Amazon received some bad press recently when an online editor suggested that a book about the telecom industry was the victim of “astroturfing”, receiving fictitious bad reviews on Amazon (See it here). Large sites that depend on customer reviews, such as TripAdvisor, employ systems to crack down on these overly glowing reviews from seemingly “real” customers. Algorithms flag suspicious reviews which are then reviewed by real live human beings.
Small business owners understand the importance of positive on-line customer reviews but it can be pretty scary to ask for them. Over and over I’ve heard owners say “I’m going to have my sister/neighbor/best friend write a review for me!” They are so excited about this brilliant idea, their run-around of the task; I just hope that they don’t hear me groan.
I get that it’s scary to ask clients and customers to write a review about your business: what if they say no? What if they write something bad? But what if they say something wonderful? It’s like that saying “you’ll fail 100% of the time that you don’t try (ask)”. To make it easier, try these techniques:
- Ask for reviews on your invoices or customer receipts; many national stores do this now – often coupled with an incentive, which you should NOT do.
- Ask “Were you happy with your service today?” that reminds them that they were happy with you.
- Ask every customer to write a review. Asking needs to become a habit for you and your staff. Put yourself in the position of wondering “was this customer happy enough that I should ask them for a review?” and you’ll find yourself distracted from attending to the customer in front of you. If every Target check-out clerk can ask on behalf of their behemoth employer, don’t you think you can ask for your own business?
- Yes, you will get some poor reviews and some “eh” reviews. When I see a poor or mid-level review mixed with glowing reviews, I tend to think that reviewer is probably never happy and it makes the reviews in general more believable.
- Respond to reviews. Thank customers, say something about their visit, or let customers know that you’ve mended your ways, if necessary. Be authentic in your responses and true to your brand.
- Google+Local is the review site of choice, but don’t discourage customers from writing a review on other sites such as Yahoo, Yelp!, or Facebook. Whatever site is easiest for them to use is the site for them to write their review.
- Automate the process by sending every customer a follow-up email with step-by-step instructions on creating a review. www.DemandForce.com is a great tool for this and gives you the opportunity for another customer touch.
It may seem easier to ask your best friend for an online review but in the long run, your business will be stronger by asking everyone for a review. Simplify the process and you will grow, in every sense of the word. No astroturfing necessary.
Rushed service; errors; and long sighs. Could this be your customers’ experience with your business?
Over the weekend I visited my hair salon, and this is the customer service I experienced. My 20-minute appointment started 20 minutes late. The esthetician was obviously rushed and forgot a couple of things until I reminded her, which led her to sigh. I was irritated and frustrated. I took a deep breath, relaxed, and said “you seem stressed” and waited to see how she responded.
She told me how her employer wasn’t giving her enough time with each client to give the level of service she wanted to provide. She felt like she was short-changing customers, and she was frustrated because her work was not meeting her standards, and a level of service she thought she was hired to provide. She felt pretty confident that the salon would not earn the business of two bridal party consultations because the salon’s service, touted as high end and “something different”, was in fact no different than any other salon yet at a steeper price. I no longer felt irritated with my service, and encouraged her to ask for a meeting with the salon owner to sort it out.
On-going, two-way conversations with employees can prevent lost customers, improve customer service and further business growth. Not sure how to go about it? Here are some questions to get started:
- Do you have what you need (time, resources, tools, education) to do your job as well as you would like? What further tools would help?
- Have you noticed other services or products that our customers are asking for or would like?
- How can I help you do your job better?
- What can we do as an organization to make our customers’ lives better?
Your employees are likely at the front line with your customers. Once your staff understands that you want to hear from them, your employees will pay more attention to the customers’ experience and get better at listening to customers. Ask your employees regularly for their input; it shows you have faith in your employees and makes conversations easier. Set the stage early with every new employee; ask for their input after the first week while they still have a fresh perspective. Let them know that you will regularly be asking for their input and want to hear from them.
I’m interested to visit the salon again and to see if anything has changed; I hope that service will be better. If not, this customer-focused employee will most likely have left out of frustration and that amounts to wasted time and energy on the business owner’s part. Open conversations with each of your employees on a regular basis will prevent you from losing customers and from losing talented staff.
At least once a summer, my brother’s family and ours enjoy lobsters together; we continued that tradition last night. Lobster in New Hampshire right now is $3.99 per pound (that’s less than a pound of hamburger), so we’ll enjoy it again tonight. But that’s only because of one retailer that understands the importance of adding value.
If you enjoy lobster at home, you know the worst part of it is the mess it makes – the huge pot, the smell, and the pot always seems to boil over in our house, so then we’ve got to clean up the stove. Yuck. This one retailer, though, has made boiled lobster as simple as take-out: for no additional cost, they will cook the lobsters for their customers. For the customer, that makes eating lobster a no-brainer. For the retailer, their only added cost is the power to boil the water. Brilliant. Lobsters, along with those “couple of other items” you always need, were going out of the store by the bag load.
Adding value to your products or services allows you to increase nusiness revenue, conversion rates and customer satisfaction. I can’t remember the last time I had shopped where I bought the lobsters, but I bought lobsters and a lot more today. Here are some ideas that could work for your business:
- A DVD or YouTube video instructions for a product purchased from you
- Idea sheet for ways to use the product or service they are purchasing from you
- An exclusive follow-up or consult call
- Bundled services that relate to the product
- A small “go-along” product that makes the use of your product or service easier
- Product or service offer from a complimentary business
Simply put, find what makes it easier for them to use your product or service. There are people out there who want your product or service; make it easier for them and you are adding value, and starting to increase business revenue.
Eliminate your customers’ reasons for not buying your product or service; honestly, we would not be having lobster tonight if we were cooking it. I didn’t just buy ingredients for tonight’s dinner, I bought an easy, summer lobster dinner. Now, if they would just come and take the trash away….
– Helen Dutton, Business Coach
photo credit: law_keven via photo pin cc
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Thanking customers and clients can be challenging; you want it to be sincere, it would be great if it helped with your branding, it sometimes needs to fit within prescribed guidelines or at least an unstated code, and it needs to be financially reasonable. No wonder so many businesses postpone it or succumb to the traditional. With a little planning it can meet all of those criteria and still be simple, easy, and fun to give.
I recently visited a salon that could have written the book on how to say “thank you” well. As I checked out, the receptionist came around from behind the desk and presented me with a beautifully packaged gift, thanked me for my first visit and shared a few words about the gift. The packaging alone told me this wasn’t a run of the mill gift. Sure, the package included a complete list of services and coupons for items across their product and service line (all on beautiful paper), but it also included a small “luxury” gift – a product that I had experienced that day and that I could later purchase. I treasure that gift and think of the salon every time I use it.
A couple days later, I received a handwritten note from Hailey, the person who provided my service. She thanked me for visiting and recalled something personal from our conversation. The item she reminded me about was a reason to visit again, although she mentioned it conversationally. Have I scheduled another visit? You betcha.
Here’s what I was reminded of in this exchange:
- Be crystal clear about your motivation for giving a gift. Marketing? Gaining referrals? Or solely expressing gratitude? A sincere ‘thank you’ will help with your marketing, but don’t let motivation for more business get in the way of expressing gratitude. If you can’t make it sincere, don’t do it.
- Presentation matters. Carefully plan how you will present the gift, what you will say, and who will hear it.
- Include a personal element to the gift. One client recently had hats individually custom embroidered for his top clients; a personal touch lets customers know that you listen and that you care about them personally.
- Balance the gift value with the value of service you provide. Gifts that are disproportionate make your customers uncomfortable and actually discourage them from doing business with you again.
Saying thank you is an integral step in businesses that excel. Seems our mothers knew what they were talking about, after all.
– Helen Dutton, Business Coach
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I was two for two today. First, I ordered an unsweetened ice tea with lemon to go. As I drove away I took a sip and almost spit it out; sweetened, and I mean sweet! I then picked up a custom order for my niece’s graduation. I was so excited to see it but waited until I got home because I didn’t want the gift to get damaged. I opened it up and…it was all wrong. To make it even worse when I called, the owner referred to what “she” did – placing blame on an employee.
Both retailers corrected their mistake and neither was critical in the grand scheme of life, but they were critical to my desires. The iced tea was not just a drink; it was a treat for me, a refreshing drink during a busy day. The custom order was not just a book; it was obviously a gift for someone I loved very much. Both retailers had enough goodwill built with me that I forgave the error and will visit them again, but I did tell my husband about the custom gift error immediately. You never know who your customers tell about your errors, and you may not have enough goodwill to withstand an error. Enough errors made, and you will lose customers guaranteed.
Humans make errors, but how do you limit them as a business? There are three must-haves:
- Understand what your customers are really after – the emotion they want to experience as a result of your product or service. In the case of the custom gift for my niece, I wanted myniece to feel my love for her. Tough to do when the gift is made incorrectly. The iced tea was refreshment. A pet-sitting business client o fmine, Common Bonds Pet Services, understands that they don’t just walk animals, they are in the business of Trust.
- Build systems to prevent errors; make sure the systems are built around your customers’ core wants and needs. For Common Bonds, a cardinal rule of the pet-sitting business is that a client’s door hasn’t been checked until its security has been checked three times. A final comparison of my custom gift template compared to the final product would have prevented the error at a cost of 1-2 minutes.
- Take ownership of errors. If an employee makes an error, it stinks. But it is your responsibility to hire and train, instill your company’s core values, and to have systems in place to prevent errors.
How do you prevent errors? I’d love to hear what systems you have in place to insure you deliver exactly what your customers want, or more, every time.
– Helen Dutton, Business Coach