Two Pieces of Free Advice When Dealing with Dumbasses

Posted by in Blogging, Boston on Aug 15, 2011

I see a lot of questionable social media practices floating around out there and normally I don’t bother chiming in, but when I saw the hoopla around some tweets by @emmaspizza I felt really, really sad.

I grew up in a large family (7 kids, 2 parents + newly immigrated relatives typically bunking with us). My parents were shopkeepers; we didn’t have a lot of luxuries in life. One of them, however, was pizza night at Emma’s. Back when Emma’s was on Huron Ave. and it was a basic pizza joint (not fancy pizza as it is now), it was a major, major treat the periodic Sundays when my parents decided to pick up Emma’s on the way home from work.

So imagine my disdain when I saw the below thread (start at the bottom):

Now, I know that there are lots of frustrations in the service industry. Or in any job for that matter. Or in life in general. I totally get it. And Emma’s (or more specifically, whoever is the voice of their Twitter account) is pissed that people -– without knowing the full context of what happened -– were jumping on their case. I totally get the frustration in that too.

However, the reality is that particularly when you are in a service industry, you need to act well. Even if you get pissed off. Even if people are, in fact, dumbasses. Because tweets like the above make customers think that if you’re willing to call your customers dumbasses on Twitter then you’re probably also willing to spit in their post-dinner coffee.

I’ve been to Emma’s since it moved to its Kendall location and the food is, in fact, delicious -– a completely different animal than what it was in its Huron Ave. days, but delicious. But it’s tweets like this that will make me choose another pizza location over them in the future. This may seem harsh, but this is the point of social media. Your 140 characters matter. There are many gourmet pizza joints I can choose from so why would I go to the one that projects bad mojo? (And might spit in my coffee.)

Now, I consult professionally on new media outreach and best practices, but because of my nostalgic ties to Emma’s I wanted to offer two pieces of free advice if you are running a business, have a Twitter account, and find yourself face to face with a dumbass:

1. If a customer pisses you off, step back and take a breath. When you log in to Twitter remember that you are presenting your business’s voice. You can be frustrated without being mean; in fact, your customers will empathize and you will probably gain new customers if you show your human side. Instead of: “where in ‘substitutions are welcome’ does it read it’s free? Adding meatballs to a Pressed Veggie Sdwch is nasty and will cost u, dumbass” try: “Am sad that a customer was nasty & made a scene over paying for topping substitutions. What do you think?Express your frustration but engage your customers. Consider whether you’re overreacting. Start a dialog.

2. Repair the damage you’ve done. The dumbass tweets are out there and there’s no turning back, but in my opinion all is not lost. Tweet your followers and offer something, for example: “We <3 our customers & do not think you are all dumbasses (per earlier thread)! Enjoy 10% off your order (til 8/31) when you mention Twitter.” Or even a simple apology. Never underestimate the power of admitting mistakes and saying you’re sorry.

Now, I actually don’t find myself in the Kendall area that often these days but if Emma’s took action as in #2, I would be more inclined to reverse my current position and visit them in the future. I would even order coffee after dinner.


  1. Aug 15, 2011

    I don’t think I’ve commented here before but this post struck a cord with me. I’ve seen other angry posts from Emma’s about people stealing out of tip jars that have seemed far from professional. I understand their grievances but social media doesn’t strike me as the best place to air them. It definitely makes Emma’s seem in poor taste – which is unfortunate given their outstanding pizza!

  2. Aug 15, 2011

    Ugh! That makes me sad. :(


  3. Aug 15, 2011

    Wow – you’re right, it’s like a manual of how NOT to engage your customers using social media. What a powerful cautionary tale. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Aug 15, 2011

    I absolutely agree. I think Myers + Chang do a great job of being honest about some of the things they’re up against without being unprofessional on Twitter. In the opposite vein, I actually stopped going to Boloco after their Twitter account was used by the business owner to air grievance against the City of Boston. Whether they were ultimately right in the situation doesn’t matter, it made me cringe to see them speak as a brand in a public channel in the heat of the moment and made me not want to support them if they couldn’t see how unprofessional it was. And I love their food and their service. I’ve not been to Emma’s so it’s not hard for me to avoid, but it does make me sad that this is the most public attention I’ve seen them get and it’s all negative. So easy to avoid.

  5. Aug 16, 2011

    Ugh. That whole Twitter account makes me cringe. Sure, teenagers can text shorthand with each other and you can use & instead of “and” to meet the 140 character limit, but businesses need to use real punctuation and proper capitalization in their tweets. Isn’t there a business tweeting for dummies book or something yet?

  6. Aug 16, 2011

    Eek. I definitely get that people’s filters are different and I think part of the beauty of Twitter is that it can showcase the personality of a company. But a business is still a business and a balance must be struck.

  7. Aug 16, 2011

    Sheri, funny you should comment on this because I have said in more than one consulting session to look at Magic Beans as a model of customer social media engagement done really, really well. :-)

  8. Aug 16, 2011

    So interesting Jenny. When I saw the Boston Globe story about the flap with Boloco my first thought was “Oh, I’ve always wanted to try them!” followed by my second thought of “Oh, this makes me not want to visit them.” I’ve also heard that Joanne Chang of Flour does a great job of balancing honesty about workplace frustrations with professionalism.

    Also, I was pleased to see that Jeff of Emma’s tweeted a (multi-part) apology that seemed very sincere.

  9. Aug 16, 2011

    Great post- This business needs a Twitter lesson! I definitely would not go to a business that put out Tweets like these- Honestly, I’d be afraid of being publicly ridiculed if I couldn’t figure out the menu!

  10. Aug 16, 2011

    Great post, Christine. I’ve never been to Emma’s but now I will be making a point of NOT visiting their establishment in the future.
    Just goes to show the damage you can do to your brand by using twitter in such a careless way. I wonder who is the “voice” here? The owners or an employee? Are the owners aware of what’s happening? If they’re not, it’s no excuse–the damage is done. But it’s a lesson for biz owners to be careful to whom you give access to your social channels.

  11. Aug 17, 2011

    I’m blushing… :)

  12. Aug 18, 2011

    Wow, Christine. They should pay you big bucks to revamp their image. Who does this?

  13. Aug 18, 2011

    Another strategy would be to say we are sorry for inappropriate remarks and have replaced our Twitter social media rep. If that is the case. I think people realize that this might not be actually Emma speaking er I mean tweeting.

  14. Aug 20, 2011

    Seriously? Am I the only person who says “props” to Emma’s? I love their food and share their hatred of self-important idiots. I have never had anything but the perfect experience there, and them calling it like it is when it comes to this sort of consumer behavior is actually endearing in my eyes.

    A single tweet isn’t going to undo all the good that I see in this business. The good folks at Emma’s even saved my life once–no joking. I was out walking my dog and my blood sugar completely tanked. I’m a type 1 diabetic, and I’m usually good about carrying glucose tabs, but I’d been out for much longer than I expected. I sat down on the bench outside of Emma’s to try to figure out what to do (hypoglycemia makes my thought process incredibly slow and confused). One of the women working there came out, asked if I was ok, and reappeared with a slice of cheese pizza after I told her what was wrong. I didn’t have my wallet with me, so they offered to let me come back and pay for it later. I know how I look why I’m hypo–I slur my words, have trouble focusing, and probably look like a drunk–but the folks at Emma’s didn’t call the cops to remove me from their storefront. They came out to help.

    I’m an Emma’s customer for life, and considering I know how well they treated me when I probably couldn’t string together more than 4 coherent words makes me think that whatever they said to or about this woman was completely justified.

  15. Aug 21, 2011

    With you on this. We’re interviewing babysitters right now and I even cringe when they use texting shorthand with me!

  16. Aug 21, 2011

    Hi Cindy, based on a series of apologetic tweets (following my post I think…), it looks like the owner (Jeff) handles the Twitter account. I thought his follow up tweets were from the heart — definitely more of the voice that I think ought to be used publicly!

  17. Aug 21, 2011

    Hi Kris, thanks so much for sharing this story — I think it’s awesome that the Emma’s staff responded so wonderfully and I know that there is a lot of heart behind the business. And as I wrote above, I totally get it that one of the major frustrations in customer service is dealing with really difficult customers.

    However, I do think that businesses can express these frustrations in a way that is honest and heartfelt while not being alienating and hostile. The former can do little other than make gains for a business by offering a window into the personal, while the latter can do a lot of damage — shockingly quickly, as was evidenced by the tweets that inspired me to write this post.

    After exchanging tweets with Emma’s following the publication of this post, I was really happy to see the owner offer his thoughts in a series of tweets in the aforementioned honest and heartfelt manner. He also astutely identified something that I did not above — that his rant created a generalization of his staff and brand…I’m sure there are a lot of caring staffers — like the ones who responded to your emergency situation — that do not necessarily want to be generalized as people who publicly label customers as dumbasses,

    Thanks again for sharing your experience! -Christine

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