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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 Oyster.com 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 (oyster.com 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.
Yesterday (first reported on Twitter by Craig Harkins, an SEO manager at InterContinental Hotels Group) Google switched virtually every hotel profile photo in their Hotel Local Pack results from an exterior to an interior shot.
While Google ostensibly offers businesses the ability to set this profile photo for their own business, that appearance of “freedom” to a large extent is a sham. Business wishes be damned, Google is going to make the choice that optimizes their monetization of local.
A businesses’ photo that Google shows as their profile photos has always been a business’s most important photo, creating that critical first impression to the searcher. There is no photo seen in more places on Google, in more apps, more screens and on more devices than that photo… from Google Maps to Plus and most importantly search. And a business probably has no image of them seen more widely than this one anywhere.
Google has always offered up the ability to add your own photos and with the Google MyBusiness upgrade in early 2015 appeared to allow business to choose the profile photo. From the Google post at the time: Starting today, you can tell us which image you’d like to appear when customers search for your business on Google. Their recent API upgrade also touted this as a new feature.
The reality has always been quite different. The image Google showed was actually determined by their algo and by their preference. If your choice was consistent with that preference your choice might have been left to stand. But if you were so presumptuous as to choose an image that was contrary to their preferences say a logo, odds were Google would change the image.
Thus choosing an image that best represented your business was a crap shoot and as a business owner you would never know exactly what would show.
When I inquired about this practice of ignoring business preferences a few years ago I was told that the images were selected to improve the Map experience. IE an exterior photo that would help a person know what they were looking for when traveling was preferable to an image like a logo that offered no real world benefit. That at least was an understandable if arrogant decision.
I know I have said this before but this change, clearly for commercial reasons, should put everyone on notice that their listing at Google is for Google’s well being and any benefits that you may accrue are rented not owned. And unlike a normal business relationship you never know when the lease will expire.
The only option open to the Hotel owner and any business for that matter is to make every photo at Google count and don’t count on that carefully chosen profile photo showing. And pray.
One area of Local Search where Google has been active with regular improvements has been the Google My Business API. Google seems to have committed to a regular schedule of regular updates and along that line V 3.0 was introduced today.
There are two main features that have been released in this update:
Ability to read and respond to reviews
Ability to add Rich Attributes to a listing
Review management is a solid move and gives businesses that have access to services like Moz Local, Yext or their own API, the ability to respond to reviews directly from within their own local dashboard. It will put Google reviews at front of mind for their larger partners and it will also create some pressure for Facebook and Yelp to do the same.
Attributes are new sets of structured information that will be able to be added to a listing. The specifics will vary by both category and country and as of now we do not have a list of what they will be. This feature is coming to the API first and will ultimately be rolled back into both the list and card views of the GMB. If and how these attributes will show in search is unclear.
In the examples I saw restaurants were able to indicate whether they accepted reservations, served liquor, had outdoor seating etc. In the Gas Station example the listing could include things like whether they had a card wash, free air, diesel and ethanol free gasoline.
For those of you that haven’t been in local for a coon’s age, Google once upon a time allowed businesses to add custom attributes to every location. They were poorly implemented with the user having to define both the attribute and the content so they were frequently meaningless and of course they were spammed heavily before their demise.
I assume that these attributes will be like the structured attributes that are currently associated with Hotels like Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Air-conditioned, Laundry Service and Business center, etc. I presume but have not yet confirmed that Hotels will now be able to have some measure of control over the attributes that have been displaying via the API if not the GMB. When and how these will actually show up in search results is TBD.
There are a number of minor features as well that come with V3 of the API that adds some of the features that have been in the bulk dashboard for a while:
Ability to set Preferred Photo
Ability to Transfer Location to another account
Support for Search filters so that you can retrieve listings that have duplicates, are suspended or have updates.
Support for Locations states like verified or not
There are some critical pieces that are still missing from the API that would make the API even more valuable. Two that come to me top of mind:
Local Insights (and while you are at it, fix them so they are useful)
Ability to easily verify a listing via the API from a whitelisted dashboard (I am not sure if we will ever see that but here’s hoping).
Google’s GMB API has been a shining light in their local development since its introduction early last fall. Encouragingly Google has made steady progress introducing V2 in mid December and V3 today. It is a steady drumbeat of quasi quarterly development that is refreshing after years of push me pull me.