Thank you, Mr. Cranky

It is axiomatic that you cannot please everyone. And if you have any doubts about the truth of this, try going into business for yourself. No matter how hard you work, no matter how good a job you do, it’s not going to be enough for some people. So sooner or later you will find yourself staring at a bad review.

Using the handle “Bill R.,” one of our customers left a rather barbed review on Yelp not long ago. After reading this very lengthy, overly personal, deeply petty hatchet job masquerading as a critique, I am convinced of two things: (1) Bill has WAY too much time on his hands, and (2) he probably does not have a “Keep Austin Weird” bumper sticker on his vehicle.

“Bill R.” turned out to be a fellow who had been in a couple of weeks earlier. Although I quickly figured out who he was, I confess that I did not see his bad review coming. People usually tip their hand right away if they are inclined to be problematic. But with Bill there were none of the usual warning signs. He was neither pompous nor overly self-absorbed. He did not reek of self-importance, as many difficult customers do, at least not right away. We had not mishandled the repair of his system. Yet there was something about the man that caught my attention, so he left more than the usual fleeting impression. For example, I recalled an odd look crossing his face as he entered the shop, somewhere between bemusement and disapproval, as though he had detected an unpleasant odor. And there was a rather prissy, almost academic quality to him; it wouldn’t have been any stretch at all to imagine him wearing a bowtie, drinking sherry and reading Proust.

Now I have no problem with bad reviews that are honestly earned. But considering the damaging effect that even a single bad review can have on a business, in my opinion this power ought to be wielded very carefully, reserved for the very worst cases. Obviously, not everyone shares this viewpoint. Scan Yelp or any other review site and you will quickly spot many cranky and one-sided negative reviews that say more about the reviewer than the reviewed.

To be fair, Mr. Russell made some valid points, which were well-taken. And so we have made some changes to better control the flow of work. But there is constructive criticism and there is destructive criticism, and this review is clearly a case of the latter. It exaggerates. It is littered with pointless acid-tongued asides. It is excessive in every way. Its intent was to damage us, and it has. The review would be defamatory if it weren’t so obviously overwrought.

Let’s start with the very first paragraph, in which Mr. Russell implies that we are deceptive, and lure customers in with the promise of a slick “urban” shop. OK, now I’m worried, because that is exactly the LAST thing I want to do, especially if it means getting more high-maintenance customers like Mr. Russell.

Obviously, Mr. Bill was expecting a synthetic “boutique” experience, in the mode of The Apple Store. And so when he arrived to find a real, busy, working South Austin shop housed in a dowdy old business park, his blue-blooded self just couldn’t handle it. My god, he even critiques our parking lot! As for having a couple of dogs, something that really bothered him, I do not apologize. Most of our customers love them. They’re a lot nicer than some people.

The cheap shots continue with the statement that we obviously don’t know the first thing about business. This comes from a man spent a grand total of maybe 12 minutes with us on three separate visits, and 5 of those  were probably spent filling out a Request for Service form. Seems like kind of a reach. We must be doing something right, though, because we just passed our 11th anniversary in this location.

From the extreme length and detail of his review, you’d think that Bill had suffered gravely at our hands. You have to scroll all the way down to the middle of the piece to find that, in fact (a) we solved Mr. Russell’s problem, (b) we charged him a pittance ($30), and (c) did it in a reasonable time frame (one week). But Mr. Sunshine, bless his heart, leavens even this minor concession with negative, offsetting qualifiers.

Interestingly, Bill left out the part in which he seemed to expect special treatment and was rude to me and my staff. I understand, though. Kind of spoils the narrative.

He made a huge fuss about having to drop by to retrieve the missing side cover screws, as though he had to travel a great distance, but this man lives just a little over 3 miles away, in a wealthy and very exclusive neighborhood, by the way. Google maps says 10.5 minutes travel time.

I get why this oversight irritates him, but it is, in all fairness, a very minor thing. If the screws are left off nothing bad happens. The side cover won’t fall off, but it is quicker and easier to remove. People sometimes leave the screws off for exactly that reason. Mr. Russell was correct in saying that I expressed annoyance when he brought up the subject. I was annoyed with the technician who left off the screws, but equally annoyed that a grown man would throw a tantrum over such an inconsequential matter. If he had been nicer about it I probably would have delivered the screws myself, but Mr. Russell elected to burn that bridge with his ill-tempered outburst.

When I became aware of the review I immediately called Mr. Russell to discuss it in a civil way, but he wasn’t interested in talking, and hung up after a very brief exchange. I emailed him (silence), sent him an Amazon gift certificate, which he redeemed (more silence), and left a voice message (crickets). Mr. Russell, if you slam someone, you ought to be man enough to face them when they ask why.

The Chinese use the term “little emperors” to describe the generation of spoiled brats that resulted from their official one-child-per-couple policy. I have appropriated this term to describe some of our more, how shall we say, challenging customers, and it seems fair to apply it here.

It speaks volumes of this man that almost all of his reviews are bad ones. Read them and you will begin to understand how an entitled person thinks.

So take reviews like Bill R.’s with a generous allowance because there are, as they say, two sides to every story.

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