customer service

How Just 1 Negative First Impression Can Leave a Lasting Impression

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What kind of first impression is your team making?

More than 10 years ago, I worked at the front desk of a storage and distribution warehouse. It was a very small satellite of a Canadian company with about 10 employees. One day, I received a call from a large postage meter company. Since part of my job was to thoroughly filter incoming calls and only put through a very limited number to my manager, I had to prevent him from having to take any unnecessary calls.

I allowed the salesperson to make his initial spiel, but being a small company and mailing very little, we didn’t have a need for such a service and I informed of that. He continued to try to sell me on the idea, and I continued to let him know we only mailed maybe a dozen items a month. I’m not a pushy person and probably much more polite than I should be, especially since that was one of my first desk jobs. The salesperson was not pleased with my answer, so he hung up on me.

Yes, the salesperson hung up on me.

To this day, every time I hear that company name – and it’s a big company – I think of that incident and the horrible first impression I have of that company. And even though he was just one person there (who hopefully didn’t work there much longer after that incident), he was a representative of the company providing a very negative lasting impression. So lasting that I saw a competitor’s product at work yesterday and told that story to my coworker, and this is more than 10 years later!

Maybe some don’t think this is a big deal, but what if down the road, I decided to give them a second chance? And what if I had an issue with my account or their product which is bound to happen? Would they be willing to help me or would they hang up on me?

Conversely, had the salesperson been understanding and helpful, perhaps providing his contact information for me to have on hand if perhaps some day our needs changed, I would have remembered that. And if I had needed their services, I would remember that and probably would be much more forgiving if any account or product issues arose. I would also be much more likely to pass that information on to those I knew as a recommendation.

That wasn’t the only time I have been hung up on, but another experience goes to show how a negative situation can be turned around. I took a sales job at my next company selling uniforms to law enforcement. I received a call one day from a police chief and although I was being as helpful as possible (and polite), he hung up on me. That’s fine, I get people have bad days, especially in the law enforcement field. But what turned the situation around was that he called me back moments later and apologized. Yes, he was having a bad day, and no, I hadn’t done or said anything wrong.

While it’s important to provide everyone with excellent customer service, it is imperative to provide a good first impression because as my example shows, bad first impressions can last for decades. And negative experiences spread like wildfire, especially with social media and review sites. Too many negative reviews about a business can quickly kill future business or even put a company out of business.

So make sure if you talk to customers, you are always as helpful and polite as possible and instill this in your team members who talk to customers, because just one negative impression can leave a lasting impression and lose a potential customer, possibly forever. If a negative situation does arise, be sure to quickly respond to try to mend the situation. People can be very understanding and forgiving if you’re sincere. In fact, reaching out to a customer and repairing a negative situation can change their impression and make them a customer for life.

Building positive relationships in and outside of your company will make it a much more pleasant place,  and will also grow your business.

Tell me about your good, bad or redeeming first impressions of a company in the comments – I’d love to hear your experiences!

Businesses: Why You Should Respond to All Online Reviews

According to Neilsonwire, 81% of consumers say it’s important for businesses to respond to reviews.

When a customer has a positive experience, they’ll tell one person. When a customer has a bad experience, they’ll tell 10. And that’s actually old news. With the popularity and accessibility of online review sites, customers have more power than ever to tarnish the reputation of your company after a single bad experience.

It doesn’t matter that your customers are generally very happy with your products or service. If your company receives enough bad reviews, it doesn’t matter how happy the majority of your customers are, you are very likely to lose potential customers from the negative reviews. So it is imperative that you respond to all online reviews, positive or negative. You want to show your customers that you pay attention to what’s being said and that you make changes from their feedback.

The good news is that there are several things you can do to control your online reputation.

Where Do I Start?

Here’s a few essential steps that are going to make things a lot easier for you

  • Get organized: Something that has helped me immensely is to create a document to keep track of all the online places my business exists. I have a bulleted list that has each online place, the login info, a link to the login page and a link to the business profile page. This way, I know where I’ve claimed my business online and can easily access the login and profile pages for each online place.
  • Claim your name: If you haven’t done it already, go to all the major review sites, search for yourself and take the steps to claim your profile on the sites. If you don’t find a profile for your business, set one up.  (Some major sires to check are: Yelp, Google + Local, Yahoo! Local, Insider Pages, CitySearch, Better Business Bureau, and Facebook – click here to learn how to set up a business Facebook page). Important: make sure you set up the account as a business, not a user. This is usually done by searching for your company then following a “claim your business” link from the business profile page.
  • Verify your accounts: Most of these sites require you to prove that you are the company you have claimed and will do this with an email, postcard or phone call with a verification code. Follow the instructions to ensure you have done so properly so you can easily access your account.
  • Set up Google Alerts: While you can usually set up notifications in each site to notify you when you have received a review, it’s also a good idea to setup Google Alerts to notify you relevant alerts about your company whenever they come up in a search. These are especially helpful for alerting you to new reviews or online comments about your business (or anything you want for that matter) so you can respond quickly.

These steps will help you stay organized and alert to what’s being said about your business.

Which Reviews Should I Respond To?

This one is easy: every single one. Even if a review is a couple years old, you can always respond “Thanks for the feedback! We’re glad you had a great experience and we hope to see your face again soon!” to a positive review or “Thank you for the feedback. We’re sorry you had a less than positive experience, but we’re happy to let you know we’ve made some changes based on your feedback and we’d love it if you gave us another chance!” to a negative review.

If customers or potential customers see that you read and respond to reviews, they will have more confidence in your commitment to customer satisfaction and may leave a slightly less harsh review, knowing that you will respond and they will be called upon to contact you to make things better. Responses are also a great way to connect with your customers outside of the business.

What Do I Say?

First and foremost:

  • Be sincere. If your response could be taken the wrong way, reword it. Make sure it doesn’t sound sarcastic or mocking of the customer or the problem can quickly explode and escalate.
  • Accept responsibility. Did you actually make a mistake? Own up to it. People are understanding, especially when you accept the blame. Mistakes happen and when you accept responsibility and work toward a resolution, chances are your customer will be forgiving. On the flip-side, do not publicly blame your customer, even if it was their fault. There’s still the “customer is always right” mentality so blaming the customer won’t do you any good. If they are mad, they very well may add on how you had the audacity to blame them to their negative review.
  • Customize each response: While you will probably have a pretty general response to reviews, make sure to customize each one, using the customer’s name and any public details if known. For example, if Emily Brown says your soups are the best in town, respond to her by name and mention how happy you are she thinks so highly of your soups. Change up your format so you sound like a real person, not a cookie cutter response.
  • Thank the reviewer. Here’s where it can get a little sticky if you’re not careful and where sincerity is crucial. You truly are thankful they gave you feedback, so make it sound that way. Customer feedback is one of the best ways to improve your business. If no one ever told you what you were doing wrong, how else would you know? Thank the reviewer for their feedback and let them know you appreciate the time they took to write a review.
  • Take bad situations offline ASAP. It’s important to acknowledge all reviews, but for customers who had a bad experience, you don’t want to have an online discussion or you risk the possibility of others joining in and causing a huge ordeal. In fact, there have been several instances in which 1 negative review spread across social media, causing people from all over the country to leave negative reviews of that business, even though they had never been there. This is not a good way to get attention and can/will severely damage your reputation.
  • Offer a solution: Don’t just leave them hanging on your apology. What can you do to improve the situation? You don’t need to give specifics in your response, but just mentioning that you have some options you think they will like and to please call or email you for details. This shows that you are making an effort to make the situation right.
  • Respond publicly. This is important so others viewing your reviews see that you acknowledge and act upon your reviews. This shows a dedication to customer satisfaction.

Consider negative reviews as opportunities to make things right for current and future customers and positive reviews as advertising.

What about negative reviews?

Think about this from the consumer’s point of view. If you had a negative experience somewhere, what are things you’d like to hear? Certainly start with an apology and remember to be sincere.

Here’s a couple ideas for phrases you can incorporate into your negative review responses:

  • We are so sorry you had a less than positive experience
  • We appreciate your feedback and the opportunity to improve our service based on your comments
  • Our customers are important to us and we do our best to make sure they are happy
  • Is there anything we can tell our staff to improve upon?
  • We do our best, but sometimes mistakes happen
  • We apologize for any misunderstanding
  • This normally doesn’t happen/was an exception
  • It’s unfortunate we were unable to take better care of you – we were surprised to hear it
  • Customer satisfaction is our priority and we want to make this right for you
  • We’d like the opportunity to discuss your recent visit. Please contact us at xx@xx.com or (xxx) xxx-xxxx and ask for _______.
  • Please don’t hesitate to contact us if there’s any way we can help/serve you better
  • We have several options for you, please contact us to go over them to see what will work best for you.
  • We’d like a chance to make a better impression on you
  • Please know we will improve moving forward

What about positive reviews?

Yes, people do leave positive reviews and it’s important to acknowledge them. Think of it this way: if a potential customer reads their review and decides to go to your business because of that review, that customer earned you new business. These are the people who can and do give you a good reputation. And people who have positive experiences are generally less likely to leave a review, so it’s important to appreciate them. Keep all of this in mind when responding to positive reviews.

Here’s a couple ideas for phrases you can incorporate into your positive review responses:

  • Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us
  • We appreciate your feedback and continued business with our company
  • We look forward to seeing you in the future
  • Make sure you visit our website/Facebook page for upcoming events/specials
  • If there’s anything we can do to make your future experiences even better, please let us know

Following Up

So you’ve responded to your reviews and a customer who posted a negative review contacts you as requested—what do you do now?

  • Thank them for contacting you. Here’s your chance to make things right.
  • Listen to them. Even if they were in the wrong, let them tell their side of the story. Sometimes when people are forced to face negative situations, they realize that they did in fact have a part in the situation.
  • Stick to the facts. If you took measures to make their experience better and they were not satisfied, it’s okay to let them know you tried everything you could, as long as that’s true. If you could have done something differently, tell them. Do not be demeaning or condescending, just be factual.
  • Be helpful. Telling a customer there’s nothing you can do about it now is one of the most unhelpful things you can say. Instead, look for solutions and remedies to the problem that may be acceptable.
  • Find a solution. Ask the customer “what would you like me to do about this?” Be polite and listen to what they have to say. When you put them on the spot, you give them the opportunity to do the hard part for you. Sometimes a refund or discount is all they want. If that’s something you can do, then do it.
  • Thank them again. Let them know how appreciative you are that they gave you the opportunity to make things right. Even if you couldn’t give them everything they wanted, it’s okay to say “I’m sorry we couldn’t do more, but I’m so glad you contacted us so we could try to help you out.”
  • End it on a positive note. Life will go on. You tried. Sometimes you can’t make people happy no matter what you try, but whatever the result, be gracious and polite, taking the high road. Leave them with nothing but positive things to say about your company.

The Awkward Question

So, now that you’ve done your best to correct a bad experience with a customer, what about that review hanging out there? That’s the whole reason you went through this whole ordeal and you and the customer both know it’s still there.

So yes, if you have worked to resolve a situation you were made aware of by a negative review, you can ask them if they would please update their review. There’s no guarantee they will, but chances are, if you resolved their situation very satisfactorily, they will be happy to update their review. And it’s perfectly fine if they mention that they had a bad first experience as long as they mention the effort you took to fix it for them. Updated reviews are very powerful in improving others’ perceptions of you.

Next Steps

Now that you’re all set up and ready to respond, make sure you do so regularly and in a timely manner. By putting in the effort to manage your reputation through review responses, you will gain more control and see positive outcomes from your efforts.

Additional reading: The Power of a Positive Customer Experience

The Power of a Positive Customer Experience: The Quick & Easy Shopping Experience

We’ve all heard the adage of “receive good service and you’ll tell one person, but receive bad service and you’ll tell ten,” but do companies heed this advice?  Not all.  If you’ve ever visited yelp.com, you’ll see loads of exactly what customers think about businesses.  Granted, everyone and every business can have a bad day, but if there are repeated negative comments about a product or service, it may be wise to fix the problem lest you risk losing your customers to another business.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that customers don’t want to be bogged down by excess information and aren’t concerned with what will make things run more smoothly for your company; they are interested in a fast, easy transaction, satisfying product/service and minimal disruption to their daily life.  If you want happy customers and repeat business, you must cater to their needs.  The easier and more positive you make their experience, the better results you will yield.

Take for example two grocery store chains.  One is a super mega store with additional household products and generally lower prices, the other is a regular grocery store with a savings club card.

Mega store is appealing because you can find just about whatever you’re looking for there and the prices really can’t be beat.  Sure, the store isn’t as clean and the employees don’t necessarily help you very efficiently, but you can usually find your way around the store easily and the savings mean you can buy more for less.

Then consider regular store.  The store is clean, well-stocked, the employees are friendly and helpful and there are often great deals on products you need.  The prices are a bit higher, but you get that extra bit of service and the confidence of a clean store which increases the value of your experience.

Now flash forward to the end of your shopping trip: you’ve loaded everything you need into your cart, spent a good hour at the store, are hungry, maybe you spent all day at work and you’ve got a ton of things to do at home.  In other words, it’s time to get out and move on with your busy day.

Now mega store has 30 check stands, which looks promising, but only 3 of them are open and each has at least 10 people waiting.  If each transaction takes 3 minutes, that means you’ll be waiting in line for 30 minutes!  What about your frozen and refrigerated foods?  They’ve already been in your cart for at least 15 minutes and will be in your car on the ride home for another 15 minutes (because most mega stores aren’t right in your neighborhood) so your cold food will have been out for at least an hour by the time you get it home.  Maybe it’s not a big deal, but knowing that, if your milk tastes a little funny in the next day or two, it will surely cross your mind that perhaps your food could have gotten out of the “safe” temperature range while waiting at the grocery store.  You spite the fact that you spent so much time at this store but tell yourself it was worth it because you saved some money.

Regular store has about a dozen check stands and at least half are attended.  The lines have maybe two or three people in each and occasionally, you are the lucky one who gets called to go to a newly opened register to expedite your checkout process.  You spend maybe 5 minutes in the checkout and another 5 minutes driving home because regular grocery stores are usually much closer to neighborhoods.  Your cold food has been out of the cold for approximately 25 minutes and you arrive home 35 minutes faster than you would have, had you gone to mega store, plus you don’t feel rushed due to being forced to wait to pay for your purchase.  You realize you may have spent a bit more money than you would have at mega store, but you saved time and frustration so you don’t mind spending a little more.

These two scenarios are very real customer experiences existing today.  One of a customer’s final impressions of a shopping experience is checking out, when they are paying a company so it can stay in business.  How do you want to than your customer for keeping you in business?  By providing sub-par customer service then making them wait in line half an hour so they can pay you for it?

Eventually, this kind of treatment starts to grate on customers and they decide it’s not worth the savings to put up with the hassle involved.  This is when the regular stores can step in and win over these frustrated customers with exceptional customer service and quick check out.

But it’s not limited to just grocery stores or even retail stores for that matter; this situation goes for any business with customers.  While it can be tempting to undercut the competition in price, it’s important to focus on making the customer experience as positive as possible, even if it costs a little more.

Another example is an auto insurance company that takes an hour-long phone call during business hours and multiple call transfers to handle a policy change that another company lets its customers manage online at any time of day in minutes.  Or how about a cable service provider who arrives at the end of a 4 hour window, causing you to miss a day of work versus another company that can schedule a 2 hour window on a weekend?

It is the ease of transaction, the satisfying product and/or service and the minimal disruption of daily life that create positive customer experiences and can land you life-long customers.

What examples of positive or negative customer experiences have you encountered?