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 is Consumer Controlled Conversations

Ah the “buzz” around social media is burning like a wild fire out of control – it’s the bright shiny bauble of our time.  Everywhere you turn there’s another guru offering yet another “product” promising to provide everything you need to know to harness the power of social media and magically build your business.  The only problem is these programs often are guilting of forgetting what social media really is – it’s PEOPLE behind those screen names.

Promising a magic marketing with technology is nothing new.  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.

Time passed and before long email marketing newsletters lost their shiny new appeal.  The “buzz” ceased and they were no longer lauded as the “fast, easy magically delicious” way to build your business online.  Just because the buzz has died doesn’t meant that email newsletters are no longer a powerful online marketing tool.  It just means that the “gurus” have moved on to the next “hot topic” – which is currently social media.   Want to use Twitter to sell more stuff?  There’s at least a dozen gurus offering webinars as you read this on how to sign up and use Twitter.  The darlings of the day these days are currently Facebook and Twitter – though 18 months ago it was Myspace.com and prior to that it was business blogs which are just now beginning to display the evidence of the promises made five years ago.

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.  In my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I talk about the phenomenon of email marketing newsletters and how those with a solid marketing strategy in place simply integrated this new tactic.  Just because a tactic is shiny and new doesn’t mean it’s valuable – or worthless.  A paintbrush in the RIGHT hands can create beauty –  Social media marketing tactics can also create beautiful bottom line figures when implemented within a solid marketing strategywhich is focused upon meeting your end consumers’ GDP – (Goals, Desires, Problems) –  email newsletters, business blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all have the potential to grow your business.

I was recently afforded the opportunity to “listen in” on recording of an online sales training class being run by one of my clients.  She too preaches the “gospel” of “focus upon your customer’s GDP” to create a solid business base.  One gentleman on the call was nicknamed by his peers “The Load”.  He began the call with a description of how LOUSY his business had been over the past few years – living up to his nickname quite nicely. (My thought when listening to him – “Oh my goodness – he should NOT have a blog!!!  I think that’s why my client was sharing this call with me… but that’s another story!)   The Load introduced himself on the call by moaning and groaning  about how LOUSY business had been for the past few years.   Yet later in the class I heard him tell the story of how he’s changing his behavior.  He said, “I recently had a customer who was asking the sun moon and stars.  Before taking your class, I would have told them to get lost – we don’t DO THINGS like that around here.  Instead – because of your class – I listened to them and we focused upon meeting their needs.  We did a lot of extra work but we were well compensated.  They’re happy – and we made a lot of money on this sale so we’re happy as well.”

When The Load launched his business, delighting the customer was never a part of the plan.  When he delighted his first customer, only then did he begin building a foundation upon which a social media campaign could be launched.   If that customer tells their friends via Facebook or Twitter – that’s the beginning of social media marketing.  However, even if that customer is NOT using social media – yet – they still have connections where they can tell their story. There’s no limit to the bet I’d make that suddenly – everything in The Load’s business will start turning around.    His phone will begin ringing – and he’ll have the opportunity to delight more customers.

The Load addressed the unseen business killers at work in his business and began focusing upon the consumer.   If he keeps on track, soon he’ll be ready to begin to harness the power of consumer controlled conversations – a.k.a. social media- and put it to work building his business.

Old school “selling” strategies fall flat in a social media world

Old school selling strategies were very “push” oriented.  Push – Push – Push: Buy-Buy-Buy.

The communication methods associated with “old school selling” are very “one way”.  The business talks AT a prospective customer via traditional media sources – and the customer has two alternatives:  buy or don’t buy.

Then – a new school of selling began to appear.  It was called “consultative selling” and the idea was that the sales person would act as a consultant and HELP the customer find a solution to their problems.  Instead of trying to “sell” a green widget – the sales person instead was encouraged to discover how the green widget would solve a customer’s problem.

In the days when old school media was the only way to reach a large audience of consumers, businesses were forced to do a lot of “guess work”.  Oh sure, they’d try to take some of the “guessing” out of the equation by utilizing focus groups – but dragging people into a room with a two way mirror and listening in is a LOT different than observing those conversations in “real time”…. something social media allows the modern business owner to do.

A while back, I went on a weekend get away and needed to board my dog.  I had noticed a veterinary office located right along my “get away” route – so I decided to board her there.  I began the process by taking her in for a “check up” the week before.   The vet and his staff seemed very nice – and spent a lot of time talking about how fat my lab is.  She’s fat.  She’s always BEEN fat.  We feed 1/2 the recommended amount of low calorie food and she’s still fat.  The vet gave a great spiel on why we needed to test her thyroid function and how EASY it would be to fix her fat problem if her thyroid levels were low – so I agreed.   Then there was another test he wanted to do – agreed.

Push – Push – Push.  By the time I walked out of there, my first office visit to this vet was almost $250.  However, because the recommendations appeared to be made with my dog’s health and well being in mind, I didn’t feel “pushed” but instead I felt “cared for”.

When I went to pick her up from her weekend boarding.  The computed the stay at 10 days instead of three.  When $220 seemed high for three days – they corrected their mistake.  So I wrote another check… and then another when they decided she needed medicine for her gastric distress of eating their dog food.  At this point, I’m  thinking,  “Nice people – but very disorganized.”

Then I get a follow up phone call th enext day.  It seems that the thyroid test – the run at our initial visit and sold as the path to a “miracle” cure – showed her thyroid levels were low.  During the consult – the vet had said that if her levels were low – it would be as simple as giving her a single pill a day and her life would be so much better.  The weight would fall off of her and she’d get more active.  She might actually be able to join me again on my daily walk.  I’m psyched and ready to begin.

That’s when the wheels fell off the wagon so to speak.  The receptionist with whom I was speaking told me that the vet didn’t want to jump into prescription medication yet.  Instead  we were to begin buying prescription diet dog food – sold only at his office.  Only after using this special prescription dog food for several months would he consider putting her on medication for her thyroid.

Now I’m feeling very “sold” – a.k.a. “abused”.  Any warm fuzzies I had for this vet and his smiling office staff are gone.  I now realize that I’m a cash cow to be milked – not a client in need of help.   He’s no longer a medical professional in my book – he’s a pet product salesman.

I get it – he’s a small business owner trying to build his practice.  He’s got a new client on the line – one with an elderly pet – and he’s anxious to begin extracting  all the cash he can get from me. That’s exactly how it feels .  Instead of “this guy really cares about my dog” I’m thinking, “this guy really cares about my pocket book – and nothing else.”

This vet is engaged in  the”old school”  Push – Push – Push – selling strategy.  Unfortunately this approach really don’t “work” when it comes to social media marketing.   I would venture to say that most of the interest in social media marketing is because these old school selling strategies are NOT working anymore.  Consumers are more aware – and more sensitive to   “being sold” and the old school selling strategies only work when the communication is one way.

People are connecting online.  They’re sharing their experiences with others in their “network” just as they’ve always done in the past – only now they’re doing it “online”.

If the only relationship you want with your customers/clients is with their pocketbook – people are going to talk.   I’d like to be able to  say, “Avoid social media” if all you want is a relationship with their pocketbook -but you can’t.   How could you begin to screen your customers/clients?  The screening process might look something like this:

“Before we can schedule an appointment for your dog, do you or anyone you know have a blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Myspace account?”

How many people could answer “no”?   How can you build a business like that?

Unfortunately, that’s the only way I can see a business being able to successfully insulate itself from the impact of social media.