I had just sent my husband a text reading, “This place in incredible,” when I heard my son, Leo, crying. Not just the whiny cry of a six-year-old who wants Cheerios instead of scrambled eggs, but a real, something-is-seriously-wrong cry.
Like most accidents, it all happened so fast: One minute, he was jumping happily on the bounce pad at Connors Farm in Danvers, Mass. (home to the famous corn maze). The next minute, his arm was dangling at his side, broken in two places.
What seems to have happened is this: After the attendant stepped away for whatever reason, a man joined the children to jump — and ended up jumping on Leo’s arm. What followed was a blur: ambulance, paramedics, stretcher, kiddie morphine, X-rays and hours upon hours in the Beverly Hospital pediatric ER.
The next day, my friend who had been with me that day (and had had the wherewithal to call 911) sent a strongly worded email detailing the accident to the address on the Connors Farm website, while my husband and I tried to figure out what we wanted to say in our own email.
At the urging of my brother, I talked to a family friend who is a personal injury lawyer just to see if we had a case, although neither my husband nor I wanted to litigate. The answer: Maybe. The man left before anyone could talk to him so it would be hard to prove.
Plus, I like this farm. It’s a nice, family-run business, not Wal-Mart. I didn’t want to sue them. But each day that my friend’s email went unanswered, I got angrier and angrier. She gave them my contact info. Shouldn’t someone call to follow up? Maybe we should litigate.
So here’s what I did: I went on their Facebook page. I didn’t want to post something on their wall — although their request to “share your photos of your visit to our farm!” was tempting. Instead I just sent them a message asking which email address we should use because we wanted to report an accident involving our son. Unlike the email that languished unanswered, I got an immediate response.
“The info@ is the correct email. I hope your son is okay,” they wrote. I replied that he wasn’t and that my friend had written a detailed email to that address and heard nothing.
Within an hour, my phone rang. It was the owner of Connors Farm. He explained that the person who usually checks the info@ account had been away the previous week. He seemed very earnest and deeply apologetic. “What can I do to make this right?” He told me to just send our co-pay bills to him and he’d take care of it. He also told me that this employee “got in a lot of trouble.” And that he’d be sending Leo a teddy bear.
After a week of silence, this one phone call transformed our feelings toward the farm from being ready to litigate to feeling really good about them.
I know what you’re thinking: “Anna, this is a really nice story and all, but how does it apply to me?”
For customers: If you don’t get the response you want, get social.
Teenagers aren’t the only ones who don’t check their email. If you fail to get an immediate response from a business, see if they have a Facebook page or Twitter account and reach out to them that way.
For businesses: Ask the customer what you can do to make it right.
In fact, use these exact words. Think about it: Nothing is worse than feeling helpless. It makes us angry and brings out the worst in us. Yes, some people are real jerks and will sue over anything. But a lot of people — I would say most people — just want to hear that you feel bad about what happened and are taking steps to prevent it from happening again.
By being empathetic and empowering your customers, you’re not only doing the right thing; you might be avoiding a lawsuit. Or, at the very least, you’re preventing some nasty posts from ending up on your business’ Facebook wall and Twitter feed.