When I applied for my first adult job, the business owner asked for some letters of recommendation. Until that point, my part-time jobs had been the usual jobs young teenagers held. The man to whom I reported for my newspaper delivery route had been found dead in Las Vegas from an overdose, surrounded by passed out hookers. The man who owned an army surplus store for which I had delivered packages around the city to customers was serving a life sentence in Sing-Sing Prison because one of the other delivery boys failed to make a delivery, went home with the package and his parents opened it and found a Thompson sub-machinegun, a thousand rounds of ammo and two pounds of marijuana (I should have asked for more money per delivery had I known what I was carrying) and the Carpet and Tile store, where I cleaned up and carried boxes out to an unmarked van, the owner had been shot thirty-two times in the head by the mob when some of the boxes turned up with actual floor tiles in them.
With all of my valued work references unreachable, I turned to life-long Brooklyn neighbors for letters of recommendation. As I was a good kid who minded his own business and didn’t rat out any of the odd goings-on in the neighborhood, they were happy to write me some great recommendations. Unfortunately, the business owner said they didn’t convince him because of course my neighbors would write nice things about me. When Mr. Nunzio, the owner of the corner pizza parlor to whom I delivered the newspaper and later packages from the army surplus store, that never had any pizza but lots of fancy cars parked in front heard that, he laughed and said he would have a private conversation with the (something in Italian) business owner who didn’t trust his recommendation, I ended up getting the job with a higher starting salary. This proved to me that the best recommendation is word-of-mouth!
Recommendations have become big in the age of the internet. Written content is often backed up with praise of others and trouble-shooting negative comments has become big business for experts on customer engagement. The question is; does anyone believe the written recommendations are true or even written by those who have their names signed to them?
As my writing is published on a dozen blogs, one of my functions is to oversee the comments on my articles. Spam comments meant to plant links to other businesses are easy to spot. Usually the username or site URL is the dead giveaway. “Discountsneakers” at www.discountnikeadidas.com usually compliment the article but in a sort of odd way that tells you they really didn’t read the story. There are also want ads for people needed to write comments on fifty to one hundred blogs per day, using a set URL with their comments.
Real Comments From Real People
“49 percent of consumers state that they are more likely to visit a business after reading a positive online review, and 69 percent trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”
A recent new client had several recommendations he wanted used on his homepage. One of them was from a famous, late movie star who he claimed was a close friend. He didn’t do business with him but he thought the name-recognition would be good for his site. The other comments were known large business owners but written very poorly and didn’t sound convincing. He had already truncated the recommendations and claimed he didn’t have the original letters so I could re-edit for his site. I suspected he had done a “movie review job” on his compliments.
You know how an ad for a new movie has half-dozen blurbs, pulled from reviews. “Unbelievable!” says The New York Times. The rest of the review said, “it’s unbelievable that anyone would go see this film.”
I asked if he could get more recommendations but he said he couldn’t. What he had wouldn’t impress anyone, nor convince prospects his business stood out as a premiere source among his competitors.
An article in Forbes, speaking of recommendations people get for their LinkedIn profiles, says, “(someone) scoping out your LinkedIn profile and doesn’t see a recommendation, they might think, “hmm…no one likes their work,” or “they must not have impressed anyone,” or even, “umm, this is a dud networker.”
The writer also adds important words of wisdom for any business or individual, “the trick is to always be looking for recommendations.”
People reading recommendations will wonder why all of them are time-stamped with the same date or why there haven’t been any new recommendations in a year. Always keep them coming and fresh!
Recommendations are sometimes freely given without request. Sites like yelp.com allow users to review local businesses. From restaurants, to retailers to service companies and apartment complexes, yelp has become a popular online way of checking the recommendations of others. But outside review sources have an uncontrollable side. Bad reviews are also out there for everyone to see and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t even answer the complaint and try to control the damage or placate an angry customer. With any luck and great service, you won’t garner any bad reviews and avoid trolls who are bent on playing bad jokes on companies by leaving negative feedback.
Naturally, you should encourage satisfied customers to leave a good review on sites like yelp and make it easy for them by giving them the URL for your business. There are other important sites that contain feedback from customers. Google Places for Business, Yahoo Local Listings, Citysearch, MerchantCircle, Insider Pages and Angie’s List all bear monitoring.
The other day I returned to an eatery I had tried for the first time the week before. The co-owner was quite attentive and I told him that I had left the restaurant a great review on yelp and would increase the four-star rating to five stars for his kind and personable service. I told him I noticed he had nothing but great reviews on yelp. He replied that one of the other sites weren’t so kind. While it does happen, there have been rumors that one can pay to have negative reviews removed from some sites. Some might consider it ransom of one’s reputation, especially if part of the negative reviews is placed there on purpose, to keep payments coming in. One has to decide if such a practice is worth the money to buy a good reputation.
In any case, a business must search the web constantly not only to watch for negative reviews and address them as best possible, hoping that negative reviews will be removed and positive reviews can be used elsewhere, such as on your site, to promote trust among prospects that will visit your site before or instead of the others mentioned in this article.
One mistake the co-owner of the restaurant I mentioned made when he had my attention and good will was to use my verve to help water down the bad reviews on the other site. Had he told me, I would have gladly gone there and left a glowing review. Part of the camaraderie you strike up with satisfied customers is the ability to use the human and personal interaction to gain favors. While you should not offer discounts or coupons for good reviews a sample of an appetizer or drink refill while chatting can create a satisfied and loyal customer.
Even negative comment, however, can work in your favor. According to reputation.com:
“Keep in mind that a poor review — if it’s accurate — might actually expose a legitimate problem with your product or service, giving you an opportunity to fix things before they get worse. If a customer says your burgers are barely a step up from McDonald’s, take a deep breath. Treat this as a business problem that you can solve, not as a personal attack.”
“You can also use the situation to improve your business’ reputation. If the complaint is legitimate, take the opportunity to reach out to the reviewer. Simply by responding to negative reviews, you can turn 18 percent — or nearly one in five — detractors into loyal customers, while 67% of those you contact will delete their review or post a positive one, according to a poll by Harris Interactive. This is one way how to make a negative review work in your favor.”
“On sites like Yelp.com, you can contact the reviewer directly, either making the exchange public or keeping it between the two of you. You might want to communicate privately, in case things escalate; the last thing you want is for the review to go from bad to worse. Keeping the thread private also lets you offer the reviewer incentives to keep his business. If you were to publicly offer him coupons or complimentary cocktails, people might make a connection between writing bad reviews and getting good deals.”
“Whether your outreach is private or public, thank your customer for his patronage and feedback. Then, apologize for the poor experience. An apology humanizes the situation and can go far to sweeten sour feelings. Explain that you’ve identified the source of the problem and fixed it, and that you’ll do your best to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Customers appreciate that you’re making changes in response to their feedback, and by addressing their complaints; you just might earn their trust.”
“After all this, you stand a pretty good chance that the customer will update his negative review with a positive one. He might publicly praise you for going the extra mile. And demonstrating that you value your customers creates a good impression. This is a valuable way how to make a negative review work in your favor.”
Turn the Negative Into a Positive
One aspect not mentioned is that a negative review can also give you insight into a problem with your business you don’t see. If you’ve ever watch the shows, Restaurant Impossible, Bar Rescue or Restaurant Stakeout, for instance, they spotlight failing businesses and experts watch the daily goings-on inside and identify problems such as bad employees and management so they can be addressed and fixed.
If bad reviews claim your staff is being abusive, you’ve been given an insight into a problem you, as the owner/boss often don’t see because it happens behind your back.
It takes a lot of effort to write a bad review. If someone went through the trouble of creating an account on a review site, spending half an hour typing up the review and then posting it online, chances are someone in your company did something very wrong.
Look at how you can improve your processes or policies. Look at whether or not you have an employee who’s damaging the reputation of your company. Look for ways to ensure that it never happens again.
As this article remind us, keep in mind that:
“… because customers are increasingly relying on online reviews, they are one of the most effective word-of-mouth marketing and reputation-building tools for small businesses. The frequency and recency of positive reviews is a good indicator of a business’s reputation, number of satisfied customers, and general appointment volume — important benchmarks for prospective customers and key metrics as you look to grow your business.”
“Your response to negative reviews is a great opportunity to show customers that management is responsive to any concerns or dissatisfaction they may have. Although negative reviews may feel like a slap in the face, handling them correctly will generate respect from customers, positively differentiate your business from the competition and ultimately drive sales.”
Catch Them in the Moment
Whether you have satisfied your customers or turned them off, remember that their smartphones can deliver a blow that can smart your business right away while warm feelings are glowing or tempers are flaring. Dealing with customers is a delicate dance of making sure they are satisfied or dealing immediately with any problems before they fester in someone’s mind. It’s not hard because you can see it in the faces and body language of the customer. In a wonderful Japanese film, Tampopo, about a failing ramen shop, an expert teaches the owner about how to spot a satisfied customer by how they eat their bowl of ramen and do they finish it and what do they leave behind.
With return customers, it helps to engage them in a conversation about what they like and what they’d like to see improved. It is the sincerity of reviews they leave that will come through in their writing and how others trust those reviews. The same goes for negative reviews. If the reviewer sounds like a nut, people won’t give their review any credence but even with that, seeing how you handle a response to those reviews will build confidence in you as a businessperson and those reviews, as mentioned in the figures of how people judge you from online reviews, will drive business and trust of your recommendations.
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