I had the chance to visit my brother and his fiance in LA. His fiance recently opened an amazing chic breakfast spot. Over the past 7 months, the restaurant has seen the likes of Hollywood bigwigs, celebrities and extremely influential people, all with glowing reviews for the vibrant, engaging decor and the delicious, innovative food.

Of course, for all the good customers, there are always those a-holes. Those rude, over-demanding customers who come in with their eyes set on a free meal. You know the ones… they’re loud, obnoxious, making a bitter beer face while staring at the silverware, even though it’s clean. In essence, they’re the people that ruin the dining experience for everyone else, especially the owner. What’s worse, they all have access to Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, CitySearch, etc. and love to get on their soapbox and rant to hundreds if not thousands. (Don’t get this confused with my Letter: A Real Life Unite-mare – That was just a horrid experience.)

While I was in LA, the restaurant was mentioned in the same paragraph as some less than kind words. It’s like someone calling your beautiful newborn an ugly baby, and I could tell it really bothered my brother’s fiance – especially when she’s put so much heart and passion into building this amazing business.

With all that being said, I sat back and thought of how my brother’s fiance could turn her customer’s dispute into opportunity. Here are some tips on how to manage and really negate those Digital A-holes:

1. Be the first person your customers talk to about a negative experience. Communicating with your customers before they communicate with others about their negative experiences is an enormous advantage in building and maintaining your reputation. Whether a comment box in the restaurant, a direct email address for the owner or even a Google Voice number for them to call and tell you about their experience. Any way to get them to vent to you is better than them writing their feelings on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or one of the other review sites. There are even services like RatePoint that helps you manage the disputes before they become public.

2. Turning an unhappy customer into a happy customer can create repeat sales. It’s possible this customer is truly an A-hole, but responding to their negative comments in a cool, collected way can make you look like the cat’s meow of business owners. Not only will others see how you respond in a timely, considerate & calm manner, but the Digital A-hole may come around and realize they should give your business another chance. There’s nothing like repeat business, especially ones that come over from the dark side (they usually turn into your biggest evangelists.)

3. Improve your customer experience. Sort through all of the negative thoughts, remove all feeling from the review and really drill down into the problem areas for your business. Sometimes what seems fine to a business owner can be an issue for the customer. We always tend to get tunnel vision, so even negative feedback can help us to expand our view and see the proverbial forest for the trees and help us resolve issues before they become huge problems for the business.

Jake Burns