Improving the Customer Experience via Real Reputation Management
As you read this post or embark on your own reputation management strategy, it’s important to keep one reality top of mind: The best way to manage negative online reviews is to never receive one. And although companies selling reputation management services will argue their approach is proactive – that is, they drive positive mentions online that result in higher future revenues – the most proactive approach you can take is to always provide a great customer experience.
There are basically two approaches to online reputation management that we encounter most often. One is to flood review sites with five-star reviews – sometimes paying a third party to solicit and manage these. The other is to focus heavily on creating and maintaining a CX culture; one that always delivers a great customer experience (then letting the reviews take care of themselves).
You can likely guess our favorite approach.
But guys, can’t we do both? Can’t we focus on the customer experience and solicit positive online reviews?
Of course, you can; and some companies do. However, most who employ a strategy of soliciting positive online reviews lose sight of the goal. It’s not about generating enough positive reviews to mask the occasional negative ones; it’s about creating a great customer experience every time.
Flooding review sites might fool a potential new customer into doing business with you today, but it does nothing to keep customers coming back, paying more because of the great service, and recommending your company to their friends.
Plus, there are too many places online where customers could potentially see your reviews. Most businesses cannot cost-effectively cover them all. Between Google, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook, Yelp, Apple Maps, and many others, trying to reactively control your brand’s image by soliciting positive reviews is simply not as effective as becoming a true CX juggernaut when trying to manage your online reputation.
By focusing on creating a great customer experience every time, you’re conducting what we call Real Reputation Management.
First, Gauge the Buzz
The internet is not short of studies that highlight the importance of reviews. Therefore, if you need statistics to motivate your team to care about the customer experience, feel free to look these stats up online and regurgitate them. We prefer to make our point that reviews matter by simply understanding that virtually everyone is online, and most are influenced by both positive and negative reviews.
So, while gathering statistics on the importance of reviews might sound like a good first step in developing a reputation management strategy, it’s unnecessary if your goal is to become a CX juggernaut. Your first step to Real Reputation Management should be to gauge the online buzz about your business.
What are people saying about you? According to these reviewers, what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? More importantly, what are your opportunities?
As you gather these reviews, remember that this step is just about gathering information. It shouldn’t be a catalyst to begin running around trying to fix everything or lashing out at the negative comments or threatening to fire your entire team. Just find the opportunities as you gauge the buzz about your business, given some of the issues that created negative sentiment are not going to be easily fixed.
Next, Categorize the Sentiment
As you read through negative, positive, and neutral reviews, you may start to see patterns by department, shift, day of the week, employee, products, or services. Categorize these accordingly, as the biggest opportunities should soon bubble to the top.
Are most issues isolated to just one department, shift, or employee? Is it a single product or service you offer that’s generating much of the negative sentiment?
We’ve worked with many companies where the managers or owner believed they had a firm grasp on their issues with providing a great customer experience, only to discover after gauging the buzz and categorizing the opportunities that they were wrong.
After that, Determine the Voracity
While the customer’s perception is their reality, when evaluating your online reviews, it’s important to determine whether the sentiment is a true reflection of your strengths and weaknesses. Fake positive reviews and truly ridiculous negative reviews should be discounted, as these can mask real issues (in the case of fake positives) or have you trying to solve non-issues (in the case of ridiculous negatives).
Once you’ve gauged the buzz and categorized the sentiment, the best way to determine the voracity of any negative sentiment is to investigate the issues. For example:
- If three recent reviews of your fast food outlet indicated they received rude service from your night crew; then observing the crew firsthand (via mystery shops), speaking with the managers who may have been supervising those evenings, and even calling the dissatisfied customers (where possible) will help you determine if you have genuine issues with this group.
- If your hotel received a negative review that claimed to find roaches in the room; then inspecting the rooms yourself, setting roach traps, and asking to see the most recent invoices from your exterminator will help you determine if a roach infestation is indeed costing you business.
Only after you’ve investigated the claims of negative reviewers can you decide on the best next steps.
Finally, Repair or Replace
You gauged the buzz, categorized the sentiment, and after your investigation, you discovered you have genuine issues that are creating bad customer experiences. You now have two choices; you can repair or replace:
- Repair – Something about your processes, rules, products, or services is broken and needs to be repaired. This may mean changing a process, eliminating a rule, discontinuing a product, or revamping a service; it may also mean retraining your team.
- Replace – Someone needs to go. It’s not that he or she is a bad person, they’re just not a fit for their current role. This may mean demoting them, transferring them to a non-customer-facing position, or firing them.
These steps take leadership. And make no mistake, a lack of leadership is what allowed these issues to escalate into negative online reviews in the first place. If you’re the manager or owner, don’t take this personally, but your focus has not been where it can best serve your business. Your customers are your business; without them, you have no business to run.
The legitimate concerns you uncovered from this exercise – and any that crop up in the future – require leadership strong enough to repair or replace. And while some of these steps (especially firing someone) may sound drastic, the loss of business from just a few negative online reviews can be devastating to your business.
Repair or Replace Might be Ridiculously Simple
Some repair or replace solutions aren’t too difficult to enact; in fact, many are ridiculously simple. For example: a Chinese restaurant in a nearby town received a two-star review complaining that the restaurant charged for soft drink refills.
The food is pretty good and not what we would consider expensive. However, they did charge for soft drink refills, and clearly, this policy created at least one bad customer experience.
Charging for something competitors provide for free made the owners seem both cheap and greedy. Interestingly, at the time the review was posted, the restaurant charged just $1.29 for a 24-ounce soft drink, while other sit-down restaurants in the area were charging roughly $2.79 to $3.49.
We’re hopeful you’ve already figured out the ridiculously simple repair: Raise the price and offer free refills. Virtually no one would balk at a price of $2.59 (double their price at the time), so long as the refills were free. Moreover, because the average number of free refills per person would likely be around one, the restaurant would earn additional revenue and profits.
Of course, not all repair or replace solutions are as easy as raising your soft drink prices and changing your rule on refills. However, we shared this example to highlight how important it is to first look for ridiculously simple options to your own repair or replace scenarios. Any change can have unintended consequences, and (surprisingly) overthinking a process, rule, product, or service change more often results in these.
This post is part of a series of excerpts from Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience, a book written for everyone in any organization that has customers. That is, it was written for those in both the public and private sector; and for everyone in these organizations. From the frontline, customer-facing employees to the CEO and board of directors.
Each chapter in Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience concludes with Key Learnings and Chapter Exercises to make certain you and your team take the efficient path to becoming Customer-First. As you’ll learn in this ridiculously short book, building and maintaining a CX juggernaut isn’t hard… in fact, it’s ridiculously simple. Buy it now on Amazon!