I’m sorry if you don’t like sports, or, especially, baseball, but stick with me here – I think you’ll still like this analogy for dealing with upset customers on social media!

On Canada Day, the Blue Jays played the longest game in their history – 19 innings that took over 6 hours to finish.

They ended up losing 2-1. And they shouldn’t have.

Here’s what happened.

Really early in the game, it was clear that the ump was having trouble seeing the strike zone.

The benefit of TV is they show you exactly where the strike zone is and where the pitches end up. The ump was clearly calling balls that were outside as strikes.

It wasn’t fair.

The Blue Jays best hitter, Edwin Encarnacion, ends up getting called on a strikeout on a pitch that was WAY outside.

He, justifiably so, was NOT happy about it.

He started giving it to the ump expressing his displeasure over it (remember, he was technically right) and he gets thrown out of the game.

Boom, their best hitter gone for the game.

Not only that, but when your best hitter gets thrown out of the game, it’s expected that then your manager (the coach) then has to come out and defend his player (typically also in a very animated, likely profanity-laden style).

So John Gibbons, the Blue Jays manager gets thrown out of the game.

So now the Blue Jays are out their best hitter and their manager. And it’s the beginning of the game.

Keep in mind – they were completely justified and right – but you can’t blast the umpire for it.

What ends up happening over the next 19 innings if the Blue Jays don’t end up scoring many runs at all.

Edwin would’ve been really handy for that.

Even worse, though, is that their pitchers weren’t managed well because their manager wasn’t there, and in the late innings, they ran out of pitchers.

Their short stop ends up having to pitch at the end of the game and it’s like watching batting practice because he’s not a pitcher.

His team bails him out in the 18th, but in the 19th, he gives up a home run which ends up winning the game.

Oh, and now he’s injured and is out for 15 games with forearm tightness because he shouldn’t have been pitching.

They ended up losing the game because they were arguing even when they were right.

For a lot of businesses, this is what they do on social media. They’ve forget the time-honoured tradition of “The Customer is Always Right”.

This rule didn’t come out because the customer was actually always right, but because everything is business isn’t about reality – it’s about perception.

And the public will always side with the public.

In the case of the game, all of this could’ve been avoided in a couple of ways:

1. Recognize what’s right and wrong are subjective online.

In the case of baseball, every pitch is being judged. The reality of whether it’s a strike or a ball is based on the umpire’s perspective which may not be 100% reality.

But that’s the way it is.

Takeaway: When it comes to social media, you’re being judged online by the online community and it’s not about what’s 100% factual. It’s about what they perceive to be factual. It’s not always fair – but that’s simply the way it is – and you need to work in that system.

2. Try and deal with it before it’s a problem.

Edwin should’ve tried to intervene before it escalated by asking for clarification and seeing if he could communicate about where the strike zone was going to be after the first time he noticed it might not be where he thought it would be.

He saw other pitches that were outside being called a strike.

That was the moment to simply recognize that those were going to be strikes and have an honest, sincere conversation with the ump about it.

Takeaway: In the case of social media, often times the things that make it onto social media should have never got to that point, but businesses fail to realize that when backed into a corner, writing a negative review often feels like the best option when they’re not getting what they need.

Get out in front and deal with it before it escalates to that point.

3. Remember it’s not about being right – it’s about relationship.

In the game of baseball, having a great relationship with the ump is actually more important than being right about what’s a strike and a ball.

Takeaway: In the case of social media, we often want to justify why we’re right, but again, it’s about perception – not always reality. And sometimes it’s better to just keep your mouth shut.

Or, even better, sacrifice some cost in the short-term to save in the long term.

It takes 10-12 positive reviews to offset a negative. And they’re going to be talking about it with their friends, too.

On the flip side, a person that has a bad situation made right by a business tells 4-6 people and is a more-loyal customer than a customer who never had a bad experience.

4. It’s really emotional.

Sports are emotional. So is business. Especially if it’s your business.

But we don’t always make the best decisions when we’re emotional.

And sometimes we cost us ourselves in the moment.

Again, if Edwin had just kept his mouth shut, he was going to get 5 or 6 more at-bats in the marathon to get it right and possibly win the game.

Takeaway: Never, ever, ever respond to something if you recognize you’re frustrated or upset. You’re in a public forum. You’re not going to come across well. Also, your comment is going to be out there for forever!! Someone can screenshot it and you can never delete that.

5. Take it Offline

Their best chance of getting a long-term positive result would have been to simply deal with the league in the proper channels after the game.

Takeaway: My number 1 advice for any business ever with issues that arise on social media is to take it offline. No one wants to see businesses arguing or airing customer’s dirty laundry.

Even more than that, words are such a small part of communication and tone and body language can’t be communicated with text, or worse, emoji’s.

The best negative online review stories are ones where the customer complains, the business simply responds that they’re sorry and are going to look into it, and then the customer comes back and says that the business dealt with it.

We’re all humans! Humans make mistakes. But the best humans own it.

Photo credit: Frank Gunn / AP courtesy of blue.jays.mlb.com.