Archives for posts with tag: reviews

As a manager, you are never going to please everyone.

Some might even argue that if you do, you are not doing your job correctly. You will be called upon to discipline and even terminate employees, some of whom you might consider friends if you no longer had to manage them, and who may already consider you a friend. That is until you fire them – no friendship survives that.  Moreover, a portion of your job is to stick your head above the parapet wall and take the pot shots that people send your way: customers and employees alike. You may well take the wrap for decisions that other stakeholders, and even the courts, have made and the people you work with will almost certainly never know about the arguments that you have won to protect their interests.

If you are someone who values internal culture, like I am, then you have the added concern of trying to make any piece of feedback positive. Gone are the days, for the most part, of managers losing their tempers and yelling at the people the work with. I won’t say that I have never lost my temper at a member of staff but I have made sure to apologize afterwards and I have always felt that loosing one’s temper is counterproductive: If it actually hurts what I’ve trying to achieve then what is the point? Management is hard, we are all over worked, underappreciated, our hands are often tied, and the goal posts are always shifting. However, the rewards make it worth it: financial, recognition of your peers, and the sense of achievement when you see both people and businesses grow.

And then there are things like this:

“I loved the actual job here. Worked here for almost a year. If you could rise above petty back-stabbing and the fact people would be super nice to your face, and cut you down in a heartbeat behind your back, then it was a great job. Hospital chief administrator suffered from Little Big Man syndrome and needed to be avoided at all costs – unless you wanted your day ruined, as he was always incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate – even if praise was his intention! Some of the doctors were difficult, but most were really great to work with. Overall, if you have thick skin, this was a good place to work – but no benefits other than an employee discount for vet services.

Ouch.

Other than the obvious of “what else would you expect a terminated employee to say?” What else can be learned from this from a management perspective? What can I learn from this since I feature so prominently?

Well yes, I am short – well spotted. Not much I can do about that. I guess you could argue that as someone of limited stature I have to be additionally careful to not appear angry so as to not play into the stereotype. As noted above, this is actually in my own interests anyway but a helpful reminder that I need to live up to my own standards.

If I am to be avoided, then that is actually pretty difficult. I try very hard to check in with every employee on both shifts every day and I am obviously sorry they felt this way. I think the comment of being “incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate” is a little harsh. We, as an employer and I personally, have put a number of programs in place to improve and celebrate employee recognition. However, I will admit, that I do need to praise more in person than I currently do. Most managers do suffer from this and it is probably one of the more difficult aspects of the job. It is particularly hard when you have an employee who is not doing anything particularly wrong, but also not doing anything particularly exceptional. Since the above quote is from an anonymous post it is difficult to know for sure anything about this former employee, but as a general takeaway I think this rings true.

A “reading between the lines” insight, and backed up by some feedback from former employees who are now friends (see I’m not all bad) is that there is perhaps a lack of trust at times. A feeling that I did not have the employee’s “back.” This is probably a feature of trying to make customer service central to what we do. If a customer complains about an employee or the service they delivered, unless the claim is outrageous, I will probably try to make to client happy. This can certainly be interpreted as taking the side of the customer instead of the employee. It shouldn’t – I’m trying to protect the business and therefore indirectly the employee. If I feel there is an issue to be addressed with the employee, I will address it separately; however, it is easy to see how this issue arises and perhaps I need to do a better job of dealing with this unintended tension.    

As a final note, it is interesting that this former employee felt that discounted vet services was all the benefits that were on offer. I would take away from this that I needed to do a better job of explaining the other things that formed our benefits package.   

I don’t want a lot of reviews like this – nobody does. But the same rules apply to bad reviews about yourself as to bad reviews about your business. They are an opportunity to get feedback that you would not otherwise be able to receive. And while anonymous former employee reviews are even more unfair than anonymous customer reviews, due to the legal issues involved, a little self-examination is not a bad thing. If nothing else, it hopefully made for an interesting blog post.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.)

 

Please don’t buy this book.

I’ve seen Jay speak a couple of times and the most recent time I was intrigued by the study he conducted with Edison Research that forms the back bone of “Hug your Haters.” The study asked two basic, yet fundament, questions in this new age of online reviews and online customer service:

1: How has the proliferation of social media, review sites, and other online forms changed the customer expectations of what good customer service really means.

2: When interactions between brands and humans are played out on the public stage, how must brands perform to in order to satisfy not only the customer, but the customer’s audience.

Hug your haters is a guidebook, informed by real data, on how to best handle complaints in this age of onstage public complaining. When I read a new business book it will sometimes take me down a particular intellectual path, other times it will provide nuggets of useful information that I can use, and sometimes I will disagree with it to such an extent, that I cannot wait to be done.

Hug your haters is different.

Hug Your Haters, for me, is validation of what I have come to believe over the last few years. Negative reviews are a chance to shine. Upset clients can be loyal clients if you can turn them around. Onstage interactions with upset clients is chance to show all those watching that you care enough to listen, empathize, apologize, and try to fix individual complaints.

It is amazing to read a book and have the author focus on a point of technique, where Jay talks about shock and awe was my favorite moment for this to happen, and realize “hey I love to do that – nice to know I’m not the only one!” Although the book primarily focuses on online strategies for customer resolution, is does deal with offline issues and really provides a blueprint, with real world examples, of how to provide customer service in almost any sized business. The basic philosophy is simple – answer every negative complaint, every time, in every channel. By doing this the author, and I agree, believes that customer service can become marketing.  This is because, more often than not, these interactions are conducted in public with an audience.  

If I have to have a complaint about the book it is that Jay lets Yelp off the hook far too easily. My own personal feelings about Yelp have evolved over the years; from outright despising them for their failure to engage with their clients and critics which you can read here, to acceptance with a few reservations which you can read here. However, the issue that Yelp arbitrarily filters out reviews from real paying clients, but does not seem to have the same scruples when it comes to negative reviews from people you do not recognize, and refuses to engage about what has happened, still stands.

However, this really is a minor quibble about what is without doubt the bible of how handle customer service in the modern age. It is not for the faint of heart. Following Jay’s playbook, you will encounter managers, owners, and employees, who feel that you are opening the company to being taken advantage or creating a culture where customers are rewarded for complaining. And there are some merits to these fears; however, these are far out-weighed by the rewards.

For me this book is validation – thank you Jay.

For others, it is heresy.

For most it will be revelatory.

But I like my competitive advantage, so please, don’t buy this book.

 

By Mike Falconer

The most popular post to date on my site is: “Why I hate Yelp (and you should too!).”

I still do by the way; and everything is that post still stands today three years later; however, I have grown to accept it as part of the daily life of being in business and feel that, a few road bumps aside, I’ve made my peace with online reviews and even with Yelp.

That mighty sound a little contradictory, but the bottom line is that reviews are here to stay so we all have to deal with it.

“Scott, we have a Yelp problem. We keep getting these horrible reviews what can we do about it?”

” – Build a better product.”

Scott Stratten @unmarketing

There is no strategy or tip that I, or anyone else, can give you that will fix your business and your online reviews overnight (those that promise to do so are scamming you). If you are a horrible business the chances are you will have horrible reviews online.

Now you can write your own reviews, and risk the wrath of companies like Yelp or Google which are filled with people smarter than you or I (sorry it’s true) who spend a lot of time and energy trying to foil the attempts of those gaming their systems. If you are really unlucky you could also find yourself the subject of a FTC investigation and slapped with a serious fine. It has happened a few times already to those trying to buy or reward those for reviews (many thanks to he great Mike Blumenthal @mblumenthal for this awesome nugget of info and indeed for solidifying my thoughts on Yelp, and online reviews, in general) and expect it to happen a lot more when the government figures out how prevalent it is and how much money can be made. But why bother? It is simpler, easier, and better for your business to just fix the problems in the first place.

Think Yelp or Google (or whatever review site you feel tortures you on a regular basis) does not accurately reflect what your clients think of your business? Prove it! Survey your clients. Make it easy for them to complain and give you feedback. Have a policy to deal with complaints. And, of course, read, learn, and above all, reply to your reviews. If your survey results really are different from what you are seeing from the review sites then publish the data and be honest about what people were complaining about and what you are doing to fix it.

When I started reviewing my business’s clients what I found from the was that they wanted to respond. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, and it allowed me to fix issues, even minor ones, quickly before they blew up online. It also provided real data about what problems we did have and where we were excelling.

A splash page with links to review sites helped make it easy for those who already reviewing us privately to review us in public. As a rule I and not a big fan of asking for reviews – particularly when companies just try to flood one channel. (400 reviews on Google and 10 on Yelp just makes you look shady.) However, a simple splash page with three or four links is tasteful and is the least spam-like way I have found and does not seem to offend anyone.

Unhappy clients will, of course, still happen. How you respond to them is all important, not just for the client, but your future clients who will read your response and see how you deal with complaints.

Apologize – it costs you nothing.

Try to resolve the issue – D’uh!

If you can’t resolve the issue – apologize again!

Do not get into a protracted fight online – would you rather be right or have an unhappy client, a bad review, and maybe worse? Genuinely apologize and try to make things right.

And never, never ever, send, say, or do anything that that you are not completely happy with being splashed all over the Internet. “If you take your review down we will give you your money back” means you care more about the bad review than the unhappy client. If the client deserves their money back – give them their money back!

I am a big fan of responding to even positive reviews – a simple thank you goes a long way. The interesting thing about responding to every review and trying to keep clients happy is that it is not just new clients that notice. Potential new employees use the tools available to them when researching their potential new employer. Those tools are Yelp and Google.

While I still hate Yelp – it really is a flawed product. It exists because customers used to basically be powerless. The balance may have shifted but I know at my business we try to solve issues, I know that we sometimes succeed and sometimes we fail. We are not perfect, but we have not stopped trying and I think even those that view us on Yelp can see it.

And I can live with that.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

 

A short book, Entangled Empathy puts forward the case that for upgrading our relationship with animals to one of responding to the “needs’ interests, desires, vulnerabilities, hopes, and unique perspectives” based on the context of their situation rather than focusing on animal “rights.”

What does context have to do with this subject? Gruen uses the example of man and his children entering a subway car where upon the man sits down and closes his eyes while the children proceed to become extremely disruptive. When eventually someone suggests to the man that he do something about the behavior of the children the man agrees, apologizes, and states that his wife had just died and they don’t seem to know how to deal with it anymore than he does.

Essentially, Entangled Empathy is a rallying cry to abandon ridged ethical principles when dealing with animals and move to a more empathic model. To do this we have to recognize that we already have complex relationships with animals and when it comes to their welfare a one size fits all solution can actually be harmful.

There is a lot of merit to what Gruen is talking about in Entangled Empathy; however, the execution leaves a little be desired. There are some rally quite interesting models used to prove ethical points (such as the man and the children on the subway); however these are not expanded upon with any great new insights. Rather they are broken down to component parts and never put back together again.

Gruen does use a couple of examples from her own life, and work, but they are never fully explored in any meaningful fashion. Anyone who reads the book and expects to finish with a set of tools to better handle animal welfare based on entangled empathy is going to be sorely disappointed.

While certainly interesting, and it gives some food for thought, there is little in the way of answers here which makes Entangled Empathy much more that a statement of principles bordering on “we can do better.”

Notes on Startups, or how to build the future – with Blake Masters.


(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

Some will know Peter Thiel (pronounced teal) as one of the founders of PayPal, or maybe even as an Silicon Valley investor. However, it is much more likely that you recognize his name from his brief portrayal in the movie: “The Social Network.” Wherever you know is name from, even if it is from my blog, he is a man worth listening to. Blake Masters certainly thought so when he attended a series of lectures that Theil gave at Stanford and took more copious notes than anyone else. These notes started to circulate to a much wider audience than the student body and so a book project was born.

Zero to One is a reference to the ability of a technology company to go from nothing to something and thereby change the world. Interestingly, Theil defines a technology company as any company with new ideas – doing more with less. This generally means software startups in the mold of Google, Apple, and Facebook, but he is at pains to stress it does not have to be.

Zero to One is interesting because the ideas it contains about business are quite contrarian to what we believe as outsiders about startups and Silicon Valley (and I’m sure to a number insiders as well). We have all been brought up to believe that competition is a good thing; however, Theil makes a convincing case for competition as a destructive force. “Monopoly is the condition of every successful business” and “Every business is successful to exactly to the extent that it does something that others cannot.”

He is on less firm ground when he tries to apply his startup thinking to the wider geo-political world. Although he is undoubtedly on to something with defining groups of people as “indefinite optimists” “indefinite pessimists” “definite optimists” and “definite pessimists” – particularly as it relates to politicians, and finance – it is hard to buy this as it relates to entire continents.

It is interesting to note that a lot of the ideas contained in Zero to One are self evident but are so against standard business thinking (it is a brave man who says Malcolm Gladwell needs to rethink his ideas) that they have the favor of heresy. Why should you expect any business to succeed without a plan? A business that cannot provide a ten fold improvement in technology over its competitors is doomed to competition death. Don’t disrupt – avoid competition. The history of progress is one of monopolistic innovation.

What helps sell these heresies is how Theil relates these to the high tech modern fables that we have all grown to know, but not understand: Google vs. Microsoft. Microsoft vs. the United States Government. The rise of Facebook. And the reemergence of Apple.

One thing that explains a lot of the success of the Silicon Valley startup is the focus and vision of founders. However, as Theil points out this comes with its own drawbacks and potential pitfalls – particularly as you try to apply his thinking to general business environments.

“…(the) strange way that new technology companies often resemble feudal monarchies rather than organizations that are supposedly more modern. A unique founder can make authoritative decisions. Inspire strong personal loyalty. And plan ahead for decades. Paradoxically, impersonal bureaucracies staffed by trained professionals can last longer than any lifetime but usually act on short time horizons.”

The cult of personality can come at a cost for both the founder and the companies they have created. Founders are important not because they are the only ones who’s work and add value but because they can bring out the best work in other people. Adulation of a founder has to be tempered by the fact that it can turn into demonization and notoriety at any point. Theil indeed makes a striking comparison between founders and the worshiping of scapegoats and sacrifices of ancient peoples.

Zero to One is that most rare of things, a business book that actually contains new and interesting ideas about companies and markets that you felt you already knew about. It also has some stark lessons for those who seek to emulate the success of the startup model, without understanding what makes it successful in the first place. Hint: it is not the perks!

This is less a manual for the modern startup, and more a cautionary tale about borrowing ideas without understanding context. Whatever you take from it, it is certainly a book worth reading and Theil is a thinker we should hear more from outside of Silicon Valley.

I had been a big believer in Yelp and the review site model: treat your customers well and they will reward you. I have also had little time for the Yelp haters: “Stop complaining about Yelp and work on your business.”

Well that is what I used to think and then I saw the real, ugly side, of Yelp. Forbes, PBS, and the New York Times seem to agree.

As a rule, the larger the business, the more clients you have, and therefore the more chance that you are not going to be able to keep them all happy. That is not to say that you should not try, but there is always that reality.

In the veterinary world, there is a great product called Vsurv that allows for electronic surveys to be sent out to clients who visit your practice. It plugs straight into practice management software. The great thing out surveying every client for whom you have an email address, as Vsurv does, is that to gives you real data for client satisfaction. Data that you can track from month to month. Even with a 50% – 60% compliance rate you are still talking about hundreds of responses. If I have 30 online reviews 10 of which are filtered (more on that later) but I see 100 – 150 clients a day the online review numbers add up to the statistical error rate of direct surveying.

So a product like Vsurv is better than online review sites. Then what about Yelp?
Well the big problem with Yelp is its review filter. What’s Yelp’s review filter you ask? Well you wouldn’t be alone in not knowing much about it. Unless you run a Yelp page you probably don’t know about the filter, and many who do run pages don’t know about it until they get bitten by it.

Yelp’s review filter is supposed to protect the integrity of Yelps reviews by filtering out suspicious reviews: Overly positive reviews by users that have only one or a couple of business reviews or overly negative reviews by the same kind of user. A least that is the idea…

The problem is that the criteria that Yelp uses to filter it’s reviews is a closely guarded secret – supposedly to avoid businesses “gaming” the system. The filter is supposedly “automatic” and therefore is not influenced by petty concerns such as advertiser preference. However, individual users, and businesses have no recourse to un-filter filtered reviews.

To add to the problems, consistent reports exist of Yelp filtering only good reviews and leaving only bad reviews after the business concerned refuses to advertise with Yelp. I personally have seen a negative review get filtered and then miraculously become unfiltered – not sure how an automatic filter changes its mind but apparently it can.

You can even read the filtered reviews – and it is quite amazing how different a picture of most businesses you can gather by reading the filtered reviews. Yelp only allows access to filtered reviews via a Captcha – why? To make it more difficult to link to? It is quite an experience to see 15 filtered reviews 13 of which are positive that have basically the same user profile as the six recent negative reviews that have not been filtered.

Then, of course, are the online reputation management companies that promise to get bad online reviews removed from Google, Yelp, and other online review sites. All the major review sites say that the only way to remove reviews is with the same tools that everyone has access to – flagging in other words. There is, however, another way – the reviews themselves have been created by a reputation company which can work “miracles” by removing review that they themselves have posted. On a couple of occasions now, I have seen very odd reviews appear and then been approached by some of the more unscrupulous types of Online reputation managers who say that they can work “miracles.” This issue has been addressed by Yelp, but only in the broadest of sense.

The real issue with Yelp; however, is that is does not practice what it preaches. Concentrate on customer service and customers will give you great reviews. So what does is say when so many potential customers feel that the Yelp system is fundamentally flawed and refuses to engage them on the subject? Yelp encourages businesses to respond to negative reviews however provides no mechanism to challenge its filter. Yelps does provide a flagging system, but no feedback on why it does or does not agree with the business owner flagging the review in question. Yelp also refuses to engage with clients about the review side and will only engage about advertising.

I, for one, do not actually believe that Yelp is trying to extort business owners as some charge. I do, however, feel that the product and company is flawed.

The word from Yelp seems to be do what what say – not what we do.

I’m not a big believer in that.

(Click on the image above to download the book from Amazon!)

Being, essentially, 128 pages long (the appendix takes it up to 163 pages) and a free download it would be difficult to complain too much about the e-book: “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth.” Luckily you really don’t have to, as it makes for an engaging, and brief, read. It also has the potential to become an important work for those of us who care about marketing our businesses and the tools that we use to achieve that.

The Zero Moment of Truth is an attempt to update a model, first coined by Procter and Gamble in 2005, used to describe the marketing’s effect on the consumer. The model goes something like this: Stimulus; in the form of an advertisement, First Moment of Truth; when the consumer sees the product on the shelf in the store, and Second Moment of Truth; when the customer experiences the product they have bought. Although the terms were coined in the 21st century, the concept would be understood by a character on the TV show Mad Men. Zero Moment of Truth is an attempt to explain and define how search, and social media, has changed our buying and consuming habits as now there is now an additional step to this marketing model. This additional step is that advertising is now prodding us, the consumer, to research, ask our friends, and ask even complete strangers, about the product online before we get anywhere near the store or an e-commerce site.

Inter-spaced with video introductions to each chapter by marketers and search professionals, the book neatly dissects what the Zero Moment of Truth means for all of us – including consumers. It particularly, has no time for manufacturers who feel that their product does not generate the interest for social media – I wish my business had as many fans as “Bounce dryer sheets” to give you an example!

Another, potentially even more important, concept in the book is the idea that customers do not talk about bad experiences online. Obviously, it is not always the case, but Mr. Lecinski puts forward a compelling case that in the majority of circumstances, clients want to give good reviews far more than they want to give bad ones – preferring to forget about bad experiences. This being the case, the book argues, that unless you have a serious problem in your business (and you’d probably want to know about it if you did) reviews and comments are a chance to engage your clients and should not be ignored.

Since Mr. Lecinski is managing director, U.S. Sales & Service, for Google a book that extolls the virtues of search and reviews (Google places anyone?) could be seen as a little self-serving. This is probably fair, but it does not make anything that is said in the book any more relevant and important. Although, it does have to be said that the lack of mentions of Facebook (mentioned five times) and Twitter (mentioned twice) can be a bit jarring when compared to Google (mentioned 72 times). This is a minor gripe, however, and a great book from a very clever marketer.

I do, however, have a major gripe about this book and others of its ilk.

I read a lot, and when I do I listen to music – like I imagine most people do. Adding video into the mix is a logical extension of the e-book medium and I think it has a place – particularly in a book such as this – is logical. The problem with video content in books, however, is when the producers decide that they have to add background music as they would if they were producing a spot for television. Some basic understanding of the way your product is being consumed please people! I don’t want to have to mute what I’m listening to at the start of each chapter just so I can listen to someone speak!

This is still a very good book and well worth your time even if you never watch the videos – which I suggest you do – just remember to keep the remote for the music handy.

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