The Negative Review Ransom
Your customers are your champion brand ambassadors. Word of mouth and great customer reviews are surefire path to low marketing burns for a fast growing startup.
In the hospitality industry customers reviews matter even more, especially for a startup like ours - CherishX, which is into experiences and celebrating the important events in a person's life.
If the shoes you ordered on Flipkart get delivered a couple of days late the chances that you’ll ignore the delay are high. But if we screw up anything when our customers are out to celebrate their anniversary or his/her partner’s birthday, they’ll remember us forever and for all the wrong reasons.
The past 1.5 years have taught us a lot of things about handling customers most of them learnt the hard way. In the process of understanding our customers, learning and growing we have let them down a couple of times. These screw-ups from our side have more often than not resulted in scathing comments and 1 star reviews. We appreciate the honest feedback and consider this a part of our learning curve. But an interesting trend we have recently started noticing is how the customers are now taking advantage of social media and the power to give reviews to strong-arm startups into taking decisions they’ll regret as a business.
Recently, one of our customers went for a candlelight dinner. Experience details, photos, inclusions and exclusions, costs etc. are clearly mentioned on our app and website. The experience went smoothly. After every experience we take a feedback from both our vendors and customers. The vendor said the customer had a great time and they went back happy. When I called the customer the opening sentence was “This is such a pathetic service”, I was taken aback, apologised and asked him to explain what had happened. The customer said, “flower petals were not enough, the food was tasteless, nothing was on time. Give me full refund or I’ll give you a 1 star on Facebook and even complain to the consumer court!”
Let’s pause here and try and trace where this is coming from.
Since investments in startups have increased to mind-boggling numbers over the last few years, some of the BIG and well funded startups have literally ‘bought’ customers - giving discounts from their own pockets, cashbacks after purchases and similar trade practices have led to the creation of a group of customers who now hold you hostage to the “bad reviews” situations and demand complete refunds or free stuff. I don’t hold these customers responsible as we are empowering them to take such actions, if this would have been the case with any of the BIG startups, the customer relations team might have already given him a complete refund / cashback.
What we must remember is that we are in the “Hospitality Business”, there are 2 aspects to it, The hospitality part dictates - ‘customer is King/Queen’. No matter how rude or absurd the customer is we need to remain amicable and give our best services. But the business aspect is also important as at the end of the day we all strive to become sustainable and profitable ventures.
We have come up a with a system over the past few months on how to respect both ‘hospitality’ and ‘business’ aspects while interacting with our customers. Whenever a customer raises an issue:
1. Ensure there is a system already setup to address the concern
3. If the customer is venting, keep your cool and let them explode. Sometimes all a customer wants to do is release his / her frustration
3. Ask the customer to give in writing exactly what has happened
4. Talk to all the different people involved (your team, vendor, customers etc). Get the whole picture and only then if it was your mistake apologise and make sure you make it right. But if it's just another ransom call behave amicably but do not bow down to the pressure of ‘ransom reviews’.
Rather than giving refunds in cases where customer had a bad experience because of us, we give them CherishX cash of equal or higher value to their original purchase. This cash can be applied to the same product/experience again or the customer can choose to book another experience with us. At least this way they’ll know what else we have to offer. Simply giving the money back doesn’t give us the chance to make amends and win back their hearts.
Also, a handwritten apology letter or a small souvenir can go a long way in improving the relations with the customer.