Online Reviews & Customer Service—A Matter of Perspective

Posted September 23, 2016

By Lou Altman

How you view the world is mainly a matter of perspective. See the image below? Turn it 45 degrees, and the two people looking at it would agree that it doesn’t make any sense. Wayne Dyer said, "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." That's certainly the case in this picture, and it's also true for customer service.

I wrote a blog a few months ago titled, "Is Bad Customer Service Actually Our Fault?" In it I made the following point: if your tone with the customer service rep is nasty, you’ll receive the absolute baseline support, no extra effort. It’s human nature. How motivated would you be to help someone who's barking at you?

Customer service is all about perspective

(Photo credit: The Education Tree)

Now, I’m not talking about instances where the company you’re calling genuinely made a catastrophic mistake. But here’s the thing: will yelling at the service rep solve the problem? And isn’t it just miss-directed anger? It’s not like that person screwed up your account. If you're nice and take a reasonable approach—Look, you guys goofed and that’s okay as long as you fix it—you’ll get far better treatment than the person who acts like a little yippy dog.

Online Reviews Are a Waste of Time

How you approach customer complaint situations makes all the difference. This is especially true with online reviews.

So many factors go into this feedback mechanism that you can argue online reviews provide little value. If you use online reviews to guide your business, be careful. While you can glean a lot of good data from online reviews, they're hardly the be-all, end-all of your business.

Here’s why online reviews don’t matter.

Online reviews tell the world just how star-spangled awesome you are. But what if your customers have low service expectations? (And can we at least agree that customer service is generally really bad these days?). In that case, you could mess up six different ways, and an online review could still laud you to Mt. Olympus, hailing you among the gods.

However, online reviews can also denounce you to the world as a special kind of demon, and the next ride that you take will be in a hand basket. Suppose their service expectations were so unrealistic that you could never meet them, and they persecute you unfairly?

Here’s an example. My wife works in a medical practice. She had a patient who routinely missed appointments and would then call a day or two later demanding to be seen immediately. He'd have a fit when the staff told him there was a four to five week wait. Could this business ever meet his clearly unreasonable expectations? Hardly; yet what if he went on a rant and trashed the practice?

If people know you and your business reputation, they may forgive an uncharacteristic review. But in today’s social media-focused, instant-communication, instant-reaction world, strangers can lambaste you unfairly and set off a massive pile-on. As Charles Osgood said for so many years, "Here’s the rest of the story."

Remember the woman who sued her 12 year-old nephew over a broken wrist? People jumped all over her, attacking her on social media as an evil person, blah, blah, blah. After a few days of verbal abuse—online and in person—she explained that the insurance company required her to file a lawsuit. I speculated there must be a reason for her lawsuit and watched people form opinions with only a portion of the information. How often do we do that?

It's the same with online reviews. Are they accurate? Are they valid? Are they consistent? I know someone who bought a pair of pants, wore them for three days and then returned them. If the store refused, would it be unreasonable? Would it deserve the walloping it could have received? Online reviews are merely an indicator, and I don't place a whole lot of faith in them.

Customer Service and Setting Expectations

You can take two actions to minimize the impact negative online reviews have on your business (unless of course you really earned them).

  • Set proper expectations. The brilliant sales trainer David Sandler calls this the "Upfront Contract." Tell your customers what’s going to happen, how you engage, what they can expect and, conversely, what you expect from them. And then stick to the expectations. If you stray, your customer will let you know. And if they stray, you can remind them of the Upfront Contract. The best way to avoid a misunderstanding is to eliminate it before it even happens.

  • If you happen to fall prey to the unreasonable (a.k.a. rotten) review, address it. While we all have different contexts, different moods, and different world views, but most people are reasonable human beings. When you address a negative review, it demonstrates two things: that your business will not be bullied and that you take reviews seriously. Here’s the flip side—and it's important: if you goofed, admit it. Apologize, make amends, and move on. Bad customer service is one thing, but people will judge you on how you response.

We live in a digital, instant communication, jump-to-conclusions-with-partial-information world. Creating the right expectations is important—and fulfilling them is even more so. Because somewhere, sometime, someone may review your business and someone else will read it and judge you based on that review. So make the best impression possible and handle what comes your way.

[Don't miss out: Choosing the Right Tech for Amazing Customer Experiences]

Lou Altman, CEO and lead trainer at Next Level, has designed and managed multi-million dollar campaigns, lead teams to record sales, and built businesses. Lou is direct, passionate, intense, silly, and he has an enormous heart. He's focused on teaching and sharing the best ways to improve customer service everywhere.

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