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The Importance of Responding

Proactive Selling
August 23, 2018
What is your USP?
August 23, 2018
 
I think we can all remember moments in our professional careers when we wished we could have crawled under a rock and made everything go away. One of the worst “crawl under the biggest rock I could find” days I’ve ever had was as the director of sales for a motorcoach company in Portland, Oregon. It started like any other day, but it soon spiraled out of control, and no matter how much I tried to fix things, they just kept getting worse: drivers not showing up for their dispatches, mechanical issues, crazy traffic that made us late on every front, and even a passenger-on-board fender bender. Basically, if it could go wrong, it did.

My phone and email were blowing up with customers who had passed upset and were downright angry. I listened to people absolutely scream at me over things that neither I, nor my company, had any control over—including a semi rollover that had shut down traffic in both directions on the freeway. I remember it was an unseasonably hot day, we had air conditioners failing, and people were “hot” in more ways than one.

As much as I wanted to slip under the closest rock and simply put my fingers in my ears until it all blew over, the truth was I had to deal with it—even though it was uncomfortable.

That was 14 years ago, and while trying to work my way through a pile of angry emails and voicemails was a pain in the neck, the long-term damage to the company was different than it would have been if that same incident happened today. I spent weeks talking with and apologizing to customers as I tried to “fix” what I could. After a few months, those moments were all but forgotten and we, and most of the customers, had moved on.

Today’s world is vastly different. All of those angry emails and voicemails are now heat-of-the-moment reviews posted to Facebook or TripAdvisor, mean tweets fired off directly following a confrontational exchange, or Google reviews that are as venomous as they are permanent.

Today, instead of making nice with angry customers and working things out over a cup of coffee, we are subject to dealing with a very public and personal airing of those moments we work to never have happen in the first place.

 
These “reviews” are actually not so much reviews as they are Gordon-Ramsay-style rants given a public forum, and they’re often calculated to shame a company rather than provide meaningful feedback for fellow consumers.

But as much as these reviews can be a moment of sincere frustration for both the company and the customer, there are a few things to remember before you choose how—or not—to respond.

The first thing to remember is that these reviews, as well as your response (or lack thereof), are permanent additions to the web and will be used by future shoppers to determine if they want to work with you. In a recent survey, 89% of consumers viewed online sources of product and service reviews as trustworthy, and another 80% have changed their minds about a purchase based solely on the negative reviews they’ve read.

The second thing to remember is that you’re going to receive negative reviews—it’s just part of being in business in an online world. But, here’s the thing: how you respond can be the difference between future success and failure.

The third thing to keep in mind is that, while many negative reviews are embellished by emotion and frustration, they are, at their root, founded in an experience the reviewer has had with your company.

As an owner, it can be tempting to look at these reviews and simply dismiss them as “crazy” or “impossible” because your staff would never do that. I can only imagine that the management of United Airlines thought that exact thing just moments before watching a YouTube video of a bloodied passenger being dragged from one of their flights.

Reviews, regardless of their content, require action from a company standpoint. Every review, good or bad, gives you a few options. However, before you take any of these actions, it’s important to look into the issue and, if need be, communicate with the reviewer to get clear on what actually happened. There is nothing worse than taking a position, finding out that you’re wrong, and having to backtrack publicly.

The first option you have when dealing with a review is to engage. Engagement is not a simple “Hey, you’re nuts, that is not what happened at all…” type of exchange with a customer. It is a real effort to communicate with the reviewer, often trying to push the conversation offline so you can speak with them directly without the shroud of anonymity that the web provides. This will frequently allow you to resolve the issue and then summarize the resolution as a response to the negative comments. It is important to see this opportunity not as a moment in time, but as a record that will live on for all future consumers. This perspective can inform your response—especially when moments come where you simply want to respond in kind to an overly inaccurate or vicious review.

"Every review, positive or negative, is an opportunity to tell a story—a story about your company and who you really are."

 
The next option is to make a company statement as a response to the review—something that looks like this: “We are sorry that you did not have a positive experience, and we hope we have a future opportunity to show you that is not how we expect our service to go.” It is important in these types of responses to avoid pointing fingers, even if they deserve to be pointed. Even if the reviewer is crazy and mostly wrong, keep in mind that pointing fingers will not win you any points with future shoppers.

Third, you can choose to pursue removing the review. This is only an option if you have reason to believe that the review is fraudulent and has been placed as an untrue attack on your company by someone with some reason to come after you. While these types of situations do occur, they’re likely a 1 in 1000 scenario. Companies who compile reviews such as Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor, and Yelp don't remove reviews because you don't like them or because they reflect poorly on your company. Removal is slow and not guaranteed, but should be sought after if the review is an attack by a competitor, not really about your company, or was left by someone who has never used or experienced your product or service.

Noticeably absent from this list of things you should do is choosing to ignore a review. This is not on accident, as ignoring a negative review on the internet is equivalent to saying “Yeah, well, we don't really care.” While you and I know this is not the case, it can’t be overstated how much more damaging a review is when you ignore it than when you professionally respond on some level.

Even though reviews can be tricky, both positive and negative reviews are important for companies, and here’s why. People don't trust companies who only have 5-star reviews or one-sided comments. Consumers are savvy; they know things don’t always go as planned, but they’re interested in seeing how you respond when that happens. That kind of transparency acts as a window into the heart of the company, because nothing clarifies who we are as companies quite like those days when everything goes wrong. Consumers see the marketing text from the website and glossy brochures filled with smiling, happy people, but what they really want to know is if companies are actually responsive and helpful when everything “hits the fan.” Do they listen to their customers and care about the experience they’ve had? Do they work to make things right? Do they ignore the fact that they messed up or, worse, make the customer feel as though they were somehow in the wrong?

Every review, positive or negative, is an opportunity to tell a story—a story about your company and who you really are. Companies who embrace these moments and craft the story they want told will win the online battle. Those who ignore them—choosing instead to crawl under their proverbial rock and wait for the storm to blow over—will find themselves dealing with permanent stains that are remarkably difficult to get out!

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