All posts by Mike Blumenthal

8 Steps for Dealing with Customer Complaints

I have just added another post in the Complaint Series at GetFiveStars:  8 Steps for Dealing with Customer Complaints.

I put together a concise guide to help you create a plan for complaint resolution. And that is something I really think you should do, put together your own plan. When the s%^t hits the fan, it will give you a play book to reference to avoid the many pitfalls that can get in the way of a good outcome.

But not all businesses and not all complaints fit neatly into the guide I provided. In fact there are many situations where the person handling the complaint just can’t act to resolve the issue. What then?

For example imagine you run an insurance agency that has prices set by corporate. And you get a complaint about pricing from sweet little old lady/gentleman on a fixed income, over which you have no control? I would imagine switching out step 7.  Perhaps in stead of  “Act to resolve the situation” the agent  should “Advocate for the customer” and take their complaint back to corporate.

I would love to hear where and when you think the 8 step complaint guide that I provided might break down and not work; what are the exceptions? what are the alternatives? How would the steps in your plan or imagined scenario be different?

Here are the previous posts in the series in case you want to see some of the data that informed by guide:

  1. SURVEY: How Quickly Should A Business Respond to a Complaint?
  2.  SURVEY: Are We As Good As We Think We Are?
  3. SURVEY: What Happens When Things Go South? You Lose More Customers Than You Ever Know
  4. Survey: 8 Things That Really Cause Consumers to Complain
  5. 5 Good Things About Customer Complaints

Local News Photo Captures Current Gestalt

The gun is going off, the runners are starting… ding, oh that’s interesting.

I just got back from SMX and was catching up on the local newspaper reporting and was reading an article titled Corporate Challenge Sees Largest Ever Turnout article in the Olean Times Herald. 

This photo caught my attention:

Race? What race? Hang on while I check my messages.....
Race? What race? Hang on while I check my messages…..

Google Nearby Ads – A New Hyperlocal Ad Display Format?

Update: Jennifer Slegg has confirmed with Google that this new ad format is actually rolling out.

Last week while in SMX I noticed a new hyperlocal, very contextual ad unit that appeared above the Local pack and looked more like the local pack then an ad. Google has been on a tear monetizing local of late with the new ad units in Google Maps and Joy Hawkin’s uncovering of their plan to monetize the pack as well as possibly removing additional information from pack results.

This new ad display, for nearby businesses, is perhaps a test. And one that pushes the boundaries of identifying the ads as such with just the single notation at the top of the display.

There is obviously a distance factor in what displays but I also noticed that the business had to be open to appear. When I did this same search after 6:00 pm when several of the businesses had closed, they were no longer included. So in addition to ad quality and relevance, Google is adding proximity and open hours as factors in choosing which ads to display.


As Joy Hawkins pointed out in the Local U Forum: I think it’s definitely possible to show in surrounding cities but not as likely if there are lots of good competitors who are actually in that city with great AdWords accounts.

This new ad display though does give some clues about where Google is going with local ads, what pack ads might be like AND provide an indication as to how far out of the radius of the local pack they might be.

With the advent of Pigeon, Google dramatically decreased the radius within which a business might show in the Local Pack. Google effectively started showing different search results every 5 miles or so thereby increasing the absolute number of businesses that displayed in the Pack results and reducing the opportunity for domination by a few companies. By adding radius and open hours, Google dramatically increases the potential inventory opportunities for themselves to display local ads. And one assumes that over time the reach of these ads might mirror the radius of the Local Pack post pigeon.

I was curious in this first go exactly how far afield the Nearby Ads reached so I mapped the area of both the Local Pack and the Nearby Ads to get a sense of that. The Local Pack, in typical Pigeon fashion, showed the furthest result from my location at about 2 miles. The Nearby Ad on the other hand displayed the furthest location nearly 17 miles away. By the same token the nearest business in the ad to my location was only 1 mile away indicating that with more inventory a much tighter display radius is very likely. It will be interesting to see how Adword quality and relevance are valued compared to distance and open hours. And how these types of ads will impact spammy local results like locksmiths and movers (and botox and law and….).


Clearly both these Nearby Ads and the coming Local Pack ads will allow for early entrants to get increased urban and suburban exposure. But as the value of the ads become more obvious and there is more inventory I assume that not only will the cost go up but the radius and display port will become much much smaller.

And Google will continue its growth in Ad revenue. Even if searches do not increase.

SURVEY: How Quickly Should A Business Respond to a Complaint?

I have published a new article in the “Complaint Series” at GetFiveStars: SURVEY: How Quickly Should A Business Respond to a Complaint?

Critical to any complaint plan is figuring out the who, when and where of responding to them. I wanted to understand the consumer perspective so I asked two questions:

  • When you complain to a local merchant how long is reasonable for them to respond & resolve?
  • If you have a complaint with a local merchant how would you prefer to express it to the business?

I was surprised by their answers. I guess that national firms have conditioned too many consumers to not expect a quick response. That strikes me as a huge advantage for smaller, more agile firms that can respond quickly and effectively.

I think complaint resolution has a huge ROI and the ability to directly impact your future sales. Figuring exactly how your clients deal with it, will make your job much easier.

Complaints and How They Can Go Ballistic

Screenshot 2016-06-16 15.42.27
Note the wires in the photo next to the map

Ozzie’s Premium Frozen Yogurt and Gelato is an ice cream shop in Santa Maria, CA that has recently changed hands. And also recently managed to attract both bad reviews and press around the issue.

The press handled their situation with equanimity but the reviewer, feeling scorned, did not.

Who knows the actual facts (like why didn’t the reviewer complain when it happened? and why did the ex-owner chime in at Yelp?) but we do know what they are saying. And its bound to have a negative impact.

First from The Sun Biz spotlight article on June 15th:

A similar review from what appeared to be the same person emerged on Facebook around the same time and was shared many times, Tina said.

The postings stem from an incident on May 28. Tina was working at the restaurant that night when two female customers came in and ordered frozen yogurt and boba tea. They both dined inside the restaurant for a little while before leaving. Later that night, Tina remembers getting a phone call from one of the customers complaining they found two pieces of thin metal inside the boba tea. The pictures posted to Yelp showed two bent pieces of metal—each about the size of a finger—that looked like they came from a wire brush.

This is impossible, Tina said, because a loud rattling noise coming from inside the blender would’ve been apparent. Also, Tina had made the tea herself.

The next evening, Tina said the woman who placed the call returned to the store with another woman, and a heated argument ensued. Tina said that while one woman was arguing, the other appeared to be recording with her smartphone.

Tina believes they were trying to bait her into doing something she didn’t want to do.

“She never gave us a chance to explain anything,” Tina said. “She wouldn’t let me or my husband explain.”

The police were called and things got smoothed out. But Tina claims the negative review impacted her business.

And this extracted from the review at Yelp:

The female employee welcomed me and recognized me from last night. I greeted her probably much more calmly and nicely than most people in this given situation would have. I told her I needed to speak to her about an issue with the drink I ordered last night. When I showed her the wires in the baggy and told her they came out of my boba tea, she blew up on me. She denied everything I was saying, called me a liar and attempted to take the baggy out of my hand to throw it away. She called out the male employee from the back and told him that I put the wires in my drink and that I was just looking to get them in trouble. They both began to yell at me in front of my young sister and they immediately called the police on me, which I was fine with. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong apart from just walking in there and expressing my concern over their negligence.

I reacted calmly in this situation and with respect for them and their business, whereas I believe most people would have reacted much worse than I. All I wanted was to express myself and my experience that I had with going into their shop for the first time last night, and maybe have them apologize to me for having gone through it; maybe even have them take responsibility for it. But I can understand why they’re wary and didnt apologize or take responsibility for it. To them, I could have manipulated the situation. But I know that the honest truth is from my side of this. I received metal wires in my boba tea that I purchased from this business. They could have damaged my teeth or gums had I chewed them, or if swallowed, could have caused internal bleeding for sure.

As you may (or may not know) I am writing a series about complaints at GetFiveStars. A topic I was hoping to write about was how to “resolve” the “unresolvable” complaint. Any and all good ideas on the topic will be liberally (that’s code for a link) credited.

Whether fact or fiction, this situation of the wire in the tea clearly falls into that area of unsolvable complaints. There was not an easy solution but what transpired, apparently triggered by the owner’s fear, seems to have been the worst of all possible outcomes.

If you were the owner, behind that counter and you were feeling the pain of this complaint, what would you have done to attempt to resolve this? How would you have tried to respond to this customer?

GetFiveStars SURVEY: What Happens When Things Go South? You Lose More Customers Than You Ever Know

You would hope that most customers would speak up and communicate the problems that they experienced. Unfortunately that’s not what happens. Most of them will just remain quiet, you never know of their problems or dissatisfaction and they stop doing business with you.

In my third post in the Complaint series (soon I will be getting complaints about the many posts….) I address the question of how many people in fact do complain when things go wrong and how many would if you asked…

This is the third post in the series. Previous posts included 5 Good Things About Customer Complaints and 8 Things That Really Cause Customers To Complain.

Video: What Parts of the Local Pack Will be Monetized?

Join Mary Bowling, Ed Reese and myself as we discuss: What Parts of the Local Pack Will be Monetized?

Screenshot 2016-06-10 16.05.16

I think that as a local SEO, one of the things you have to keep your eye on is how much is going paid and preparing yourself and your clients for the fact that Facebook and Google are going to be monetizing, and you have to figure out how to live with it and your client has to figure out how to live with it or play someplace else. I think that’s a growing reality.

GetFiveStars Post: 8 Things That Really Cause Consumers to Complain

As part of my ongoing series on the impact of complaints on a business I have published my second article in the series:
Survey: 8 Things That Really Cause Consumers to Complain .

Handling customer complaints is one of those areas where most local businesses drop the ball. Yet its an area that has disastrous downsides and such an incredible upside for the business when handled properly.

But first we need to understand the things that are likely to trigger complaints. Join the discussion at GetFivesStars on  understanding the question:

When dealing with a local merchant, what will cause you to complain?

Complaints Here, There and Everywhere – A Series About Complaints at

I have just published my first of a number of articles (I am at 4 and counting) dealing with the question of customer complaints:  5 Good Things About Customer Complaints. These articles will cover ideas, processes and research to help you understand the whys and wherefores of complaints and how their successful resolution can really benefit a business.

Thank you for your help and guidance.

Before I started working in Local SEO and Local Marketing,  I grew up in and ultimately helped run a local family business. My father never made it to one of my Little League Games. As a single parent that was working 60 hours a week that is not a big surprise.

When I ran the company I still spent 55 hours a week engaged in the business although I did manage to make it to my children’s sporting events but only by the grace of having my face glued to my cell phone email.

I came away from that experience with a deep and abiding respect for the people that create and run their own local business that is often built on blood, sweat and more than a few tears. But also a realization that many basic business practices were not in place or out of reach to the typical business.

My approach to Local Search was always to put myself in the shoes of these business and try to understand what they were feeling. And that is now even more true with GetFiveStars. We have created a tool that can help every local business be better.

Since helping create GetFiveStars 3 years ago I started to shift my focus from  the initial parts of the customer journey via search to the many parts of their journey that begins with the sale.

I firmly believe that it is an area that local businesses can dramatically improve and that will show huge returns going forward. It’s an area where I can provide incredible value to businesses and actually make their very hard lives easier. This is even more true as local search results becomes less and less visible due to the many changes in search.

As the success of GetFiveStars continues I will be devoting more writing time to questions of improving a customers post sale experience and engaging them for retention and marketing.

Join me at GetFiveStars for the series.

Google Local Image Photos – Let’s Link Anywhere but Your Site

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 8.59.24 AM
Google invites image spam and pisses off business owners once again.

Google, while ostensibly giving business owners control over which images show, has always usurped that role and done so without any guidelines or clear communication. Now though it has become possible for a third party with good web design to leverage a listing’s photos display for their gain (i.e. spam).

And while businesses are clearly upset about this Google seems to condone it.  When I asked Google I was told that the imagery complies with their guidelines. While it may comply it strikes me as a dumb and arrogant policy. (In case you were wondering my opinion).

Google looks far and wide for images to associate with local businesses; they ask the owner, incent top contributors, encourage users to post and scrape photos from sites where they can clearly identify the business with which it is associated.

This last method of scraping the web for location images has been around for a while but seems to have been recently been updated and in the current incarnation they have become a new favorite vector for stealing traffic, highlighting porn and generating weird results like linking to competitors. And they are but one click away from the main search result.

This links directly to the booking page for this hotel at
This links directly to the booking page for this hotel at

Unlike images that are uploaded by the business or the community, images that Google scrapes link back to the originating site. Weirdly they not only link back but they also allow for some amount of additional messaging and subtle calls to action to encourage users to click through. Google notes in their Guideline :

Advertising and Attribution

Small, discreet copyright notices (such as a business name or logo) are allowed. Email addresses and phone numbers cannot be included in your images. Acceptable attribution must be limited to the bottom 10% of photos and the bottom 36º (bottom 20%) of photo spheres.

Hotels across the US have been impacted by this as OTA aggregator has done a “great” job of getting their photos picked up, shown and linked to their site, often as profile photos, for many, many hotels. It is totally bizarre to me that a searcher could or should be diverted from the business photo to a site that only looks to extract money by virtue of having their images scraped.

Why should a 3rd party get a link when the actual business doesn’t?

Why should a third party be allowed to not just brand the images but create a subtle call to action?

Why should these images ever be used as the profile image when there are perfectly adequate business uploaded images?

Why would Google dis-incentivize a business from uploading images directly?

Why would Google highlight non-paying OTA sites to the disadvantage of both the local listing business AND their advertisers who pay for the privelege?

What should a hotel (or any business for that matter) do?

Firstly regularly check your photos to be sure that they have not been hijacked (gag me with a spoon… as if you need one more Google maintenance job).

Secondly I would add my logo to the lower right of all of my photos. You might not be able to add your logo as a profile photo but you can apparently add it to each photo. (let the fun begin!)

And finally you might want to rethink your photo strategy on your own website to see if you can get Google to scrape your photos rather than those of a site that is clearly not in your interests. At least you would be controlling the images, the links and the logo that appear on the images.

Doing so would likely entail being sure that each image is clearly marked up on your site ( provides a model) so as to make the location clear on a page that has strong NAP signals. If successful I would cut back on directly uploaded images in the Google My Business Dashboard.

Hey you might even consider doing so against your competitors.