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Henry Ford is well known for saying, “You can have any car you like, as long as it’s black”.

I’ve asked hundreds of audiences why they think he said this, and had answers that range from, ‘he had a fetish for black’, to ‘it was the cheapest colour’, to ‘there wasn’t any colour paint back then’, and everything in between.

The most popular narrative I’ve found to explain his statement, is that Ford was chasing after efficiency. At their best the Ford Motor Company was producing a Model T every 90 seconds. When you’re chasing 90 second assemblies, the colour you paint a car is critically important. Black dries faster than any other colour on the spectrum. Ford could have produced any colour Model T you wanted, but what YOU wanted wasn’t important. For Henry Ford that 90 second goal was key, and what the customer wanted came second.

It’s one of the reasons often given as to why Alfred P Sloan Jr. lead General Motors to be the largest car company in the that world. Sloan Jnr was passionate about customer feedback and marketing and PR. By giving the customer what they wanted, he catapulted General Motors ahead of Ford, and Ford was never able to regain the number one spot again.

Simplistic? Perhaps? It’s the lesson in there that’s important. When you think think what your business is selling is more important than your customer’s needs, and place your processes and products ahead of solving your customer’s problems, you’re bound to get yourself into trouble (eventually).

TAKING CUSTOMER REVIEWS AND FEEDBACK SERIOUSLY

With that as a backdrop, I’m often astounded by modern businesses that pay scant attention to their customer’s needs, wants and opinions. In a modern digital age, those needs, wants and opinions are increasingly communicated via online platforms that allow for reviews and feedback. Different industries have different platforms where this information is submitted by their customer’s, and I can’t think of an industry that doesn’t have one.

From TripAdvisor, to Google Maps, to Facebook Recommendations, to Hello Peter, to Yelp, to whatever is most prevalent in your country and industry. Customers, clients and guests take their valuable time to let you know how you’re doing, or what their experience was. Whatever their experience, they leave their story, give suggestions, ask to be contacted, threaten to never use your product or service again, or gush lovingly at how incredible you are. And yet, so often, the ‘organisation / company response’ is left blank. Even worse it’s poorly written, shallow in its attempt to connect meaningfully with the customer, and offers no promise of a solution in the future.

It’s no secret that peer-review has become critical in how and what people choose to spend their money on. If you’re still not a believer (I shouldn’t even have to address you), but if you were going to a new restaurant and saw that it had been rated 2.5 out of 5 stars by over 100 previous customers, would you think twice about going? Of course you would!

At Calidascope we’ve watched over and over again, how proactive and well written responses to customer feedback can completely alter the fortunes of our clients. Good ratings equal good business. It’s such a simple formula, and one you can count on. It’s not about hubris and being disingenuous, but when a business takes customer feedback seriously, responds accordingly, and uses the information to adjust their product or service, positive things begin to happen.

It doesn’t require that you ‘game’ the system either. ‘Gaming’ the system with false or meaningless reviews will get you found out in the end. The truth always comes out, no matter how clever you think you are.

5 THINGS TO IMPROVE YOUR ONLINE CUSTOMER REVIEW RESPONSES

1. Call if you can
A phone call done well, will always be more effective than a written response. Just because your customer wrote to you, don’t forget they’re a human being. Human beings do voice better than they do the written word. Remember a phone call is live and in the moment. Choose your caller well.

2. Respond quickly.
We try to respond within 24 hours and never longer than 3 days. You customer took the time to write about their experience, and a speedy response shows respect

3. Be Authentic.
Don’t try and bullshit. If you were wrong, own it. All of it. Where there’s an explanation put it out there, but don’t fudge anything. When we’re responding for a client, we’ll phone and have a conversation with everyone concerned to find out the full story.

4. Don’t do one word replies.
We once had a client who wasn’t big on words. In any format. We had to work with him to help him understand that ‘one word’ responses didn’t serve him or his business well. Not ever! Your customer has gone to the trouble of putting their thoughts down. The very least you can do is to engage and match those thoughts.

5. The customer isn’t always right, but….
Customers do sometimes go negatively over the top in their reviews and feedback. Too much emotion, not enough of the facts, etc, etc. Publicly ’sorting them out’ is a terrible way to approach them. You have to be honest, and gentle, and if in doubt let the blame sit with you. In these situations we do everything we can to call the customer (even have a face to face meeting) before we address their online review in a public space.