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So You Got a Bad Customer Review …

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Public and readily accessible customer reviews are a fact of life for today’s business owners. Whether focused on a specific industry such as reviews at or covering a wide range of companies (i.e. Google Reviews, Yelp … etc.) there are plenty of online sites that want consumers to rate satisfaction with a recent purchase. The question for business owners and managers is what to do when they inevitably get negative comments.

Take Stock of the Situation

We may like to say that the customer is always right, but when criticized our natural inclination is to be defensive. We’ll make excuses, question the veracity of our detractors, or claim others are at fault (There are two sides to every story, after all!). Still, we should try to overcome our human impulses and:

  • Stay calm – Yep, they really said that, right there, for all the world to see. The unfairness of it all! Okay … stop. While your every instinct may be to fight back, instead clear your head and concentrate on fixing a problem. The issue isn’t necessarily a bad review. Also, if you’re wishing your customer had tried to be more understanding, maybe you could start the ball rolling by going first.
  • Investigate – Do what you can to understand what transpired to create the unhappy customer. Recalling the incident, or finding the employee who remembers what happened may depend on the level of detail in the reviewer’s account, but make a good faith effort to get the facts. Keep in mind that the in-house person who knows the most about the incident may have had the biggest role in making the customer unhappy. Don’t be accusatory with that staff member, but take pains to see the matter from the customer’s perspective.
  • Make Changes – Once you’re satisfied you have a handle on what transpired, ensure there will be no cause for similar reviews in the future. Did an employee do something wrong? Was a policy at fault? If so, address the deficiency and correct it. Was the problem unavoidable or was the customer in the wrong? Then explore measures to let upset customers in the future know you care about their feelings, even if you can’t make them completely happy.

React Positively

You’ve done what you can to uncover the facts and you have a plan for moving forward. Now it’s time to let others know you’ve acknowledged a problem and are working to set things right by:

  • Responding Online (at the review site) – Don’t just let a bad review sit there! Many customer satisfaction sites provide an opportunity for you to address a critical review. (This goes for social media criticisms as well.) Respectfully and graciously express your concern that a customer had a bad experience. If your investigation found that your business was at fault, own up to it, apologize and let people know how you plan to fix the problem. If the problem was out of your control, politely explain why. Don’t belabor your points.
  • Contacting the unhappy customer directly – If possible, contact the person who posted the negative review. Let them know you are disheartened that they had a bad experience. You may find them very reasonable as the heat of the moment has passed, They may even appreciate you reaching out to them. See if reasonable accommodation can be reached. Keep in mind: It’s not so important that they understand your position, but that they know you care about theirs.
  • Going public – Without rehashing a specific bad review, let customers (current, former and prospective) know you value their feedback whether it’s good or bad. Encourage their reviews on rating sites (suggest a few that you can easily monitor) and add the proviso that you’d always like the opportunity to address any concerns. When real problems are uncovered, let everyone know you’re fixing them. “Responsive” and “thoughtful” are very marketable qualities in a business.

Minimize the Impact

Though you do everything possible to set things right—and that irate reviewer is now your most enthusiastic advocate—a negative comment could virtually hang around forever. Here are three things you can do to mitigate the damage:

  • Overwhelm the bad reviews with good – As mentioned, you should encourage customers to review your business, and if you usually do a good job, your ratings will reflect that. People understand everyone occasionally has a bad day, and some customers are going to be unreasonable jerks, so the stray one-star rating won’t sink you. Just don’t manufacture glowing reviews—that’s unethical and there could be negative repercussions from the review site.
  • Work on Search Engine Results – Google the name of your business. What comes up at the top? If negative comments are prominent, embark on a plan to increase improve your Internet presence. The more “good news” you have out there, the less prominence any negative reviews will have.
  • Emphasize customer testimonials and case studies in your marketing – Apart from trusted word-of-mouth communication, verified testimonials and case studies are about the most effective form of advertising. Make them a component of your sales and marketing strategy on your website, in ads and commercials, brochures … everywhere! You want to people to see that happy customers are the norm, and a bad experience is an aberration.

Final thought: think of negative reviews as an opportunity. If you have a problem in how you’re serving customers, you want to know it. And if you aren’t really doing anything wrong, here’s your chance to practice your customer relations skills. Besides, anything that encourages us to look beyond our normal, everyday perspective will only help us grow and be better prepared for new challenges in the future.

The Pinstripe PR team are reputation management pros and can help mitigate negative comments. Contact us here to learn how we can help.

Social Media Messaging for Businesses: Peanuts Had It Right!

social media messaging_news“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” Quote by Linus, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. About a half century ago, via his Peanuts characters, Charles Schultz shared the wise admonition above. Yet everywhere we turn today, public figures are falling all over themselves to express opinions on these topics. (Instead of Great Pumpkin, substitute “ideological causes.”) Increasingly, it’s a behavior also infecting high profile CEOs and large corporations. Owners and executives leading small and midsize companies may be wondering if they too need to get onboard with this trend by using social media to take a stand regarding “issues of the day.”

Well, we would never tell anyone to act against conscience, or to remain silent in the face of blatant wrongs, but as Linus suggested—all in all—there’s probably not much upside for business leaders to take sides in today’s polarized social climate.

Think. If you express an opinion, your customers and prospects will either agree with you, won’t agree with you, or simply won’t care about the issue. At that, you might see the best possible outcome as win, lose, and tie. However, that’s being overly optimistic.

Unless your work is directly linked to one of Linus’s forbidden topics (examples: religious leader, politician, special-interest lobbyist), it’s highly unlikely that your social commentary is the reason anyone wants to do business with you. As we’ve written previously, a company’s value proposition is almost always going to address one of five customers concerns: price, convenience, service, identity and quality/value. Of these, your public pronouncements on various topics only have a chance of fitting in with “identity.” That’s not nothing, but for all practical purposes it isn’t much.

Remember, your value proposition needs to be central to your brand image. For instance, consider which would be more effective in building a customer base for a law office: a strong stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or a vow to protect your clients’ legal interests. Or what if you provide IT managed services? Which would boost your brand most, a promise of a worry-free computer network, or your stand on abortion?

No, we can’t say your positions on controversial topics won’t appeal to some small segment of the public. According to a report from Sprout Social, 39% of people do appreciate brands that are “politically correct” in their social network communications. But one person’s PC may be regarded by others as counter-productive nonsense. We all tend to live in comfortable bubbles, but outside our immediate circles, we’ll find there are people—even large populations—who feel very differently about things. (If we are prepared to listen, we might even learn their stances are occasionally well reasoned.) For every person that says, “Right on!” there may be one or more taking issue with you and they may they be willing to simply “agree to disagree.” Increasingly, polarization is causing us to see ideological differences as “bad for the country” or even a personal threat (Pew Research Center Report). You could end up being the target of an organized protest!

But let’s say you’re lucky enough to break even between the with-you and the against-you crowds. What about those who don’t care about the topic at all … or have become sick of hearing about it? The same Sprout Social survey found that 71% of consumers find “talking politics” to be annoying. That’s hardly surprising since customers are typically more interested in doing business with companies that focus on solving their problems. “Annoying” doesn’t increase market share.

So, instead of politics, religion or your personal Great Pumpkin, what statements might better resonate with customers and prospects? How about honesty (86%), friendliness (83%), helpfulness (78%), and funny (72%). (Check out the interesting article in Forbes on the Sprout Social report for more insights.)

Yes, there are some “safe” positions you can take in your social media communications, or that you may express in your marketing communications (e.g. “we love puppies” and “happy Mother’s Day!”). But your messaging only reaches your target audiences so often. When it does get through, make sure it’s relevant to why your customers may need you.

Client Ignorance about Your Business Isn’t the Client’s Failing

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Have you ever told a client about one of your products or services and heard this surprised reply: “I didn’t know you had that!”? You may have bitten your tongue to keep from pointing out that this particular offering is listed throughout your website, mentioned in every bit of marketing collateral and advertising you produce and also prominently proclaimed by a huge sign over your left shoulder, even as the two of you are speaking! Somehow, instead of whacking this person over the head and yelling, “Hello? McFly!” you thoughtfully go about closing a new sale.

But before jumping to conclusions, ask yourself why clients frequently don’t retain important bits of information about your business. We’re going to go out on a short, thick and very sturdy limb and say the problem likely originates from one of two places: 1) your clients aren’t all that motivated to learn about your company; and 2) information you would like them to have isn’t attracting their attention.

It’s human nature to not do things we don’t have to do. That’s why we don’t see bald men combing their heads, or why most don’t make their bed everyday if they live alone. We have better uses for our time, so if we aren’t strongly motivated to perform certain acts, we won’t. Therefore, it’s not surprising that random members of the public don’t normally commit the content of business websites to memory, or that some people would be unable to describe a company logo even if their lives depended on it.

“But,” you may say, “knowledge is power. My company satisfies important demands, and it’s wise to know how to access critical resources such as those we provide.” This may be true, but we all prioritize which information to acquire, especially in an age where we can Google an answer to any question in seconds. These days, it’s usually safe to feel a need before finding out where to fill it.

More importantly, you care more about your business than your customers—by a lot! Have you ever noticed that the person most bothered by dirty dishes is the one who’s quickest to wash them? (Unless there’s a lot of nagging involved, that is.) Public apathy operates under the same principle. Clients say, “If you really want me know something about your company, I’m going to leave it up to you to imprint that information on my mind. Good luck.”

This brings us to the second point. How does the information you want to convey manage to push through everything else that’s clamoring for your customers’ attention … much less actually stick around in their brains?

Well that’s what marketing is all about, isn’t it? You carefully identify your audiences, send precisely constructed communications that will attract their attention—through a medium that has the best chance to reach targets—and do it over and over and over again until they (finally) remember your message. And you’ve got to brand it all so your company won’t be confused with others sending similar information to the same people!

It’s a process with countless twist and turns, millions of variables, innumerable nuances and considerations, but never a single perfect solution. Still, we truly believe focused customer outreach and education will be fully worth your effort. (Helpful hint: Let your Pinstripe friends handle it for you!). It’s up to you to make the right impression on your clients—not them—but if things go right, they’ll be glad you did.

The Five P Chords of B2B Messaging

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Many popular songs are recorded using only a few guitar chords. For instance, Wild Thing by The Troggs, Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Sweet Home Alabama by Lynryd Skynryd use only three. No, they are not the same three chords—and there are others to choose from—but the point is you don’t have to hit a lot of notes to make sweet marketing music. In fact, if your company mostly serves other businesses, you can build a nice messaging repertoire from just five.

What makes this even easier to grasp is that you don’t need to remember “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” or to “FACE” the music. Thanks to the Microsoft Word thesaurus, all our B2B messaging chords start with a P. And so, without further fanfare, here they are:

P1 – Profitability
An appeal to profitability is inherent in most B2B marketing. That’s superficially obvious, but there’s real psychology going on. Business owners seek better margins because of what additional dollars represent to them as individuals. Unless we’re dealing with Scrooge McDuck (who just wants great wealth to roll around in) money is only a means to an end. For most business owners, the goal is to provide well for themselves and their families. Others enjoy the competition that comes with building a successful business. And some people simply love what they do and want to keep doing it. When you offer to help improve profitability, your target audience can translate that into assistance in achieving their highest aspirations.

P2 – Productivity
Improved productivity typically increases profitability, true, but it may also mean a less onerous work day for business owners and/or their employees. Then, maybe, the pay-off becomes better work-life balance instead of a bulging bottom line. Regardless of where your B2B customers find the value, any time you can help them attain higher productivity using the same (or fewer) resources, you’ll have rapt listeners.

P3– Performance
A company’s performance usually boils down to how favorably customers evaluate the experience of doing business with it. This could mean assessing the quality/value of the provided products, noting the responsiveness of staff, or enjoying a comfortable and safe commercial environment. By helping businesses perform better, you empower them to strengthen their own client bases by gaining greater loyalty from their customers. If you can do this for your business clients, they will be all ears.

P4 – Provision
As you’re doubtlessly aware, there are aspects of running an organization that you don’t have the time, expertise or inclination to do as well as you should. This might be anything from watering plants to installing a computer network. How could the service or services provided by your company free up your customers to devote more time to what they do best? The answer to this question is well worth sounding off in your marketing communications.

P5 – Peace of Mind
Secretary of Defense James Mattis was asked what keeps him up at night. He confidently replied, “Nothing. I keep other people awake a night.” Well, good for him. As for the rest of us—especially those running a business—there are plenty of worries to keep us from enjoying a good night’s sleep. Telling your customers how you can provide them with a little more “peace of mind” is practically singing them a lullaby.

But what about another P, namely, Price? It’s going to be important, but unless you’re sure you’re offering a deal that your competitors will find it hard to match, it may not be a marketing note you want to strike too often. Sales prospects will either find your price acceptable or they won’t, and unless you’re Wal-Mart, price isn’t going to make you special. For the most part, you’ll play a more memorable B2B tune with your own original composition.

Bonus P – Pinstripe
If you need a little help, give the Pinstripe team a call!

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The Six Stages of Super-Client Development

customer relationship business development_newsPicture a great client. He or she will have been buying from you for quite a while. They make purchases on a regular basis. They appreciate the work you do and they respect your expertise. And the best part is that they recommend your business to their friends, family and business associates.

Do you have a lot of clients like this? Do you have any? If you’re short on the number of super-clients in your client base, it may not be a reflection on the value of goods or services you provide. In fact, the opposite could be true. Maybe you put so much effort in being the best at what you do, that you’re neglecting the customer-development stage of your business. After all, you don’t just find great customers hidden like Easter eggs. They must be created—by you. It’s a process that takes planning, dedication and time.

There are six stages to creating a committed client:

  • Create awareness of your brand – Yes, this is basic but we’ve got to start somewhere. Besides, it’s impossible to have more great clients than people who’ve ever heard of your business, so maximize the foundation of your client base through marketing (i.e. PR, social media, digital advertising, direct marketing … etc.). Not every promotional vehicle is effective for every business type and there are a lot of factors to consider (that’s where agencies like Pinstripe Marketing come in!) but you must let people know your company exists, one way or another.
  • Get your target audience interested in your products/services – Congratulations! Some prospective clients have heard of your business! Unfortunately, they have probably heard of your competitors as well. Now you have to help them understand why your products or services are better than those they can get elsewhere. You do this with a consistent brand message based on value propositions to the customer by utilizing marketing vehicles tailored to your business and audience.
  • Do some convincing – After the first couple of stages, you may have landed a few clients, but you want more, don’t you? Now’s the time to back up the value claims you’ve made with blogs, testimonials, case studies and white papers. You might even show off your confidence by inviting customer reviews/feedback on your website or through social media. Such persuasion motivates buying decisions and helps cement the client-business relationship. People who carefully consider a decision before making it become emotionally invested in seeing it turn out well. No one likes to admit to a mistake, so if such a customer has a rare moment of disappointment, they will be less likely to cut and run, allowing you to recover from a minor error.
  • Ensure the purchasing experience is a good one – What would you do if someone concluded their business with you feeling regret, and you knew about it? How could you get them to feel better? Send them a card letting them know you appreciated their business? Maybe inquire as to their ongoing satisfaction with the product or service, or the level of attention they received? Perhaps make sure they know you stand behind their purchase with reasonable support so they stay happy? Do these things with everyone as standard operating procedure, and you’ll combat stray feelings of regret among the few. You’ll also ensure that worry-free clients bond even more tightly with you!
  • Never take them for granted – If you’ve been diligent in developing client relationships through this point, you should be in great shape. In fact, victory is yours if you don’t blow it. Remember those promises to answer concerns and provide appropriate ongoing support? Make sure you’re keeping them. And, in general, stay in touch with friendly cards, surveys, newsletters and specials. Always let existing customers know how important they are to you. (Just think of all the work you’ve put into the relationship already. Don’t let that go to waste now!)
  • Take advantage of their advocacy – They really like you and you really like them. This is where the investment in client development truly pays dividends. Make it easy for great clients to share their enthusiasm by featuring them in testimonials and case studies, onsite reviews and marketing collateral. You might even reward them with a client referral program. (Meanwhile, don’t forget to take a moment to feel earned pride over every super client you have!)

It’s true that not every prospect will require every outlined step to be a buyer; you may be lucky enough to have a few very low-maintenance clients for years and years. Conversely, some people are going to leave you no matter what you do. But If you have a process for turning customers into advocates and stick to it, you will have exponentially increased your odds of enjoying consistent, sustainable business growth.

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