Getting Rid Of Negative Reviews – Before They Happen
Posted on August 8, 2011
I scooped into the bin of bulk sunflower seeds only to discover it was full of worms! I quickly reported it to the grocery store cashier in a hushed but urgent tone.
Her lackluster reply, “Oh.”
I proffered my debit card to the clerk at the convenience store, only to be told,
“Can you give me cash? I’m using the Internet and I don’t want to hook up the card machine.”
I walked into the quaint and pretty tea room and bakery behind a line of elderly ladies…
only to be greeted by the guttural strains of Metallica being blasted by a group of floury teenage boys.
I trotted up to the farm stand counter with my fresh produce where I encountered the cashier rubbing lip balm all over his shiny, open mouth with his fingers.
I almost couldn’t bear to hand him my cash.
I waltzed into my vacation rental, found it decorated in dead bugs and festoons of mold and phoned the owner.
Her careless reply, “Well, the guy I hired to look after the place is really falling apart.”
And nowhere to be found, a simple apology…
Friend and colleague, Mike Blumenthal, has published a very good post today entitled Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews. In this post, Mike states that the three elements of a review management plan are: great customer service, ask for reviews, avoid negative reviews, and I would like to take a closer look at factors one and three as they relate to a point I have been making a lot of recent efforts to get across to worthy local business owners like you.
It’s all very well to suggest avoiding negative reviews. Wouldn’t we all like to do so? But how can you do it? In my opinion, your number one ally, protection and weapon against negative reviews is:
Sorry, no magic wand. It may sound old-hat and unglamorous, but so many of my interactions with workers in the service industries have convinced me to the soles of my feet that busy business owners are either totally skipping this vital step towards satisfactory customer service, or they are not monitoring their staff to see if good practices are actually being implemented. Be warned, failure to train staff is almost certain to result in negative reviews just like this:
“Unbelievably surprisingly poor service when things are not going great.
First, the waitress did not bring me a salad (everyone at my table could have a complimentary salad as part of a prix fixe). She said she gave it to someone else at my table, and blamed that person for taking the salad. Not bringing me the salad – that’s ok, she’s human, but she blamed someone else, not good.
Then, there was a water leak from the ceiling that first poured water all along my left leg, then when I moved over, I had the misfortune of putting my head under another water leak. The waitress did not handle this professionally at all, and found excuses rather than at least simply saying “sorry about that”.
Then, the waitress brought me the wrong entree. I ordered the gratin. There is a big difference between how one pronounces Gratin vs Duck or Canard. No big deal, right, it’s human to make a mistake taking an order. But then the waitress blames me, and says “I will bring you YOUR duck anyway”. Really?
The Formula For A Negative Review
Mistakes and accidents happen. Unless you hire robots, this isn’t something you can control. So let’s take a look at the telling elements that make this scenario such a predictable setup for the inevitable resultant negative review, the elements that could have been controlled with appropriate staff training:
- The server blamed someone else
- The server blamed the customer
- The server did not know how to say I’m sorry even when a leak spouted right over the customer’s head
When you read as many reviews as I do, you will find that these elements are consistently cited as the cause of the negative review, and this reminds me that long ago, when the world was still young, I worked in retail and can attest that apart from training me to run a cash register, I never once had a boss offer to train me in the arts of serving the public. I was pretty much on my own, and unless your employees were raised by a mother as skilled in the teaching of Ps & Qs as mine, your business is in serious trouble. *See infographic below:
One negative review isn’t going to put anyone out of business, but a pattern of neglect of staff training is putting your company’s reputation at certain risk for bad press, and I am positive that with all you’ve invested in your business, this isn’t what you want.
Mitigating The Risk Of Negative Reviews With Simple Training Techniques
Uno – Put out the chips and salsa and a pitcher of iced tea and be prepared to pay overtime for this if necessary.
Dos – Bring the entire existent staff together for an after-hours training session.
Tres – Role play every imaginable negative or tricky scenario that could happen in your business. Encourage staff to suggest their own scenarios and act them out – ones they’ve experienced on the job. Fly in the soup, item returned broken, unruly children at table, rude customer, intoxicated customer, shoplifter, staff shortage, etc. Make it 100% clear to every employee what your company’s acceptable methods and policies are for handling each of these situations. Don’t rely on them acting on gut instincts. Teach them how to behave in your business and strongly stress that the ability to say “I’m sorry,” when something goes wrong is a pre-requisite for keeping their job with you.
Cuatro – In the session, set expected standards for polite interactions. Make it clear that you expect eye contact, please and thank you. Encourage staff to be friendly and outgoing, but not to be overly personal or interfering during patrons’ time spent in the shop. Don’t expect that new staff members have pleasing manners. They may never have had the chance to learn them outside of this job. Set sanitary standards, too. Public grooming is not something most of us want to see, and we all feel better if we believe service employees wash their hands at appropriate times.
Cinco – Bring in the services of a medical professional for the night to give basic training in CPR and First Aid and be sure that every employee knows where emergency numbers and the first aid kit are located.
Seis – Ask employees if there is anything you can do to enable them to give more efficient or consistent customer service.
Siete – Teach every employee to say some version of this to patrons, “If there is anything that doesn’t meet with your complete satisfaction, please, just let me know. I’m here to serve you.” Make in-person complaints so easy for patrons that they are inclined to seek resolution at the time of transaction, rather than turning to the web to vent. That’s right – in addition to training your staff, you’ve got to train your customers to know that they can approach staff with problems to seek resolution.
Ocho – Repeat this training session at least once a year. If your staff turnover is accelerated at your business, these sessions will have to occur more often.
Nueve- Be IN YOUR STORE frequently enough to see if good practices are being put into place.
Diez – Be the absolute best example in your business of excellent people skills. Treat your staff and your patrons with consideration and courtesy at all times. You set the tone of your business and your employees are watching you.
The training session would also be a great time to implement a staff-wide positive review encouraging strategy, but the main point here is to make the effort to equip staff with the right words, gestures, actions and tools to handle the public well. In this way, your business will avoid much of the risk for the disappointment, shock and anger that is fueling the review world with volumes of complaints large and small right this minute.
You won’t be able to catch every customer before they walk out the door unhappy enough to write a negative review, but with a small but dedicated investment of your time put towards meaningful staff training, chances are, you will be stopping a meaningful percentage of negative reviews – before they happen.
Question For You: Already training your staff? What works for you? Other business owners will benefit if you take the time to share your tried-and-true techniques. Please share!
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