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When A Store Owner Politely Admonishes A Boy Wreaking Havoc, the Mother Threatens to Retaliate by Writing Negative Reviews

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DIANA ALWAYS LIKED to take part in her local Chamber of Commerce meetings to network with other store owners. At this event, the topic of out-of-control kids came up, and stories started flowing across the table of business owners.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

“It’s not surprising how kids coming into our pet store can really think it is a toy store for humans,” Diana said during the meeting. She was seated next to the local hardware store owner, Tom. “The bright colors, toys modeled after cartoon characters, different types of balls — I can see how they may be confused by this. But you would think that their parents would pay attention to their behavior in any store.”

“Oh you are preaching to the choir, Diana,” Tom said. “We had two pricy items broken recently by a young girl who just knocked them off the shelf. Her parents acted like it was our fault!”

“Wow!” Diana said. “That is terrible. What did she break?”

“We sell handpainted ceramic accents in our garden section — and if I didn’t know any better I would swear this kid just smashed them on the ground to get her parents’ attention,” Tom said.

“I just don’t get it. If dog owners let their dogs act crazy everywhere they went, people would say something or call them out on social media about it!” Diana said. “The other day, one of our good customers, who usually shops alone, came in with her young son and her friend. Her son was completely out of control while there.”
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“What happened?” Tom asked.

“Her son, who was probably 8 years old, was bouncing one of the larger Kong squeaky tennis balls, and his mother was not even trying to stop him. Shocker, right? Then he started throwing it around the store. It bounced off of several displays and knocked over some merchandise and almost broke some of our ceramic dog bowls,” Diana said with a look of disbelief on her face.

“So I said to him, ‘OK, Steven, please stop throwing the ball — you are going to break something — and can you please give me the ball?’ This kid looked at me and threw the ball at me with a loud grunt! He missed me and hit one of our treat displays, knocking a couple bags onto the ground.”

Tom was shaking his head listening.

“And then his mother, who was talking to her friend and not paying attention to Steven, said, all while giving me a nasty look, ‘Let’s go! Steven, come on — time to go.’ And she and her friend and her son left the store. I couldn’t get over why she looked so mad at me. I didn’t do anything wrong, and I even said ‘please’ two times! But later that night I got the most passive-aggressive email from her,” Diana said.

“Really? Wow! What did it say?”

“She basically said how she loves our store, but it was unacceptable the way I spoke to her son,” Diana said.

“What?” Tom said. “No …”

“Yup, and went on to say that if I didn’t apologize to her and her son, she would give us bad reviews on Google and Facebook and tell everyone how rude I was to her and her son,” Diana said shaking her head.

“That is unbelievable — I hope they never come into my store!” Tom said, “But seriously, what are you going to do? What did you reply with?”

“I don’t know,” Diana said. “I haven’t replied to her yet. What would you do?”

The Big Questions

  • How should Diana reply to the mother?
  • What can a business do to keep kids under control
  • If the customer does begin bashing Diana’s store online, how should she respond?

Real Deal Responses

Marvin S.

Grand Junction, CO

I think she handled it correctly. I would have acted in the same way, only sooner and more firmly. As far as the reviews, I would respond and suggest that she pay attention to her son’s actions when they are out shopping. I would guess he acts this way wherever they are. If a review is written, she can do two things: Ignore it or respond with the facts. Customers will see all the good reviews and see the one bad and realize that there is something wrong with that review.

Terri E.

Salem, OR

I would apologize to the mother and explain that you were concerned about her son breaking something and accumulating a bill for her to pay. It’s not worth the fight to be right. When children come in with their parents, as soon as I can, I reach for the stickers and ask them to choose two to put on the back of their hands. The parents appreciate the attention we pay to their child. It takes the child’s attention off our inventory. I’ve also been known to pull a toy off the shelf, hand it to the child and ask them to find where it belongs and put it away for me. I tell them I need help. Recently, we had an anniversary party with a Hairy Potter theme. We gave the leftover glasses to kids who came in. Find a way to distract them. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Pay attention to them. Parents will appreciate it too.
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Chip B.

Black Mountain, NC

Directly, there is very little you can do. I try to address misbehaving kids with “Be careful, sweetie,” so that it comes from a place of concern rather than judgment. Indirectly, there are a number of things. I closed my fish room largely because of misbehaving or unattended children. Any pet beds, cat trees, etc. are put up really high where kids can’t reach them. I wouldn’t reply to a review at all. Perhaps the customer will either move on or share her story with someone and hopefully have her perspective changed. And if she is that unreasonable, there’s not much that can be said to her that will have a productive outcome.

Lisa G.

Millville, NJ

Here’s how she might respond: “I didn’t mean to make anyone feel unwelcome. I try to take care of my store, the same way that you take care of your home. Do you normally throw tennis balls in your living room, kitchen or dining room? I have a lot of merchandise for sale, and I like to keep everything in good condition. Unfortunately it’s not designed like a playroom. Some of the merchandise is fragile. Even if the stuff doesn’t break, people like to purchase new things that appear to be in excellent condition. If I offended you or your son, I’m sorry. Please accept my apology. I simply asked him to refrain from playing with a ball while inside of my store. A display was knocked over and it took some time to fix. Thankfully nothing was damaged. Please feel free to visit whenever you want something new for your pet.

Nancy G.

Fredericksburg, VA

First, she should respond to the customer within the first 24 hours. The longer people wait for a response, the worse it gets. I have had this exact scenario, and I responded immediately by calling the customer personally. I apologized to the customer and explained that I was sorry she felt that my employee was rude to her and her children, but I also explained that sometimes we have to ask children to not throw things or pull on items because we don’t want them or other people in the store to get hurt. If I were in this exact situation, I would have also pointed out that she may not have seen that he threw a ball directly at me. This is where cameras come in handy because I’ve also sent a video clip to a customer to let them see what actually happened in our store. Usually an apology for them being upset and explaining your side solves the issue.

Trace M.

Houston, TX

We provide a little free library, and I invite energetic kids to help me put things away or do a quick section of inventory. In this case, the online response should be the same or similar to the personal response: “Thank you so much for your feedback. I can tell how much this means to you, and I’m sorry I upset you with a tone that was unintentional. We operate with a grade-school philosophy when it comes to kids: I don’t go to your house and break your toys; please don’t break mine. When it happens, just as I would expect my child or your child to feel upset, we get upset. Our customers are like family, and so we address and move through an upset and then hopefully past it. Please come back and enjoy alternative activities to keep your child busy while you shop stress-free.”

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com.

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