In the August issue of Auto Laundry News, we discussed the expanding use of social media in the car wash industry, and some of the best practices associated with social media marketing — especially with regard to Facebook. Since then, I’ve had numerous discussions with individuals across the industry expressing the object fear that is commonplace when the conversation turns to social media. Fear seems to be the single greatest obstacle business owners face as they consider venturing into the social media frontier. Why?

The two most common sentiments I hear time and time again are: “If I start putting content out on social media, it just invites people to slam us online,” and, “What should we do if someone complains about us on Facebook?” Today we’ll address responding to negative comments in social media forums and review sites, and identify some best practices to overcome the “fear obstacle” I hear so frequently expressed.

Before we dive in, I’m going to encourage you to try and think differently about the potential of negative comments and reviews. Rather than thinking fearfully, try to view a negative comment as a legitimate opportunity — an opportunity to harness the very public forum that is social media to demonstrate that you are a business people want to patronize. If you’re willing to accept the possibility of that positive opportunity, keep reading, and we’ll explore how to turn a negative online comment or review into an awesome reflection of who you are as a business.

MISTAKES ARE INEVITABLE

We all try to exceed consumer expectations and we all hope that our team members provide the very best service and experience to every customer they engage. The reality, however, is that no matter how hard you try, how well you train your teams, and how much you work to drive service and performance, mistakes will happen. Someone will have a bad day, an employee will mishandle a situation, or a machine might break and not be functioning optimally. Sometimes absolutely no mistakes will happen and a customer will still leave your business unhappy. Unfortunately, despite your very best efforts and team performance there will be people who leave your business dissatisfied or even angry — and sometimes those people go online and express their displeasure.

How a bad review or negative comment on Facebook, Twitter, or a review site is handled is critical to the overall impact the incident has on your online reputation. The idea of a negative comment might be scary to some owners and operators but the reality is that a negative comment or review can be an opportunity. I don’t just mean an opportunity to better train staff (though certainly that is an additional benefit). The real opportunity lies in how you respond to the review and how others will see that you responded to the comment, and the situation on the whole.

The world is, for the most part, full of good, smart, and reasonable people. Those people understand that mistakes happen in any business. What matters most to people is how you respond to a mistake or a problem, and a negative comment gives you the opportunity to demonstrate, in a very public forum, precisely how you’ll respond. Did you dispute the negative review and deny responsibility? Or did you own the issue and do everything in your power to make it right for that customer? If you are genuine in your goals to provide top-tier service and guarantee customer satisfaction, this is your golden opportunity to show that you don’t just talk the talk — that you are willing to walk the walk, too.

STEPS TO TAKE

Keep in mind that your online reputation is critically important. People go online to shop in advance of just about any purchase, and consumer research has demonstrated time and again that online reputation has the power to massively influence shopping and buying decisions. So on the day that you receive a negative comment or review, the stakes are high, and these are three basic steps that need to be followed to turn that negative into a huge positive:

1. Own It

It doesn’t really matter if this person is right, wrong, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter if the incident was the fault of someone you have since fired, or if the customer didn’t follow directions in the wash. Ultimately, someone said something about your business online and you need to own the complaint, and take full responsibility for its resolution.

2. Respond to It

Like most things in life, pretending something isn’t there does not make it go away. You need to respond to the person’s post — and the faster you do so, the better. Here are a couple “rules of engagement” with regard to your response:

a. Always Apologize for Their Experience

Even if the incident was not your fault, you need to respond by first saying “I am sorry you were dissatisfied with your experience at David’s Express Wash. I assure you, we take customer satisfaction very seriously, and I am going to do everything I can to try and make this right for you.”

b. Do Not Argue Online

No matter how much you might want to, don’t ever. Remember, this is your opportunity to show people how you respond to a problem, and no matter what you say, people will assume that the customer who left the review is 100 percent in the right. If you argue with the person online, or worse, say something derogatory about the person, (yes, I’ve seen frustrated business owners make that fatal error), you not only will miss out on the opportunity to show people how well you handle a negative comment, you will inflame the situation and make it look far, far worse online. If you need to take a deep breath, or go for a walk before responding to calm down and think, by all means, do it.

3. Try to Fix It

This is your chance to shine. Invite the person in for a free redo and upgrade of their wash. Ask them to meet you when they arrive so you can personally shake their hand and inspect their vehicle after the redo to ensure their satisfaction has been earned. Thank them for giving you the opportunity to make it right and for giving you a platform to improve your business and coach your team members toward improved performance. Demonstrate in your offer and written online response that you really are willing you go above and beyond to not just fix the situation, but really wow them — and that you are going to do it with a sincere attitude of gratitude.

CAPITALIZE ON GOOD REVIEWS

Beyond responding to negative comments on Facebook, Twitter, or the various review sites, look for opportunities to stack good reviews and comments online. Ask your Facebook fans to post pics of themselves with their clean, shiny, dry vehicles for a chance to win a month of free unlimited washes. Give customers who seem happy a card with a list of the sites they can go to and leave you a positive review when they get home. There is an element of risk in doing that of course, you are inviting people to potentially leave negative comments — and you are giving them a roadmap of where to go to do it. That said, assuming that the overwhelming majority of your customers are happy, what you gain in positive feedback will be enormous compared to any negative comments — which again, if handled correctly, can actually be a great opportunity to demonstrate the awesome customer service that is the hallmark of your business.

While encouraging good reviews to be left online is a great idea, be careful to not ask people to leave reviews while they’re physically in your business — even from their own mobile devices. Particularly with regard to Google, review sites are smart. They know what IP address reviews originate from. If you have lots of reviews coming from one or a couple IP addresses, they will be viewed as fraudulent and be removed. In severe situations, Google can remove all good reviews, or even actively penalize a company’s website in terms of organic search placement. Thus, encourage people to go home and leave a review in their free time.

For the same reason, resist the urge to have employees stack good reviews. Every business owner has pondered the scheme of throwing a high school kid in a back room with a laptop for a day and telling him to leave a thousand good reviews online. You’ll get caught; so don’t try.

OWN YOUR ONLINE REP

Reputation management is an important enough (and scary enough) proposition that an entire cottage industry has popped up of companies who claim that they can delete bad reviews, leave a million good reviews, etc. When you hear those kinds of promises, run. Those companies can’t truly get rid of bad reviews and, in some cases, have been known to actually leave negative reviews themselves as a means of demonstrating the need for their services. Follow the best practices of responding to negative reviews and comments and take control of your own online reputation.

We’ve all heard it a million times: attitude is everything. If fear of the potential of negative comments prevents you from utilizing social media for business, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to engage your customers in a social forum and market to them in an extremely cost efficient manner. I encourage you to view the potential for customer comments as a terrific opportunity to showcase who you are in terms of service — both in situations with happy customers, and with customers who are dissatisfied.

This is your chance, in a very public forum, to demonstrate that you are the kind of company people want to do business with (which is the ultimate goal of social media in general). At base, people want to believe that they are patronizing businesses that are committed to excellence, service, and who will own and fix their mistakes. A negative comment gives you the opportunity to demonstrate just that — so rather than fearing it, embrace it, and seize the opportunity to stand out in the crowd by responding and resolving in a smart, thoughtful, professional, and gracious manner.

 

Mercedes Mannino has over 18 years of applied marketing leadership and brand management experience. She has spent the past nine years in the automotive industry, having served inter alia as vice president of a digital marketing company servicing the automotive industry nationally. Mercedes currently serves as director of marketing of Cleaning Systems Inc. You can contact Mercedes with questions or for advice at mmannino@cleaningsystemsinc.com.