Last night I was giving a short talk for the Federation of Small Businesses West Sussex branch, on doing business on the social web.
One attendee claimed he just didn't see the point of wasting all that time tweeting, blogging and chatting, and besides, putting himself in the buyer's shoes, he maintained "When I'm buying something, I just want to know about how good the product is, not whether the staff like Jane Austen novels or whether the boss made the tea this morning!"
He was particularly against the idea of allowing people (or even encouraging them) to air their complaints in public, for example via a Twitter customer service account.
My feeling is that on the social web, everything you do has an impact – not just on those you're dealing with, but on everyone who sees or gets to hear about it. If people have a gripe with your service or product, yes, seeing that might put off a few prospective customers, but if you are then seen to be helpful, to put things right, to deal with the customer promptly and fairly, that will create a lot of positive feeling.
If people only see positive reviews and comments it can look like a cover-up. If they see a mix of positive and negative, well, they can make up their own mind. I for one don't believe every negative comment I read on the web!
Transparency is scary, but time and again I've seen it work for those daring enough to go there.