The Online Review – Beware or Beloved?

2.19.15 bad online reviewThere are few things certain in life – famously noted as there being only 2: death and taxes – but in today’s world I would add a 3rd certainty: online exposure.

There are few people without an online profile or an online mention somewhere, and virtually zero businesses that lack online exposure.  It’s this latter that I’ll be focusing on, since personal online presence is up to each person to handle as they see fit.  But for businesses, which are squarely in the public realm, their online branding should not be taken lightly.  Not if the business hopes to have a good business.  It’s just too big of a factor today to ignore the ramifications.  The immediacy of communicating online can be perilous, especially for businesses that offend customers.

Branding is simply defined as the emotion that people feel when they hear a name mentioned.  What the internet has provided the consumer is the ability to communicate their individual emotions into the biggest public arena, with minimal effort and no cost.  Couple this ability with the inherent narcissistic tendency of all to focus on ourselves and bam! -the internet is overrun with every nature of verbosity expounding on very kind of experience.  In short, virtually every experience with almost every business is google-able.

What does this mean for businesses?  They need to be a watchdog on what is swirling all around them regarding their customers’ experiences.  Yes, cultivating the good ones, but since we know that it takes 10 goods to offset each bad, they really must mitigate the disgruntled in the best way possible by communicating with them directly.  And quickly.

It used to be that a happy customer would tell friends if asked for a referral, but an unhappy customer would blab about their experience with up to 10 of their nearest and dearest buds.  Now factor in that the average person has 200 Facebook friends, plus the ease of dashing off a scathing post about an unpleasant experience.  Gone is your mother’s admonishment “not to say anything at all if you can’t say anything nice”, replaced by the quick click of “that felt SO good!”  Businesses should sit up and take notice in a hurry.

I had a most unpleasant experience with a local dentist, Robert DeRice, in my hometown of Portland, ME (see how easy it is to get tagged, if R.DeRice has alerts set up).  First he almost suffocated me with his multiple mouth contraptions for 2 routine cavities, just to make his life easier.  Then he actually lectured me on my bad attitude when I complained about it.  It ended with me $707 poorer (no dental insurance) and him telling me to find another dentist.  Gladly will I take my money to someone who appreciates his clients’ feelings.  That night at my book club I enlisted their sympathies (we love social proof).  I also promptly posted a warning about his poor business demeanor on Yelp.  He obviously cannot control his temper and started a ball rolling that he may well regret.  Hell has no fury like a woman who almost suffocated at the hands of an uncaring dentist!

Later that same week I spent another $700 with a local merchant, an oil company, for nearly 300 gallons of home heating oil.  We have few heating options in Northern New England and winters are cold, so I price shop this item, since #2 heating oil is the same whoever you choose to buy it from.  This supplier was new to me and the price was 2 cents lower than other low price offerings.  Kinda like driving around for a good gas price, only you need 300 gals.  So I set up for next day delivery (standard), left a blank check, returned home and saw that I was charged 2 cents more per gallon than I had agreed to.  Since it was after hours, I called and the owner called me back to berate me for arguing over 2 cents!  Unbelievable!  I represent thousands of dollars in business each season and he’s fighting with me over him honoring the agreed upon price.

These two recent experiences illustrate a couple of points.  1) The way business staff interacts with customers, especially when the situation is less than positive, is critical communication.  And 2) the customer has so much more clout today to express unhappiness, which businesses need to recognize and change their arrogant behavior.  It’s not business as usual anymore with businesses holding all the cards and able to bully at will.  Consumers have much more power now, even one voice, than they ever did before the internet.

Bravo to that.  And businesses, especially those with arrogant owners, you are getting your comeuppance.  It’s a new world and competition to remain relevant is getting fierce.

Next time the topic is: the KISS principle – keeping communication simple is best, right?

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