If you are a small niche player, then reputation management is vital. Most small niche players focus on customer service as an underlying strategy, and hotels, restaurants, shops and other service providers who ‘get it right’ will build a loyal band of returning customers. It can often seem, especially when setting up the business, that you are offering or delivering a service which ‘costs’ more than the price paid by the customer. However the key to understanding and planning a service strategy is to evaluate the ‘lifetime value’ of the customer and not the individual transaction.
In the online arena of the web, your reputation can be laid bare and open in an instant. Get something wrong, upset a customer, or not understand their needs properly, and suddenly you get a negative review, some adverse comments on Facebook or another social media site, and you feel as if the world has fallen down around your knees. Often the problem is that while you have many happy customers, these will generally not put anything on the reputation sites such as Tripadviser unless prompted.
The three challenges are therefore are 1)Making sure it all goes right 2) Getting the silent majority to share their experience and 3)being professional when it all goes wrong.
Making sure it goes right
If you sell yourself on customer service, then you have to consistently deliver that customer service. You have to give it on the 1st January, the 17th May and the cold windy day in November when the boiler breaks or one of your staff is ill. That means developing your people to understand the value of customer service and monitoring constantly both for consistent levels of service but also for that little service improvement.
Getting the silent majority to share
The majority of our customers left the dive centre saying they had had a good day, enjoyed themselves etc. Many put a line in the paper comment book, and a few sent us emails which we pasted into the online guestbook. But only a tiny few did anything more…. until we started asking them to do so!
The idea was passed on to me by a friend in the travel industry who had just returned from a holiday in Iceland. He said he got ‘a nice email from them after he got home, sharing some photos and inviting him to put a review on Tripadviser’. By leveraging the data we already had in the enquiries and bookings database, it was not difficult to construct a semi-automatic system, personalised with a memory of the day. The result has been a dramatic increase in the number of people posting on our TripAdvisor Page for Davy Jones Diving, and we have moved up to become ranked second among 55 activities in our market area.
And many of those who don’t add an online reputation, reply to these emails, thanking us for their visit and generally reinforcing our belief in the business model. Some link into and ‘Like’ our Facebook page, while others will, like our friend who went to Iceland, comment on these emails to their friends.
And when it all goes wrong?
the law of averages says that every now and again you will end up with an unhappy customer, who had a different level of expectation to the service that was delivered. If it was your fault .. own up, apologise and offer a solution. If it was somebody who was genuinely upset, even if you think you did nothing wrong, then again apologise. If they present impressions as fact, or information that is incorrect, then take the subtle route to defusing their bomb.
We were hit by a negative review in August 2012, after a family came to visit us. We posted what we hoped was a balanced review online, and over the coming months were amazed at how other customers would come into the centre, dive with us and then rubbish the claims made by the lady. Look at the subsequent online reviews and different customers all opened up all the negative arguments for us and threw them out of the window!
Online Reputation Management has to be integral to your customer care package if you are in a service sector. Make sure you are constantly prompting your visitors to leave online comments (on your website, Blog, Tripadviser or elsewhere), and if it goes wrong, be professional rather than confrontational in sorting out the problem