How to Respond Positively to Negative Feedback

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, you’re lucky—but at some point, your business will be criticized. The Internet is pretty much a free-for-all of customer reviews, complaints and commentary.

Business owners often struggle to find the right words to craft a decent response. And some just don’t respond at all, which can be a huge mistake. When it comes to negative feedback that’s posted online, keep in mind that how you handle it is visible to the world. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, and may even give off the perception that you don’t care about your customers.

If and when you do receive negative feedback, you can turn it into an opportunity to regain the trust and respect of that customer, and you could win over some new customers, as well.

Be polite
It’s natural to want to defend your business, your employees or your products and services, but resist the urge. The customer may be in the wrong, but saying so will not help your public image. Never place blame on the customer, and never respond in an emotional, accusatory manner. Instead, step back and take a breath. Consider how the customer feels, and think about what you’d want to hear if you were in his place. Maintain a professional, polite disposition, but be careful not to sound robotic—people want to see that you’re genuine and compassionate.

Keep it short
It’s usually best to keep your response brief. Acknowledge the customer’s feedback, and invite them to discuss it at length with you over the phone or at your place of business. Going into too much detail in your public response is akin to airing dirty laundry. Consider a simple “We’re so sorry you had that experience with our company. We invite you to call our customer service desk if you’d like to talk more about the specifics of the situation.” It can go a long way toward making the customer feel heard, encouraging a real dialog and showing others that you give proper attention to unhappy customers.

See it as a learning opportunity
When you’re feeling criticized or even attacked, it can be difficult to see the value behind someone’s not-so-pleasant feedback. However, consider this: There are companies that pay big money to survey real people for insight on how to better themselves, and you just got it for free! The comments your business receives online are a kind of customer research, and you can benefit from it. Make note of any suggestions or questions that are mentioned in the comments, and seriously consider whether you can use this feedback to better your business.

To quote Winston Churchill, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Know when to walk away
You won’t be able to fix every problem and make everyone happy, and unfortunately, there are some people who derive pleasure from pushing your buttons. They don’t want your help; they just want to start an argument. On the Internet, this type of person is called a troll, and it is perfectly acceptable to ignore them.

How do you tell the difference between a real gripe and someone who just enjoys stirring the pot? Follow the steps above: Be polite, keep it short and try to find the value in the critique. If despite your best efforts they refuse to have a civil, productive discussion with you, it’s OK to let it go. Remember that everyone else will see how you handled the comments, and they’ll be impressed you kept your cool.

Make Better Business Resolutions in 2015

Image courtesy of Eduardo Bogosian | FreeRangeStock.com
Image courtesy of Eduardo Bogosian | FreeRangeStock.com

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

It’s the start of a new year, which means it’s time to decide how you want to improve your organization. Yes, even your business can have New Year’s resolutions!

January is a perfect time to review your goals and set new ones. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ideas that could help your business succeed in 2015.

Image courtesy of Chance Agrella | FreeRangeStock.com
Image courtesy of Chance Agrella | FreeRangeStock.com

1. Improve customer service.

Most businesses would be nothing without the loyalty of their customers or clients, so customer service should be a priority for every business.

According to Oracle.com, 73 percent of consumers love a brand because of friendly customer service. The kindness and helpfulness of your employees can make or break your relationship with current and future customers — which also affects your bottom line. A 2 percent increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10 percent, according to “Leading on the Edge of Chaos” by Emmet and Mark Murphy.

Be innovative with how you engage your customers — and view them in terms of relationships, not transactions. Motivate your employees to treat customers with respect and fairness. When a known loyal customer enters your store, personally greet him. Show appreciation through freebies or discounts, and deliver value before and after making a sale.

By going above and beyond expectations, your customers will be so impressed that they will tell their friends about their experience, which will hopefully result in even more loyal customers!

Image courtesy of Pexels.com
Image courtesy of Pexels.com

2. Revamp your recruitment or hiring process.

New employees will either improve your company or weaken it, so recruit people who will contribute to the growth and profitability of your organization.

Your job announcements or postings should clearly define all of the position requirements, such as education, experience, skills and attitude. This will simplify the interview process, because you’ll have a “map” to follow to evaluate each candidate against your requirements. In turn, it will be easier to determine who is the best fit and who will be most successful in your organization.

Unfortunately, some people stretch the truth on their resumes. So don’t just take someone’s word for it — put candidates to the test! Does the person claim to have copy editing skills? Give him a poorly written document to edit and correct. Does she allege to be great at conflict resolution? Role play as a disgruntled customer, and see how she handles it. Is he an applicant for a PR position? Ask him to write a press release for a make-believe product or event. Tests will help you differentiate between who has the necessary skills and who does not.

Have a promising job candidate interview with several people throughout your company, especially those she would interact with the most if she is hired. Your opinion of someone is just one viewpoint. Gaining additional perspectives will increase your odds of hiring the best person for the position.

Image courtesy of Pexels.com
Image courtesy of Pexels.com

3. Increase your social media presence.

Too often, the task of connecting with customers and marketing a business on social media falls to the bottom of the to-do list. But if you want to attract new customers and keep old ones interested, make it a priority to regularly and consistently promote your business.

Create a calendar to help you plan out social media posts as well as blogs, articles and campaigns for big events. This will also help keep you on track with your posting goals, such as two blogs per week or one tweet per day.

Consider delegating some of the posting responsibilities to your employees. You may find you have a few people on your team with a hidden talent for blogging or social networking! It will also lend a diverse voice to your posts, which will keep customers interested.

Social media is not just about posting, but it’s also important to engage with your audience. Don’t have a one-sided conversation — ask questions, have discussions and always respond to feedback, whether positive or negative. According to Oracle.com, only 23 percent of companies provide customer service on Facebook; and according to MaritzResearch.com, 70 percent of companies ignore complaints on Twitter. Shocking, isn’t it? With the bar set so low, it should be easy for you to stand out from your competition!

End the Year on a Good Note

2015loadingReposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

The year is winding down, and the holidays are upon us.

The remaining days of your 2014 calendar are likely filled with parties, dinners and family gatherings. It’s time to put business on the back burner and spend some quality time with loved ones. You deserve a break!

If you are planning to switch off from your business around the end of December, you’ll need to do a little planning ahead to ensure you don’t lose any momentum as we transition into a new year.

1. Send holiday cards to customers
If you haven’t already, send a holiday card to your valued customers, clients and subscribers. You don’t have to be William Shakespeare — a simple holiday greeting and a note of appreciation will suffice. Keep the message short and fairly generic and avoid cards that are religious or humorous.

Sending an e-card for free may be tempting, but it will not be nearly as effective as a traditional card hand-delivered by the postal service. Emailed cards could be mistaken for spam, and they just don’t have the same personal impact. Customers want to do business with companies that make them feel appreciated. By sending physical cards, not only are you spreading some holiday cheer, but you are keeping your company in your customers’ thoughts.

Because the postal service is busy around the holidays, try to get your cards in the mail by Dec. 13 so they arrive before the end of the year.

2. Schedule your social media posts
Many social media platforms allow a business to create a post and schedule it to be published at a later date and time, effectively putting your pages on auto-pilot. You can also sync many of your social media pages so that, for example, when you publish a new blog entry, it is automatically posted on your Facebook and Twitter pages. Check out each site’s FAQ or help sections for detailed instructions on these processes.

3. Organize and clean your inbox and computer
Clean up your inbox and computer files and attend to those less-important items that you’ve been putting off. Archive items you need to keep but to which you do not need immediate access. File documents into their proper folders for easy access later on. Having a clean office environment and computer will do wonders for getting off to a good start in 2015.

4. Get your financials in order
Make time to go over your 2014 budget and your actual revenues and expenses. This will help you plan your finances for 2015. Are you over-spending in any areas? Adjust and get back on track in the new year. Are there any outstanding invoices you need to send out? Send them out now. As a bonus, by getting your financials in order now, you are getting a head start on tax season!

5. Set up your out-of-office systems
Customers may have questions over the holidays, so make sure they’re not left waiting for answers. Change your voicemail message to explain your plan for the holidays and when you will return. Also set up an automatic email reply with the same information.

If there are any files or documents you want to work on during your holiday break, email them to yourself or use a digital drop box to make them available wherever you are. However, I do recommend taking a real break from all work-related activity. It is perfectly OK to take a step back, relax and recharge your batteries!

Stand Out on Small Business Saturday

shopsmallReposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

With Thanksgiving approaching, our minds are focused on two things: How am I going to cook the turkey this year, and where am I going to go shopping over the weekend?

For decades, Black Friday has signaled the start of the Christmas shopping season. Some consumers even get more excited about shopping the day after Thanksgiving than about the holiday itself!

The thought of scrambling through crowds at a giant department store at 5 a.m. to wrestle over the last Tickle-Me-Elmo gives me anxiety. At this time of year, I’d much rather focus on family, friends and community — and I’m not the only one.

In 2010, American Express created Small Business Saturday to encourage consumers to not just flock to the big box stores for their Christmas shopping needs, but to also visit local small businesses and support their hometown.

Buying local isn’t just a passing fad. The small business community is the backbone of America. It employs half of the workforce in our country and makes up 99% of all U.S. businesses, according to the Small Business Administration.

Now in its fifth year, Small Business Saturday has already become a holiday tradition. Consumers spent $5.7 billion on Small Business Saturday last year, according to American Express and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Make sure your business is on shoppers’ lists this year. The following suggestions can help you stand out on Small Business Saturday, taking place on Nov. 29, 2014.

smallbiz

1. Have an online presence
Consumers are searching the Internet for local businesses, so now is the time to spruce up your website and social media pages. Make sure your site is search-friendly and clearly displays your location and hours.

Capture potential customers and have fun by engaging in conversations and posting about your best merchandise, especially what will be on sale. Create a photo album with images of your products so people can have a preview before coming to your shop. Be sure to use the hashtag #SmallBizSat on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

2. Promote yourself
American Express is offering free, personalized marketing materials that can help get more shoppers to stop by your business. Create online ads, utilize in-store promotional materials and even get listed on the Shop Small Map. Go to ShopSmall.com to get started.

3. Promote your neighbors
On your social media pages, highlight other great businesses in your neighborhood. They may return the favor, sending even more visitors your way, and making this a true community event.

Collaborate with other small business owners in your area to hold a mass “sidewalk sale.” Also put flyers or coupons for nearby businesses’ products or services into your customers’ shopping bags, and have them do the same for you.

4. Start a relationship
You may not be able to compete with giant retailers when it comes to price, but you can offer more value to customers with your knowledge, service and small touches.

Make an extra effort to deliver outstanding customer service this holiday season. One of the main reasons a customer will shop at an independent retailer rather than a big box store is because they’re seeking friendly, personalized service. A good impression will have a lasting effect, practically guaranteeing a return customer.

Offer free extras such as cookies or snacks, stocking stuffers, gift-wrapping service or home delivery.

Make your store kid-friendly by holding a holiday coloring contest or ornament-decorating station. This will help keep tired or fussy children occupied while their parents shop.

At the point of purchase, invite customers to sign up for your newsletter, visit your website or find your social media pages. Track their purchase history and keep in touch throughout the year, providing customized shopping recommendations and alerting them to sales they may be interested in. A personal relationship goes a long way toward gaining someone’s loyal business.

5. Get involved with a charity
Choose a charity that you and your customers care about, and donate a percentage of your profit to it. The value of a purchase then becomes even bigger than the product or service itself. You will not only inspire others to give to a greater good, but your generosity will ensure your shoppers do not forget about you once the holiday season is over.

The Value of Customer Reviews

Image courtesy of Mister GC | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

When you shop online, how do you get reassurance that you will receive what you pay for?

When you peruse business directories or yellow pages, how do you narrow down your choices? Do you read any customer reviews before deciding to do business with someone?

Chances are that you do, which means your potential customers are also looking up your company’s reviews before choosing you.

I am borderline obsessive about researching a company before forking over my money. Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Facebook, Google — I examine the reviews on every site I can think of.

Nobody is perfect, and running a business can be tricky, so I’m not immediately deterred if I find a complaint or an unhappy review. Rather, I consider whether the company responded, and if they politely resolved the issue. I scan through the positive reviews and ask myself if they sound legitimate, keeping in mind that there may be unscrupulous companies who pay for compliments to boost their reputation. I put a lot of effort into finding a company I can trust.

While I admit that my methods could be a bit excessive, studies show that most people do read reviews. According to a 2013 survey by BrightLocal, 85 percent of consumers say they read online reviews for local businesses; this is up from 76 percent in 2012. The same survey also found that 73 percent of consumers say positive reviews make them trust a business more, which is up from 58 percent just one year prior.

I have no doubt that these numbers will continue to increase in the coming years. As a business, it is important to learn how to use customer reviews to your advantage.

First, understand why reviews are significant. Consumers can learn the basics about your services by looking at your website or advertisement, but reading testimonials and good reviews can compel consumers to actually consider doing business with you.

“Customer reviews provide credibility to my business,” says life coach Dave Shepp, owner of Beaverton-based Potential in Everyone. “People can read the information on my website describing my coaching methods and how I help people who are stuck, but only when they see my customer reviews do they know that I can talk the talk and walk the walk.”

“We get into many doors other competitors do not, simply because of our public review,” says Joseph Taylor, member of PDX Renovations LLC in Beavercreek.

Next, don’t be afraid to actively invite your satisfied customers to post a review. For example, a dentist’s office could include a notecard that says, “Please rate us at BBB.org,” along with the complimentary toothbrush and dental floss they give to patients. A hotel could have business cards at its front desk listing a few sites where guests could leave reviews. An online retailer could offer a discount on a future purchase to customers who post a positive review.

“Make sure you ask for the customer review from your client,” Shepp says. “They are generally more than willing to go on your site to leave a review about your service or product.”

Finally, display your reviews prominently on your website or even in your office. Because there are a multitude of review sites on the Internet, it could be nearly impossible for a potential customer to find every single one of your positive reviews. Make it easier for them by compiling a list of all the sites where you are reviewed and featuring it on your website; this will allow visitors to check out your complete online reputation with just one or two clicks. Consider printing out your favorite reviews to display on a bulletin board in your lobby or next to your register.

“We’re pretty confident in our reviews, so we are always happy a client or potential client does their homework,” Taylor says. “We feel with our reputation, it gives us a leg up on the competition.”

Customer reviews can drive your business to success. Are you making the most of them?


Remember to encourage your customers to submit a review at BBB.org about their positive experience with your company. And you can trust that BBB verifies each review before it is published.

5 Steps to Managing Complaints

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

Let’s be honest: No one enjoys receiving a complaint.

However, as a business owner, managing negative feedback in a positive way is essential for growth and improvement. The poor handling of a customer’s grievance can be one of the easiest ways to destroy an otherwise impeccable reputation.

It would be simple to dismiss a complaint by saying, “You can’t please everyone,” or, “It’s just one customer.” But don’t make that mistake! Consider these facts:

  • For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 others have remained silent, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.
  • Customers tell an average of nine people about good experiences, but tell 16 people about poor experiences, according to a 2011 American Express survey.
  • More than 90 percent of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again, according to Lee Resources.
  • However, nearly 95 percent of customers will give your business a second chance if you handle their complaint promptly and successfully, according to the Jim Moran Institute.

These statistics demonstrate that complaints — and how you handle them — do matter to your business.

A recording of a phone call with an internet provider recently went viral as a prime example of how not to treat a dissatisfied customer. So what is it you ought to do when your business receives a complaint?

1. Acknowledge

Perhaps most importantly, never ignore a complaint. Treat the customer with genuine respect and take the issue seriously. Empathy and a sincere willingness to listen will go a long way toward making the customer feel validated and appreciated.

It can be difficult to successfully resolve a complaint on social sites such as Twitter or Yelp; in those cases, direct the customer to a medium where you can help resolve the matter, such as your direct e-mail address or phone number.

2. Apologize

Say you’re sorry. This is not an admission of guilt — it is common courtesy, and it’s what every customer wants to hear.

If the customer is being unreasonable or rude, don’t respond in a demeaning or dismissive manner. Instead, remain calm and positive and don’t take the matter personally. Oftentimes, if you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, you’ll realize that you would be just as upset as he or she is.

After apologizing, refocus away from the emotions and get to the situation at hand by asking how you might help resolve the issue. Keep in mind that problems are opportunities to rebuild trust.

3. Analyze

Complaints often contain insight. Listen to the customer’s feedback and let him or her educate you. The customer should be part of the solution, not viewed as part of the problem.

Next, ask clarifying questions. Before you can resolve the complaint, you must understand exactly what went wrong and what the customer wants. If it’s not clear what he or she is seeking, involve the customer in your resolution decision-making through phrases such as, “What do you think would be fair?”

4. Act

Time is of the essence. An unhappy customer wants the problem to be fixed immediately, so responding to him or her with a resolution is a priority.

If it’s not possible to remedy the situation right away, explain the steps you will take and give the customer a timeframe.

On occasion, a customer may be in the wrong, or the problem is a result of his or her own misunderstanding. In those cases, politely inform or correct the customer without placing blame or criticizing. If you go about this graciously, the customer will be empowered by the knowledge you impart on him or her.

5. Appreciate

Invite the customer to verify that you have resolved the issue. Even if it is obvious that the situation has been corrected, the customer will appreciate the fact that you care enough to follow up.

Express your sincere appreciation to the customer for giving you the opportunity to understand and remedy the situation. This will ensure the interaction ends on a positive note.