Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Win Over Customers by Responding to Online Reviews

Today, we have a guest post from Customers 1st LinkedIn Group member Marilyn Suttle. Marilyn Suttle is the coauthor of Who’s Your Gladys?: How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer Into Your Biggest Fan. She is a work/life success coach working with Fortune 500 companies, associations, and educational institutions across the country to improve relationships with customers, colleagues and even your children! Visit her at www.WhosYourGladys.com or purchase her book on any online bookseller site.

Today’s customers research their buying decisions on the internet, comparing prices and educating themselves about the products and services they use. They don’t see things from the antiquated “you’re the expert,” and “I am the grateful client” point-of-view. Instead, they are more likely to say, “Here’s how I want my service performed.” The internet has also brought online review websites like Yelp.com, who give computer-savvy customers a way to spread the word about their experiences at your business.

Preston Wynne Spa is one of ten companies featured in my upcoming book, “Who’s Your Gladys, How to Turn Even Your Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan,” which is slated for release in September 2009. Spa owner Peggy Wynne Borgman knows that with a quick internet search, anyone looking for a spa in a particular city can click onto a review site and see comments and a rating system. Reviewers use pseudonyms to protect their identities, so they feel free to reveal their strongest opinions.

Preston Wynne receives many glowing customer reviews, but they have had their share of unfavorable comments. The downside of the internet review sites is that some unhappy customers are quick to complain with an online review, while leaving the business owner in the dark. Some people even do it recreationally. Peggy believes that, in general, younger consumers know their power. They know that the companies want their business and they wield their power through online reviews – almost like consumer vigilantism.

Peggy appreciates all her reviewers, even the ones who complain. “If someone has taken the time to write a review, even if it isn’t good, they are more emotionally engaged with your company than someone who just walks away and never comes back,” she explained. “There is an emotional investment that the complainer has, so I always respond where I can.”

Yelp.com gives business owners a way to respond to reviewers while allowing them to remain anonymous. Peggy sends an online thank you to all her positive reviewers, though she gets in touch with the complainers, too. Peggy has never asked a “Yelper” to change a review, no matter how nasty. “I simply contact them and say, ‘I wish I’d known about this and now that I do, I would like to make it right for you. Come back in and have the experience you deserved to have in the first place.’” The vast majority of the online complainers appreciate her gesture and give the spa another chance. In every instance where she connected with the Yelper and got them to return to the spa, the reviewer modified or amended their online review on their own accord, expressing appreciation for management’s commitment to customer service.

Peggy sometimes asks her online critics if they would be willing to complete a detailed secret-shopper evaluation form. The people who review on Yelp tend to see themselves as opinion leaders so when they’re asked to evaluate the spa, they are usually thrilled. They also love getting a complimentary spa treatment for doing the evaluation.

“It helps us develop a really good relationship,” Peggy explained. “Another really good side effect is when you put an evaluation in someone’s hands, they see everything that you’ve done right.”

What do you think?
Do your customers write reviews about your business using sites like Yelp.com? How could you improve your customer relationships by responding skillfully to both the positive and negative reviews?

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