According to B2B Magazine (Feb 2011), a negative customer review on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook can cost a company 30 customers. That’s a pretty scary statistic isn’t it?
Social media is a great way to send your marketing messages to a wide audience. Until you fall foul of a negative opinion, that is – and then it feels like there’s no place to hide.
Making a complaint used to mean writing a Mr or Mrs Angry letter to a company’s customer service department or returning to a store to demand a refund. It was largely a private interaction between two parties, unless you told a few friends or had a slanging match with the store manager and attracted a large crowd.
But now, even the opinion of just one person can be shared with hundreds or even thousands of other customers.
Such is the fear of negative online reviews that it’s probably one of the most common concerns that crop up when I discuss blogging and social media as part of a marketing plan with my clients. Nobody wants to risk their reputation or the possibility of losing or alienating customers because of a negative online review. But shying away from social media presents (potentially) an even greater risk — that of losing out on exposure to an audience that you may not otherwise reach.
It may feel like you don’t have full control of your brand — and it’s true, you don’t. Total control is history — the days of pushing out marketing messages and expecting your audience to simply listen and do what you want are long gone. What we have now is a two-way dialogue. And that’s priceless.
Online reviews give you instant access to your customers’ thoughts and feelings. You can get a good understanding of how customers perceive your brand/service/products, and ALL feedback — good or bad — provides a way of measuring success and ensuring continual improvement of your business.
If someone does leave a negative comment, don’t feel humiliated or upset. That’s easy to say and you probably will feel hurt for a while. But pick yourself up and look on it as an opportunity. Yes, really.
A customer has brought something to your attention — you may even not have been aware of it, so this is your chance to make a positive change about that element of your service or product. Show that you’re prepared to listen — offer a refund, replace a faulty item, do whatever is necessary to give your customer a sense of satisfaction. Be considerate and sincere in your response.
Get it right and you will actually build greater customer loyalty and trust. Others will see that you actually care about keeping your customers happy. And that negative will become a positive.
This morning I came across a negative review of a lettings agent in a particularly attractive part of London. It was left on Google Maps by a very disgruntled tenant in September 2010. The agent had written an excellent and well-considered response and I would have held it up as a textbook reply had it not been for the fact that it was written in April 2011 – seven months later! And so they committed the ultimate sin of not monitoring their reviews and not nipping problems in the bud.
Think about their business for a moment. If someone is looking to move into an area, the odds are they are going to Google local estate agents, so that one review will have been on display (in all its glory and unanswered) to all who were looking for rental property in that leafy corner of London. I’d lay bets on how many were completely turned off by that tenant’s opinion of the agent’s service – or lack of. For seven months!
This example demonstrates just how important it is to manage your reputation online. Always monitor the reviews you receive and act immediately on any that are negative. Post a reply and then take it offline to continue the dialogue and fully resolve the issue. If you’re lucky, that customer will then feel compelled to write a new review about the excellent customer service they have just received.
However bad it may be, do resist the urge to remove a negative online review. Customers will be suspicious of reviews that are nothing less than glowing. Follow my advice and even negative reviews will end up working in your favour.
Professional advisers still need to learn that customer is king.
Some accountants, lawyers, architects, bankers and financial advisers can let opportunities and profits slip through their fingers because they don't understand the basics of customer care.
They see themselves as technicians and just don’t get the basics of running a business.
First, I want my adviser to understand me. I am a person and I have very specific issues. Show an interest in me.
Second, I want my adviser to understand business.
Third, I want my adviser to understand my business. I have specific problems – problems that are specific to my industry, to my market and to the way that I run my business.
Fourth, I want swift action. The systems used by most competing advisers appear to be relatively similar, so I will accept whatever calculations or recommendations are made.
I want swift actions or, at a minimum, I want the answers to be there when promised… or to be offered a date when work will be completed. A little courtesy is all that I ask.
Fifth, I want to understand what I am paying for and I want to know how much I am going to pay, and when. Even better, let’s go for payment by results.
If an accountant or lawyer charges by the hour, then there's no incentive to work quickly.
Other professional service firms (architects, dentists, doctors) work to a price, so what’s the problem? Surely fixed price agreements would incentivise them to work more efficiently!
All I want is an adviser that understands me, understands my business, gives me decisions when promised and explains how they charge. Not much to ask, surely!
Read more in our dedicated section on customer service.
Customer waiting time and queues are an arithmetic certainty of service delivery. In the real world, even when you have extra staff available just in case demand builds up, queues will occur. It’s normal for shoppers to arrive in bunches and not in a steady flow.
Well-planned and well-managed queues are a healthy thing. They indicate a vibrant business that is successfully controlling the cost of delivering service to its customers and at the same time managing shoppers’ perceptions of their wait.
Whether there are only two people waiting or 42, the right mathematical methodology has to be used to determine how to serve customers as efficiently as possible and how to allocate service fairly.
You can see the impact of a well-managed queue on the faces of the customers and servers. They are relaxed, unstressed. Waiting customers look around them and take an interest in merchandise. The store receives fewer complaints and suffers lower staff absenteeism. A business without queues is either overmanned or lacking customers – or worse, both.
Every store has a strategic decision to make. Is operating cost more important than customer service? Cutting costs can mean that customers wait longer. On the other hand, if stores decide that service times are more important to their brand proposition than cost or if they know that because of the nature of their business customers will be less tolerant of waiting times, they will ensure that fewer customers have to wait, but they will also increase the cost of their operation and risk more times when staff are standing idle.
This dilemma can be resolved through lean queue management. By making wait times more acceptable, and by organising service allocation systems they can help to lower costs and reduce waste in the process.
Research by Professor Edward Anderson, “A Note on Managing Waiting Lines,” has shown that queue times are affected by many factors:
The voice of “cashier number three please”, Terry Green is heard over 30 million times every month in post offices, shops and banks throughout the UK. His voice and ideas have transformed the way the world queues.
We asked, what percentage of our lives do we spend waiting? The answer is 17 per cent. Congratulations to Tim Latham and Clare Evans (who got the answer spot on) who both win a copy of Terry Green's book.
It’s time to book a holiday. You know where you’d like to go, when you can spare the time and the type of place you’d like to stay at.
So what’s the next step? If only you could get a bit more of an insight into the array of hotels on offer — find out what real people have had to say about the location, the facilities and exactly which sort of holidaymakers it could suit — before making your choice.
Of course, reviews of things like hotels, as well as bars and restaurants, are readily available online from a range of websites. But because consumers are now more than happy to include browsing through reviews before picking a business as part of the overall buying process, other sites have grown in popularity too.
It’s fair to say that, increasingly, businesses of all shapes and sizes — such as plumbers, double glazing installers and driving instructors — are being reviewed online. It’s becoming the norm.
Think of it as transporting your testimonials from behind the counter, where only people already through the door can see them, and making them visible to everyone.
In a nutshell, they are happening, people trust them and they can have a big impact on your business. But with a little understanding of just how good they can be for you, they can be overwhelmingly positive.
Time for some stats:
Yes! Encourage your satisfied customers to post reviews on websites because it will differentiate you from your competitors, help build trust and show that you are a real business doing real trade. Reviews are your positive word-of-mouth amplified.
Any business listed on Yell can be reviewed – take a look at Yell.com/reviews. To find out more, and to get some free promo materials to encourage people to rate you on the site, visit the reviews section of marketing.yell.com.
This post is the first of three on online reviews — stay tuned for the next update on managing negative reviews and how they can even be good for your business.
Paul Stamp is the community manager at Yell. For small business video guides, advice and information, follow @yellbusiness on Twitter.
Now and again at SellerDeck we get asked whether our ecommerce software includes functionality to support a loyalty scheme. The answer is no, and there are very good reasons why we have not developed it. I thought the rationale would be worth sharing more widely. If you’re considering developing a loyalty for your own site, it might just persuade you otherwise.
Firstly, loyalty schemes don’t produce loyalty. Most people have multiple loyalty cards, and use them promiscuously. The level of reward — usually about one per cent — is pretty minimal. One special offer can save more money than the loyalty points on your entire weekly shop. So people take advantage of the schemes because they are free and painless to use. But they don’t influence where people shop on any given occasion.
Consequently, the term loyalty is a really misnomer. If loyalty is what you’re looking for, a loyalty scheme won’t deliver that.
The main advantage of loyalty schemes to the large chains is in the data they make available. Every time you present a reward card you identify yourself personally at the checkout. This enables the company to track a huge range of data, both for individuals, and for particular demographics. Your supermarket knows how often you shop, and where. It knows your average weekly spend. It knows your family diet, what items you purchase regularly, and how often. In consumables and FMCG, this enables large companies to follow market trends very closely, react to changes quickly, and target their merchandising according to local and temporal preferences and trends.
That’s great if you are a large chain with multiple branches, a website and maybe a mail order channel as well. If all you have is a website, it’s pointless. You can already identify regular customers from your orders database, and mine the same kind of data directly from that.
So given that a loyalty scheme doesn’t deliver loyalty, costs time and money to operate and doesn’t give you anything that you don’t already have – doesn’t it start to look like one huge white elephant in the room?
Read more in our dedicated section on customer loyalty.
Many businesses have rigidly defined the respective roles and responsibilities of their customer service and marketing departments. This is often the source of frustrations as, on one hand, the marketing guys do not have the opportunity to interact with the customers and, on the other hand, the customer service team has only a limited opportunity to influence product design and communication.
Small businesses have much more room for manoeuvre, as they can chop and change, test and experiment without affecting a large volume of customers. Very frequently, small companies manage their customers through a single channel, handling social interactions, marketing efforts, customer service and many other activities in one place. They use mishaps as a marketing opportunity and dispatch little gifts and samples to “compensate” customers. Customer service is clearly being used as a marketing tool.
Whilst larger operators are busy leveraging their social media reach by pushing multitudes of promotions, special offers, coupons, vouchers and deals, small businesses can build a long-term advantage by establishing close-knit communities of customers. Positioning customer service at the heart of the marketing strategy contributes to the exchange of ideas and the resolution of problems whilst creating a platform for future recommendations.
All this contributes to the development of a very strong sense of loyalty.
The challenge comes when the business grows and someone makes the suggestion that life would be much easier if dedicated marketing and customer service teams were established…it will be hard but just make sure you resist the temptation.
Guest blog by Very Good Service.
Read more in our dedicated section about customer service.