to comment anonymously, he should set his site up to not allow them, and also not berate those who desire to keep their anonymity.

      • You did say in your first comment, “They are not a faceless corporation. They are a local shop. Bombarding them with faceless, negative reviews does nothing to engender a sense of community. And isn’t that what social media is partly about?”

        I absolutely 100% agree with your comment. Don’t you agree that it might be a bit hypocritical writing that using a fake name and email address?

        I guess what I am asking Mr. Knopfler is what is the difference of me going to on Yelp and writing a poor anonymous review on a local restaurant (which you were against in your initial comment) vs. what you have done right here?

        • “Don’t you agree that it might be a bit hypocritical writing that using a fake name and email address?”

          No, why would I agree to that?

          “what is the difference of me going to on Yelp and writing a poor anonymous review on a local restaurant (which you were against in your initial comment) vs. what you have done right here?”

          I will answer this with another question (I know, that’s annoying) – what is the difference between this blog and a restaurant? I have not reviewed a product or service that is being sold here. Also I don’t feel that by disagreeing (and really, I’m not disagreeing that much) with a couple of Phil’s points that I’ve somehow affected his ability to blog. I don’t feel disagreement in a comment is the same as as “poor review”. Would you be concerned about my anonymity if I had agreed with Phil? I’ve posted here before, and not a word was said about my choice to be anonymous. It concerns me that the subject of my anonymity has anything to do with the value of my opinion. If that is the case, why allow anonymous comments?

          I feel you are focusing on one word in my post, “faceless”, which is hardly the main point. And that is my fault probably, but I’d like to clarify that whether or not a real identity or not is used, I still feel the same way about the situation. Like I said, my gripe is not with how Phil’s wife handled the situation, but in general how I usually see most other people who use social media over personal confrontation to resolve disputes behave, anonymous or not.

          I apologize if this seemed like I had an issue with her, as I was afraid it would, despite trying a number of times to clarify that my concern was for a larger more general trend. Anyway, I’m going to bow out of this because I obviously am terrible at expressing my thoughts coherently and too many people are hung up on me being anonymous

          • I think what it comes down to is you and I have very different views on the definition of community. For me, a community is where people communicate, share and engage with each other online or offline . If you think about it, technology has given everyone for the first time in the history of the world, the opportunity for their voice to be heard. I consider myself unbelievably lucky to be on the planet during this wonderful moment in time. I believe this is a privileged that is cheapened when someone wants their voice to be heard, but is not willing to take ownership of their words by hiding in anonymity.

            But as my Dad use to say, “That is why there is 31 flavors”. I wish you the very best of luck Mr. Knopfler.

  4. There is something to be said for consumers “abusing” social media and attempting to solve problems after the fact via an angry tweet rather than escalating the issue on the spot. Kind of a passive-aggressive approach, IMHO.

    That said, companies NEED to respond appropriately via SM. Negative online feedback is going to pop up eventually for most businesses so understanding the right way to handle it is essential — acknowledging the problem is the first step in resolving the issue – not speaking defensively.

      • Phil – My comment wasn’t aimed at this specific incident – hope you didn’t interpret as a dig! Just a open nerve of mine related to the Dooce Maytag incident which rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not sure why, but it did.

    • I agree with Chelsea – just because SM makes it easy to comment (complain), Miss Manners would probably suggest that you talk face to face with the manager to present the issue. We all screw up. When we do I would much prefer a face to face conversation where I can hear and address the issue. Hammering me on social networks without first giving me a chance to handle the problem amounts to nothing more than cowardly cyber-bullying and the “gotcha” mentality social media breeds. Man-up and bring the issue to the person that can resolve it. If after that, a reasonable response hasn’t been made, then go ahead and hit ’em on social media (for whatever satisfaction that brings). Bear in mind that “reasonable” may differ between you and the manager. If you’re looking for free cupcakes for a year to appease you, than you are the one that needs a yelp review (there’s a lot of this unreasonableness floating around these days). Tell the manager exactly what you expect them to do in order for you to be happy but realize that sometime your demands may not be reasonable.

      Re: “That said, companies NEED to respond appropriately via SM.” Let first take a step back. While us social media types think EVERYONE is active on social media, Twitter adoption is only ~8-10% and not everyone is as savvy as we would want to believe. My Mom thinks a blog is a creature from some ’50s horror movie. This person makes cupcakes. Cupcakes. In Fuquay. This is not a Fortune 500 Tech company in Silicon Valley. They might spend to majority of their day knee deep in flour, not monitoring Yelp at every moment. The merits and wisdom of every business monitoring SM can be debated but for some people making Cupcakes could be a 18 hour a day job. This brings me to my original point, that the only sure way to know that your concern is being heard is to talk to the man in charge. Face to face. Mano a mano. Give them an opportunity to solve your problem before stringing them up on social media.

      As for you Cord and “Mark Knopfler”, I can only suggest that we hold a ‘cupcake summit’ to get you boys on speaking terms. I know a nice little place in Fuquay where we can hash thing out.

      Peace and Love, Peace and Love 😉

      • Dean I couldn’t disagree more.

        1. There was no cyber bullying going on here – it was an honest review of a business. Does a food critic for the News & Observer have to give the chef a chance before the review goes live? No, the business is expected to be at it’s best for the customer – not the other way around.
        2. I’m not sure if you looked at the Yelp reviews for this place, but they all basically say the same thing… great product, kinda pricey but crappy counter help. When 3 or 4 customers all say the same thing, how obvious does a problem need to be before the owner takes notice.
        3. If the owner of a new business doesn’t taking time to see what people are writing about her shop on Yelp, that’s on her. (by the way, she does watch it and has now written back to my wife twice).
        4. We don’t need a cupcake summit – everyone loves the cupcakes – we need a customer service summit. How about I go in with a hidden camera and post the video (good or bad) for everyone to grade the customer service? Would that be fair? That’s how 60 Minutes made their bones.

        • First – I wasn’t speaking about your situation specifically, just these situations in general. If you can’t say it to someones face, don’t say it at all. Hell, as a Social Media guy how about offering your services and use them as a case study in using social media to improve customer service. Would love to read that one.

          Second – So you’re okay with people writing a negative review about you on a public network every time you fail to meet their expectations? My list would be a mile long and my wife would be on Yelp constantly. Do unto others….

          Third – What is this “News & Observer” you speak of?

          Fourth – Would you settle for a customer service breakout session at my Cupcake Summit?

          Peace and Love, Peace and Love

  5. I have to agree with Cord — loved Mark in the Dire Straits! His solo work is good, too.

    Kidding aside, I think Kristen handled the situation appropriately, but (and I know this isn’t the original issue) I do see people misusing Twitter and Facebook to air their customer service complaints. When these complaints are anonymous and vicious (like they sometimes are on Yelp and other third party sites), it seems unfair that people can hold businesses accountable but not be held accountable themselves. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there might be a place for anonymous comments on the web, but they really don’t help create dialogue or community.

    • As a grizzled veteran journalist I think you may be a bit jaded on anonymous comments. Keep in mind that to use Facebook, Twitter or Yelp you MUST be logged in. All 3 of those platforms give you a way to reach back and contact the reviewer.

      It must be scary for any business to try to compete if their product or service is only mediocre now. God help the business with bad customer service!

  6. Any service or offering or “right” will be abused sometime by someone. I’m not going to defend abuses, however they don’t invalidate the medium.
    My $0.02:
    I once for a brief time has a manager who said “If a restaurant is bad, don’t complain just don’t go back.” I personally think that does a disservice to the restaurant; they lose customers without knowing why. If I notice someone who appears that they might care about the feedback, I’m happy to give it. If its not obvious the owner/manager (who cares) is present then taking complaints on-line is very reasonable. In the past companies had to pay a lot of money to find out why they were losing customers. Now they just need a Facebook page or a Yelp entry.

    • True, some businesses really couldn’t care less about their customers. Those businesses are usually large monopolistic companies like “the phone company”, “the cable company” or “the airlines”.

      Small businesses who don’t pamper their customers do so at their own peril.

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    Can comments left on Yelp be deleted? I don’t see your wife’s comment.

    I got a response back about my review as well,
    and guess what?!..she was rude again. I wonder if she just can’t help it.