5 Ways To Avoid Suing Your Customers
This week it was reported that a restaurant owner intends to sue a customer for posting a bad online review. This, because the restaurant owner seeks to protect the reputation of his business. This is what’s known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It has been estimated that 89% of all transactions are influenced, in some way, by digital information. From stopping off on the way home to get gas to buying a car that gets better gas mileage, consumers now have the platform, resources and technology to actively take control of the buying process. We research and absorb and compare and make decisions in real-time, on the move, in ways previously impossible. Businesses who have developed processes and environments that embrace and facilitate this new reality, rather than attempting to thwart it, have thrived. On the other hand, everyday there are stories reported of restaurant owners waging war with their customers over bad Yelp reviews or antique store owners throwing customers out for taking pictures of the merchandise with their phones.
This post is for those businesses who have found themselves thrust into a digital universe that seems beyond their control and within which the only option seems to be resistance.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
The internet provided a foundation upon which an information super-structure has been built. Every consumer, each of us, are brick layers in this new system of sharing and gathering knowledge and opinions. Every consumer experience impacts the blueprints of the structure and our phones have become the tools with which we work. As this balance of power has shifted toward the consumer, businesses have been forced to take a hard look at what kind of competitor they are, or would like to be. Is their effort to capture market share a climb to the top by adding value, experience and differentiation, a strategy that will likely result in higher prices? Or is it a focus on economy, driven by increasingly lower prices and supported by improvements in technology, limits in quality, product diversity and human connection?
Businesses can be successful through either strategy, provided three factors are present:
FACTOR #1: The customer is clear about which option the business represents: quality or price.
FACTOR #2: The business consistently engages with consumers to be sure there’s no confusion regarding Factor #1, maintaining a constant focus on consumer experience and improvements.
FACTOR #3: The business is itself aware of what option they represent and demonstrate a willingness to make the changes necessary to facilitate Factor #2.
Of course, this is easier said than done and often times a business will sense, or openly experience a disconnect between the value it believes it offers the consumer, and the value seemingly being experienced by the consumer (See the previous restaurant and antique store examples). When this disconnect takes place, there are only two available courses of action. Either the business changes, or the business demands that the consumer changes. If the business is willing to change, the questions detailed below may illuminate conditions for analysis and tactical improvement. If a business attempts to make the consumer change, there will eventually be one less business impacting the competitive landscape.
WHEN THERE IS A DISCONNECT
- LACKING SELF AWARENESS? Ask for feedback. Review sites, social media, email correspondence and even good ol’ fashioned in-store (or in field) questionnaires, are GOOD THINGS and will help illuminate the nature of the disconnect.
- FEELING DEFENSIVE? Analyze the feedback. Be honest with yourself and categorize feedback into groups that are probably true of your business and those that are not. But more importantly, focus on improving within the areas that keep you from being the type of competitor you wish to be. In that way, if somebody posts a review complaining your prices are too high, while you are focused on competing with quality and experience, this may not be a complaint worth worrying actively addressing.
- DO CONSUMERS THING YOU ARE UNRELIABLE? Follow through. Openly communicate with consumers through review sites and social media that have had a negative experience. Respond! Thank the consumer for their feedback, publicly apologize and commit to a resolution without trying to be right. This is your opportunity demonstrate to everyone that, while mistakes might happen, yours is a business that will follow through.
- DO CONSUMERS THINK YOU ARE UNPREDICTABLE? Be consistent. When service is great some days and terrible during others, consumers will forget the great times. Most often, human capital (or the lack thereof) is the culprit. Address people problems promptly and use an established process for holding employees accountable. A commitment to staffing and training will provide a foundation. Once implemented, publicly (where others can see) offer a “do-over” to consumers who had a negative experience, and then iron out the details of that “do-over” privately. And don’t hesitate to share the improvements you’ve made. Acknowledge the issues and detail what’s been done to address them. Humility helps.
- DO CONSUMERS THINK YOU ARE NOT TRUSTWORTHY? Self-reflect. It might be that your business is really just not very trustworthy. You may justify it by suggesting that things are “hard out there” but that’s not going to cut it. The best way to make a change is to identify the times in which your business let people down and determine which cultural changes will be required to redeem yourself. This is the one to take personally.
Each day consumers enter and exit the buying cycle for every product and service. This offers businesses the opportunity to embrace digital information as a source of self-reflection and consumer interaction to help manufacture their story, rather than fighting somebody else’s story. Those who have the most to gain are those that commit to listening and actively look for opportunities to learn from their current customers to add value to others. The alternative, looks something like this: