The Customer Isn’t Always Right, But the Customer Is Always the Customer

June 24, 2016 Jay Skowron

Article by our Founder & Principal Jay Skowron, first published in AutoSuccess Magazine’s June 2016 issue on behalf of our DealerDefender brand. While this article is targeted to the automotive industry, the information within is completely valid and effective for the hospitality industry.

We’re going to discuss something controversial today: online reviews and how to respond to them. DealerRater reviews. Facebook reviews. Google My Business reviews (or is it Google+ Local? Google Places? Who knows these days, amiright?)

How about Yelp reviews? There, I said it. Is your heart racing all of a sudden? Blood pressure up? Face red? Good. Now settle down and take a breath. We’re going to get through this together. We’ll focus on Yelp today, but what I’m going to say translates to all review sites.

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I know, dealers hate Yelp. You hate Yelp. Many businesses hate Yelp. I get it. Just about every dealer we talk to wants to simply ignore Yelp. But consider the following:

Some statistics

Between 65% and 90% of consumers, depending on which study you read, are influenced by online reviews. For Yelp alone, as of March 2016, there are an average of 167 million unique visitors per month (77 million desktop computer visitors, 69 million mobile web users, and 21 million app users.) 72% of consumers say positive reviews make them trust a business more, and 90% say positive reviews directly influence their buying decisions. And guess what – people are more likely to share a negative experience than a positive one. Common sense? Of course. Okay, enough statistics. So what does all that tell us?

It tells us that the opposite is also true. Negative reviews influence people. It also tells us that your customers probably use Yelp. You probably even use Yelp yourself to find a restaurant, or a new barber, or any number of businesses you need to look up. You might even take a peek at your own dealership reviews once in awhile. (You know it’s true. No judgment here.)

Can you afford to risk 65% to 90% of your potential customers reading your negative reviews and you pretending they don’t exist?

I hope you said “NO.” Good, we can continue.

The Service Drive

Let’s use your service drive as one example. (Yes, it’s different than your showroom, but consumers don’t generally make that distinction.) There are 1000 ways you can drop the ball in the service drive. Keys can get lost, paint can get scratched, cars can fall off the lift. More likely, though, it’s employees keeping a customer waiting too long or being perceived as rude or dismissive.

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I know, your employees would never be rude or dismissive. But two things:

  • Perception is reality for customers.
  • Your employees absolutely can be rude or dismissive. It happens.

Like the title says, the customer isn’t always right. Perception is reality. And they are always the customer. You want to keep their business, right? Get referrals? Sell more cars and warranties and maintenance packages? You need to fix your negative reviews. So, here it is: our “best practice” strategy.

How to handle negative reviews (the “recovery”)

  • Respond as quickly as possible. When we work on behalf of our clients, we respond within 3 hours of a posted review. But certainly, strive for less than 24.
  • Respond publicly. First, apologize! Be humble. Show the public that you care about your reviews, that you welcome the feedback, and that you want to fix any problems. Keep it cordial, professional, non-argumentative. If the review is particularly egregious, you can sometimes mention one or two facts to set the record straight. But this is delicate! Avoid being too matter-of-fact or passive-aggressive. Don’t get into a pissing match and avoid make the customer even angrier. Tread lightly here. I know, it’s tough to back down when a bad review is posted, especially an unfair one.
  • Get the guest to communicate offline with you. Ask them to send you an email, call you, stop by in person, or even send them a private Yelp message. But make every effort to keep the conversation going.
  • Offer some kind of incentive for your customer to come back. Maybe a free oil change, or a free car wash, 10% off parts or service, a gift card, anything! Compensate them somehow for the inconvenience.
  • Ask them to speak to you personally next time they come in. Do a meet and greet and roll the red carpet out for them. Make sure their return visit is as close to perfect as it can be. Tell then you want them to have a 5-star experience. Yes, it’s a little subconscious trick but often helps.
  • Bonus Tip: Yelp allows you to flag reviews. Sometimes a review will be taken down by Yelp if you can make a good case that it doesn’t represent a personal consumer experience, or perhaps it was written by a current/ex employee or a competitor. Example: “My friend came here and he said it sucked so I don’t plan on going,” or “I used to work here and the GSM was a jerk,” or “I work at the dealership across the street and I agree with the last guy: the GSM is a jerk.” You can’t flag a review for “factual disputes” – they don’t care. That’s what the public comments are for.
  • Bonus Tip #2: Yelp sometimes “hides” reviews. They use a secret algorithm that helps to detect fake reviews. It’s even more secret than the recipe for Classic Coke. So some negative reviews will be hidden (this used to be called “filtered” – now they call it “reviews that are not recommended.”) Some positive reviews will also be hidden – a good reason not to ask for positive reviews, besides being against Yelp’s terms of service. These hidden reviews don’t factor into your score. But you should still respond to them.

We’ve seen two important outcomes from clients who follow the above. First, often the customer will update their review and add additional stars. Awesome! Second, customers who have been recovered using these techniques often become extremely loyal fans of the business, sometimes even more so than if they had a good experience to start with. Super awesome! Going the extra mile and showing the attention makes a big difference.

A recent study showed that a one-star increase in a business’ Yelp score translates into substantial revenue increases. You may hate Yelp, but you can’t afford to ignore it. So take your head out of the sand, swallow your pride, and win back a customer!

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Jay Skowron

Jay Skowron is the Founder and Principal of Hospitality Defender, specializing in social media marketing, online review management, websites, and process consulting. Jay has worked in the hospitality industry for almost two decades and is now passionate about helping restaurants and other hospitality businesses with guest satisfaction. He can be reached at jay@hospitalitydefender.com.

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