Operations

How To Turn Around Negative Customer Responses

Posted on August 13, 2015 by Tom Halligan - Also by this author

The days are long gone when operators could disregard negative customer comments, chalking it up to an isolated disgruntled passenger, chauffeur or customer service representative who just had a bad day.

Here’s what one customer recently posted on Yelp about a North New Jersey limousine company: “I would have given this (company) zero stars if I could. The owner is one of the rudest most unprofessional and obnoxious people I have ever met.”

Ouch! The person continued to hammer the limousine company. The problem is the review, right or wrong, will stay posted on Yelp and continue to tarnish the company’s reputation. Today, peer-to-peer business review websites, combined with social media and instant texting/twitter communications, put consumers in the driver’s seat when it comes to a real-time customer rating — or ranting — about your company.

On the flip side, positive reviews are great free marketing. For example, here is a Yelp post about a San Francisco chauffeur: “I used this service for my friend’s birthday and it was a BLAST!! Dave was very professional and courteous. He showed up 15 minutes early and accommodated all of our stops. I also did some price comparisons with other limo services and found the company to be very reasonable.”

Not only does the customer bestow positive feedback, but also hits a home run for the operator by mentioning the cost was “very reasonable.” You can’t buy better marketing than that.

Regarding negative comments, unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if the disgruntled passenger exaggerated the situation, or verbally abused the staff, or something else spurred a client to pen a negative Yelp post. Because it is “out there,” you have to do the best you can to respond and explain the circumstances of the customer’s bad experience.

No matter how customers talk back — social media, email, phone, texting or through a follow-up text survey after a run — the point is to respond quickly to address and rectify the causes of the bad experience.

South Florida operator Neil Goodman takes the initiative as founder and CEO to personally call clients, no matter how small or minor the complaint. It looks good when the CEO calls an unhappy client and can lead to a positive turnaround on a difficult situation.
 
South Florida operator Neil Goodman takes the initiative as founder and CEO to personally call clients, no matter how small or minor the complaint. It looks good when the CEO calls an unhappy client and can lead to a positive turnaround on a difficult situation.
 

“The consumer is in control of messaging. There’s nothing you can do about it except when my staff copies me about the negative comment, I personally will answer the customer — no matter how small the issue may be,” says Neil Goodman, founder of Miami-based Aventura Worldwide. Goodman views responding to customer feedback — positive and negative — not only as a way to personally take care of problems, or to thank a customer for a glowing review, but also to use it as a tool to promote a corporate culture with the highest level of transportation service and accountability.

“I let chauffeurs know what they do does not go unnoticed, and that reinforces my message that we are only as good as our last trip,” Goodman says. “They appreciate that and it makes them work harder during the next trip.”

In addition, Goodman stresses that his company quickly responds to customers because it is a way to retain and grow business. Sure, glowing reviews and customer testimonials help promote a company, but negative reviews also can be turned into a positive.

Adds Goodman, “Even if someone complains about a driver being three minutes late, it may be small to most people, but I’ll respond because that person really appreciates that the president of the company personally responded — and I know that leaves an impression, and they thank me, and I keep their business. It makes all the difference in the world.”

Chicago operator George Jacobs is a champion of the “Rate My Ride” mobile app that delivers real-time feedback from clients on rides, good or bad.
Chicago operator George Jacobs is a champion of the “Rate My Ride” mobile app that delivers real-time feedback from clients on rides, good or bad.

Game Changer

George Jacobs, owner of Chicago-based Windy City Limousine City and Bus, and a long-time industry veteran, says customer feedback today is a “game changer.” Realizing that customers have multiple ways to comment on a company, Jacobs embraces feedback making sure staff responds to every comment.

“We use a mobile app, Rate My Ride, that gives customers the opportunity to tell us anything about their experience, good or bad,” Jacobs says. “It’s an effective tool because now we hear about a problem we probably never would have known, and the opportunity to solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.”

Complaints are read throughout the company and sent to the appropriate department to handle the problem, Jacobs says. “We’ll first investigate the problem to find out what happened and then respond. Mostly, it’s a communication issue.” Regarding Yelp and other social media sites, Jacobs says if a negative comment is posted, the company always responds and calls the customer to discuss the problem.

The Aventura mindset resembles good crisis communication in that you get out in front of and control the problem. “We may get someone who will say, ‘I’ll never use your company again,’ and after I personally call them or email them, they’ll say ‘I can’t believe the president of the company called me.’ And then after our conversation, they’ll say they absolutely will use my company again.”

Survey Says?!

In addition to responding to social media reviews and customer rating service apps, such as Rate My Ride, many operators also have customer feedback surveys on their websites. Some basic ones just ask for the customer name and a “comment” section, while others are more thorough, drilling down into more detail about customer experiences. Here is a good example of a thorough and easy-to-use customer feedback survey created by Hy’s Limousine, West Haven, Conn.

We Were Shopped

Top-tier hotels are known to periodically inspect service providers. Aventura recently was “shopped” by a client, Mandarin Oriental Miami, one of the top luxury hotels in Florida. “When you have a client such as Mandarin, they expect you to be an extension of their brand, and that means delivering service in a manner that represents the hotel and its top-tier clients,” says Goodman. The Mandarin uses an extensive checklist to review chauffeured rides. Goodman notes such reviews are used as constructive tools to ensure the company always provides superior service.

The checklist is based on 20 questions; 13 devoted to the quality of the ride, seven to the performance of the chauffeur. It covers behavior, amenities, comfort, service, communication and courtesy. The rating categories for each question are: Meet, Below and N/A. A perfect score means expectations were met — in other words, excellence is standard.

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