Customer Reviews Set Consumer Expectations

Expectations of your business will literally shape the whole consumer experience for your customers.   This is nothing new. In my post, “Social Media – It’s a Moral Imperative” I wrote about how a movie’s marketing campaign painted an unrealistic expectation of being a comedy – and then delivered scenes of horrific violence and very little “humor”.

The same is true of your business.  Marketing sets expectations.  If you deliver on the promises – if expectations are met – then consumers will be satisfied.  Fail to deliver – and consumers will complain.

While this is nothing new – what is new is that we’re living in a world where communication is lightning fast and ridiculously easy thanks to social media.   This creates a world where your consumer’s unmet expectations (realistic or not) can mean an avalanche of negative online reviews .

Setting realistic expectations of your products and services is essential to your business survival.

I’m seeing a worrisome trend – one which is not only being recommended by various “gurus” but also being practiced by business owners who obviously are not aware of the danger involved.

Many businesses – big and small – are engaging in creating their own “reviews” for their business. One popular info product recommends  this course of action – especially if customers aren’t online actively participating in online reviews.  This popular resource recommends that SEO professionals and business owners go out and actively create the reviews they “know their business deserves” by leaving reviews under pseudonyms.

Here’s the hidden danger with this troubling trend.

Let’s say you’re a physician concerned about your online reputation.  You hire someone to  create 5 star reviews for your practice.  Those fictitious reviews are prominently displayed in your local search listing.

Your multiple reviews make your local search listing tops with Google maps and this begins bringing new patients to your office.  These patients are expecting 5 star service because – after all – that’s what it looks like others have been saying about your medical practice. They’re expecting short waits in the waiting room, they’re expecting considerate, competent staff – they’re expecting the doctor to have a great bedside manner – but when they arrive – that’s not what they get.

Perhaps a “real” review of your office wouldn’t have given your practice five stars on every options.  Perhaps a real patient would have rated your office wait time as “moderate” – but real patients didn’t write those reviews so the new patients who came to your office – expecting a brief stay in the waiting room are now fuming as the minutes tick by and they still haven’t been seen.

Trust me when I tell you…

The online review of the consumer who has been disappointed will be far worse than the authentic review of a dissatisfied consumer.

I’ve observed what seems to be a bit of “social justice” happening on these social media review sites.  It seems that when real consumers encounter exaggerated claims of service and satisfaction – they seem to be motivated to respond.  While my personal evaluation of a particular business may have been a 3 out of five – I’ve seen time and time a glowing 5 star -obviously fictional-  review followed by a scathing 1 star review.  Was the 1 star review accurate?  Probably not – but it seems to frequently be issued in response to an undeserved 5 star review.

The worst part about the glowing – but fictitious  – 5 star review is that it unnecessarily sets unrealistic expectations for your product or service.  While a 3 or even 4 out of 5 star authentic review my not be a huge boost to your ego – it is authentic and not only can it serve as useful consumer feedback but it also sets a more realistic set of expectations for your product or services.  This more realistic set of expectations means higher levels of consumer satisfaction which leads to positive online reviews.

After all – authentic online reviews on only a reflection of what is being said about your business in other areas – not only other online sites but offline as well.

When a Pest Control Company tries to Exterminate Negative Customer Reviews

Truly Nolen couldn’t kill the bugs in my house – and they can’t kill my negative review of their service either.

Quite a while ago – I created a post where I shared my experience with my pest control company – Truly Nolen.  I was HORRIFIED by the service I received and shared the experience here in, “When the Pest Control Company is your most Annoying Pest.”  It generated a LOT of response at the time.  Even years later, new comment show up on that post quite frequently – and some appear to be clumsy, pathetic attempts at online reputation management by Truly Nolen.

Last week, I got what at first glance, appeared to be a comment from a satisfied customer of Truly Nolen.  They’re rare -so I quickly approved the comment.  After all – I wanted to be fair to the company and by nature – satisfied customers don’t usually go “trolling” to find blog posts of negative reviews and leave comments.  While Truly Nolen’s treated me with contempt and disrespect while I was a customer – they did make things right with me quite promptly after the blog post appeared so in the spirit of fair play – if a satisfied customer had really found the blog post and wanted to add their voice to the conversation – I was more than willing to share it with the world.

Later in the day, I started really reading the comment – instead of “scanning” it.   When I got to this part of the long comment …. “Maybe you should have read it before you agreed to it. Truly N. does have a corporate number that you can call and make a compalint to. Maybe they can do something about the tech issue. Sounds like you might have gotten one that really doesn’t like his job.” I started to wonder… is this comment legit?

Truly N.?  Maybe I should have read the fine print?  I should have called corporate?

Those “clues” set off alarms inside my head.  They kind of fall into the category of:

Maybe I should have worked harder to be a “good” customer…

Hint for business owners reading this post – your customers aren’t going to work harder to make your life easier.

The comment just didn’t ring true… so I unapproved it (easily done) and sent an email to [email protected] to confirm the comment.  (After all – if Stacy really was a satisfied Truly Nolen customer – I wanted to allow her comments to appear on the post.)  The email sent to the email address provided promptly bounced which caused me to take a look at the IP address which was registered as part of the comment.

A search for other comments from that same IP address – found comments made by Truly Nolen staff early on in defense of their company’s practices.

So it appears that one of the RARE comments claiming to be from a  truly satisfied customer of Truly Nolen was simply a shill.

There have been many shill comments made on that blog post since it was posted.  Most I’ve “caught” quite easily.  I will give them this – they are getting smarter. This latest began earnestly – but it didn’t take long to determine that it was a shill.

There’s something about “authentic” comments that is – well – authentic.  Even though the comment above had a typo – a typo still didn’t make it feel “authentic”.

I remember a while back when a blog post from this blog was scraped and posted on another blog.  By the time I got to the post, it already had a few comments.  I was surprised to see those comments.  They were along the lines of “this is a real change in direction for you… good job.”  and “I like the way you’ve changed your writing – keep up the good work.”

I’ve got to admit – I was surprised that readers of that character’s blog could pick up so quickly the “change” in voice.

You’ve got a voice – even when your vocal chords are not engaged.  It comes through in your blog posts – your tweets – even your updates on Face Book.  Recently one of my friends’ FB account got hacked.  She sent out emails warning her FB friends not to respond to her most recent “updates”… because they weren’t coming from her.  The thing is – almost everyone responded with “I knew that didn’t come from you.”  The spam program wasn’t speaking in her “voice” – and because she had spoken frequently on FB – it was easy to see it wasn’t her.

As for the pest control company Truly Nolen trying to exterminate a negative customer review – on the one hand – I give them a big hand.  They’re concerned about their online reputation and are trying to protect it.  However, the MANNER in which they are doing it is sad and clumsy.  Is it really so difficult to find a satisfied customer willing to speak up?

The old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is more true today than ever.  Treat customers with respect – and you don’t HAVE to worry about trying to put out the fire of a blog post after the fact.

“insert name here” is not a good beginning….

Social media is about authenticity, transparency and making a real connection.   While we have a multitude of ways to connect and interact today, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – the “original” internet tool for social networking was actually email.  In Social Media is Consumer Controlled Conversations I wrote:

About a decade ago, there was another bright shiny techno-bauble being lauded as the magic marketing technology anyone could use to effortlessly build their business – an online email newsletter.  Just because the hype has moved on doesn’t mean that any of these “past” beauty queens are not still lovely when viewed through the lens of creating marketing magic.  As a matter of fact, none of these technological tools ever officially ended their reign as valuable online marketing tools.   Smart business owners didn’t drop their email newsletter when social media came knocking – they used social media to build their list.

Ah – the email newsletter is still one of the most powerful “social media” tools you can use to build your business.    With that said – an email newsletter that arrives addressed to “insert_name_here” is a shining example of how NOT to run ANY social media marketing campaign.

What makes this even more amusing or sad – depending upon your point of view – is the fact that the email that arrived with that greeting went on to lament how poorly this particular organization’s social networking efforts were performing.

“I wrote a blog post today that expresses my frustration with the recent lack of involvement from our members. I encourage you all to read it as it is very important this message gets across.”

By the way, there was no LINK to the blog post in question within the email – only that we were all supposed to FLOCK to the organization’s blog.

I’m posting my reply here so that perhaps someone can learn from this social media marketer’s mistakes.

Dear Social Media Marketing Wannabe,

It’s sad to see that you are blaming the failure of your half- assed attempts at social media marketing on the members of your organization’s community.

Let’s limit this conversation to the most recent email sent by your organization. I have to tell you that “insert name here” is a terrible way to start a conversation – and that’s what social media is all about – conversation!

I can’t say I was surprised that the email message whichwas addressed to “insert name here” contained a message of frustration because of a lack of involvement from your organization’s community.

Community is more than subscriber numbers – whether it’s email newsletter subscriber numbers, RSS subscriber numbers or the number of Twitter followers you have.

Community means connectivity and conversation.   I know I speak on behalf of other members of the oranization when I say that we’re a busy group.  We need to be reminded that we’re part of your community.  While email communication via a newsletter is by nature one way – it can be a very effective way to remind us of the conversation going on over at the blog.  That’s why email newsletters and blogs go together like peanut butter and jelly – they compliment each other perfectly.

The salutation in this  email tells me everything I need to know about how you view  the members of your “community.”  We are obviously sheep to be herded, shorn and eventually slaughtered.  You’re obviously disappointed that we haven’t been “fruitful and multiplied” – doing the heavy lifting of marketing the organization without so much as an acknowledgment of our first name.

The problem lies in the fact that marketing is not a mindless task – and we’re not mindless sheep.   We’re people.  In your organization’s case, I have ignored your repeated attemtpts to “befriend” me via various social networks.  If you were paying attention – this should have been your first clue that your social media strategy wasn’t making a connection.  I have no idea what your “numbers” are like for the various social media sites – but I’m confident that even if they are impressive – that you’re only building the ILLUSION of community.

Your lack of ability accept responsibility for your obvious social media marketing mistakes is a sign that this blog post will be here long after your organization has closed it’s doors.  I won’t name your organization because I don”t want this blog post to serve as a lightning rod of discontent for your organization.

There’s no way I’d encourage anyone to join your organization.  I wish I hadn’t.

In the end, I’m sure you will blame your “stupid, inept, uninvolved” members for your organization’s eventual demise.   I’ll happily accept full blame.  It is my fault. You entrusted me to market your organization for you and I refused to do so.  I refused to put my reputation on the line for you and I can see my fears were well justified.

Sincerely,

Not just a mindless sheep or a faceless number

Social Media Mistake #3: Forgetting what it is…

social media marketing

Probably the most common social media mistake made by both business owners and individuals is not having a clear understanding of what social media is.  When you forget (or don’t know) what social media is  – that is the time when the biggest mistakes are made.  So what is social media –

Social media is conversation!

True – it’s a unique – technology aided means of communication – but when you strip away the shiny metal surface – social media is simply communication between people who are not face to face with each other.

Because it is conversation – the typical rules of making polite conversation apply.  With the way some people treat social media – I wonder how many dinner party invitations they receive – because their manners online are atrocious.

Of course, those with the worst manners are those who are trying to “game” the system.  These boorish oafs are akin to the person who shows up at the party and starts barging in on conversations, telling anyone who will listen about this GREAT MLM opportunity.  The only reason this type of person ACCEPTS a party invitation is to build his or her “down line.”  There is no room for relationships – only rubes.

The real “problem” most businesses have with social media is that their previous relationships with their customers were strictly one way.  The company spoke via television ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, etc.  The customer responded by whipping out his/her credit card and making a purchase.  There is little opportunity for feedback in that kind of “relationship” – and quite honestly it – it made it MUCH easier on the business when the communication was strictly one way.

Instead of dealing with REAL customer feedback – the business could simply speculate on what consumers thought.  They could sit in meeting rooms – drinking coffee and pouring over spread sheets and try to interpret the WHY behind their consumers behavior. In the days BEFORE social media – the only other way to gain this valuable data was to resort to focus groups.  Focus groups are where people are brought into an artificial setting and asked about their opinions.   It’s phony – it’s forced – but a decade ago it was the best way to figure out what was going on inside a consumer’s mind.

That was then – and this is now.

Now we have a more “advanced” tool for gaining access to what’s going on inside consumer’s minds.  However, there are those who will try to tell you that [insert social media tool here] is the short- cut to marketing success.  Just set up a Facebook Fan Page – or a blog – or begin Tweeting – and you’ll be amazed as you watch your business revenues skyrocket with throngs of customers hungry for your product or service.

Don’t get me wrong – that certainly CAN happen.  There’s nothing better than working with a client who has a clear vision of their customer’s GDP (Goals, Desires, Problems) who wants to get involved in social media marketing.   On the flip side – there’s nothing worse than trying to work with someone whose social media marketing goal is revenue without relationships.

There are many ways to communicate with your customers and potential customers.  The biggest difference between social media marketing and “traditional” marketing methods is that the prospective customers can – and WILL – let you know what they think.

Come to think of it – consumers are doing the same thing via social media when it comes to traditional marketing methods such as television advertising as well. So when you think about it – there really is no escaping the fact that social media will be shaping your business whether you like it or not.  You can make the biggest mistake of all which is ignoring social media – or you can try to manipulate social media when you don’t like what your customers are saying – but in the end, remember that social media is merely communication aided and abetted by technology – and nothing more.

Any “magic” you find in using social media for marketing is definitely provided by YOU!

Social Media Mistake #1: Ignore it

social-media-marketingOne of the most toxic social media mistakes a business owner can make is to adopt a “ignore it and hope it goes away” type of attitude.

This head in the sand tactic is employed on many levels.  Some business owners want to ignore social media in general – hoping it’s a fad which will quickly fade away. Unfortunately, for some businesses and brands – their first foray into the wild and wonderful world of social media is when they discover a social media shit storm has erupted and their brand is at the epicenter.

It’s important for business owners to recognize that conversations are already happening about your business and your brand.   While it’s infinitely easier to ignore these social media rumblings – ignoring these critical conversations and hoping they’ll go away is the worst thing you as a business owner or brand manager can do.

There’s a reason for the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.”  Except on the web – ignorance is anything BUT bliss.

If you think social media is magic – think again.  Social media is simply people communicating via the web. The web has always been about communication and in the old days, that communication was restricted to those who “spoke” the language.  In the earliest days, that language was HTML.  The big “fuss” began when people who didn’t speak “HTML” could communicate using the web via blogs and eventually other social media sites such asMySpace.com and Facebook.

This free and easy communication cut two ways for businesses.    On the plus side, businesses could easily communicate with not only current customers but prospective customers as well.  Since these conversations were happening on the web – they are digital footprints left in cement rather than sand.   In some ways, these conversations are better for business – because we as business owners can “eavesdrop” on the conversations going on about our brand.

However, on the flip side – there’s a business axiom that proclaims a happy customer will tell 3 people – an unhappy one will tell 16.  This axiom is from the days before social media – and those figures should probably be amplified exponentially to reflect the changes happening thanks to social media.  This means, the conversations that are happening about your business or brand online are more than likely going to be negative.

The biggest reason business owners and brand managers seek out a social media consultant is because they’ve recently discovered the negative conversations going on online about their brand.

Their first request – almost without exception – is to ask for the consultant to remove the negative conversations – to erase them from existence.  As a result, the first conversation most social media consultants have with new clients is to explain that REMOVING these negative conversations is impossible.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that  it is possible to MOVE the negative conversations off the first pages of search and replace those negative conversations with positive ones.

However, remember – people are much more likely to “bitch and moan” than they are to rant and rave about your business.  That’s why businesses need to be proactive in encouraging and nurturing positive conversations online – because these positive conversations don’t happen “naturally”.

In a freshly tilled garden, weeds always seem to grow faster and easier than the desired plants.  Whether you want your garden to yield beautiful flowers or tasty vegetables and fruit – you can’t simply plant some seeds in freshly tilled soil and hope for the best.

The same is true of social media. If you’re not actively nurturing your social media presence – then chances are the “weeds” are taking over.

Ignorance is  anything but bliss when it comes to social media.  The biggest mistake you can make when it comes to social media is to ignore it.