Driving Transactions
Sunday, April 21, 2024

TOPIC: How do you respond to negative online reviews/feedback? Do you reach out to the customer, either privately or by directly commenting on their review? Do you have a staff member dedicated to handling that task? Do you seek out a second chance? What do you do when you can prove that their complaints are unfounded?

Randy Allen I did some research on how to handle online reviews before developing our approach and strategy for dealing with negative comments. The most surprising thing I learned was that a small number of negative reviews online can actually help your business. Online consumers have become wary of fake positive reviews; when you have a few complaints, they tend to have more trust in the overall tone of your positive reviews.

A cornerstone of our approach is to always be professional, polite, and factual in our replies. Listen to and acknowledge what the customer is saying and feeling. Stay away from responding emotionally, and don’t take it personally, even if the complaint is wrong or trying to rip off the company. We ask for the opportunity to research the circumstances (e.g., speaking with the chauffeur or reservation agent). We always reply to all reviews that we are aware of as quickly as possible—the faster the response the better. If the complaint is legitimate, we take responsibility, apologize, and attempt to negotiate a fair course of action to appease the customer. That could include a refund, complimentary future trip, or something in response to the circumstances.

Randy Allen, Co-Owner/VP of Sales and Marketing
James Limousine Service in Richmond, Va.

Alex Darbahani It’s almost guaranteed that at some point a customer will write a negative review about your service. Responding online in an appropriate way can help minimize damage to future clients, and possibly even convince the reviewer to give your business another chance.

We have a dedicated person who oversees all comments and reviews and reaches out to reviewers privately. I recommend doing this anytime you get an online comment. If it is positive, say thanks. If it is negative, say thanks—and then ask how you can be better next time or solve their issue.

You would be amazed at how people may change their tune with just a little humble peacemaking. We usually offer them discounts on their next trip or one hour free on any hourly trips.

Alex Darbahani, Founder & CEO
KLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services in Los Angeles, Calif.

Katy Golden Responding to negative online feedback is an important task that all transportation companies must do. In fact, it’s so important that it becomes a constant, daily task of monitoring the various sites for those negative comments. The worst thing you can do is allow a complaint—a highly visual complaint—to sit out there without an apology or explanation because you didn’t even know it existed.

Our social media director is responsible for both monitoring and responding to complaints that occur, which I am happy to say are very few and far between. The best practices are to be professional, conciliatory, and non-confrontational. Always ask that they call and discuss the situation, as you don’t want to have a back-and-forth online that may reflect poorly on your company.

Online complaints are not the only avenue by which clients can offer a compliant or serious suggestion for improvement. In fact, we created a survey through our livery package to provide our clients with an opportunity to reach out to us as our services are being provided. The survey is texted to the client five minutes into the reservation. We find that this gives us accurate, in-the-moment information about how we are doing.

While an overwhelmingly high percentage of our feedback is positive (99.24 percent), we do receive negative feedback occasionally, and that’s when I reach out to the concerned client within a day of receiving their feedback. They are emailed to inform them that we received their complaint and that it has been passed on to management. If their complaint is found to be accurate, we apologize and correct the issue, whether that means comping the ride, re-training the chauffeur, or making a note in the client’s profile to only provide them with a specific type of vehicle, for example. We have found that this fast turnaround with correcting mistakes has given us an opportunity to thank our clients for their help in making our company better. Our response to these comments turns a negative situation into a positive one, and enables our company to grow and improve.

It is always a sticky situation when we find that a complaint is unfounded. We record all phone calls, which, on an almost daily basis, saves us from blame when dealing with car type, date, and pickup time questions. Remember, it is always a good habit to show grace when you are able to prove a client’s complaint is unfounded; it is not a time to say “gotcha.”

My advice is to always be professional and to check your ego at the door when dealing with complaints!

Katy Golden, Marketing Coordinator
Premier Transportation Services in Dallas, Texas

Therese Howe As marketing manager, I’m responsible for our online reputation management, but several of our executive team members with a strong social media presence also respond to online reviews, particularly on Facebook. Even as we undertake an internal review to investigate the situation, we immediately post a public response that acknowledges the complaint and indicates that we will be contacting the client to try to find a satisfactory resolution.

We also reach out to the reviewer privately when possible; in most cases, we are able to turn a negative review into a positive experience. As Director of Business Relations Barry Gross says, “The job is not done until the client has some level of satisfaction.” If the client is satisfied, we ask them to consider amending their review. Sometimes, however, a negative review stands. We believe that providing a prompt and honest public response lets the general public know that we strive not only to meet but also exceed our clients’ expectations.

Therese Howe, Marketing Manager
Reston Limousine in Sterling, Va.

Kyara Kahakauwila A key tenet of success when dealing with a complaint of any kind is how quickly you respond, and with an online complaint, even more so. A direct response from a business owner or an empowered employee should be made in the public forum, attached to the original complaint. Every business will have unhappy clients, but other potential customers will want to see how a complaint is dealt with. Sometimes the best promotion is to show you are “human” and that you care. There are some more sensitive complaints that will also require a response in private. Use your best judgment.

If possible, offer something to “make it right”; be creative and sincere in your apology and offering. In a situation where the complaint is unfounded or false, present the facts in a straightforward format and avoid an emotional response. Ask a colleague to proof your response before you post; remember, online is forever. Give an appropriate offering even if you feel that one is not owed; they have a perception that something was not right, so you should attempt to change their perspective. Think of a complaint as an opportunity to highlight your business and turn a negative into a positive.

Kyara Kahakauwila, Vice President of Operations
L.A. Limousines & Transportation Services in Victoria, British Columbia

Don Mahnke With negative reviews, we respond as quickly and honestly as possible. We will reach out to the customer personally and will also comment on the review, and try to offer an explanation if there is a valid service issue. We have a staff member who handles our online reviews, and fortunately we rarely lose a customer over one bad review. When a complaint is without merit or inaccurate, we will explain to the client personally that their issue is unfounded and provide a reason why. Then we will also post the response to the online review.

Don Mahnke, President
ABC Chauffeured Limousines in San Mateo, Calif.

Anuj Patel The most important thing to keep in mind is not to waste time, even if the review shows up on a weekend. Get to the bottom of it immediately internally, and respond right away! The first thing you must do is place a phone call to the negative reviewer. If they do not pick up, immediately write a follow-up email. I do not like to respond directly to the negative review online to avoid going back and forth on a negative customer service issue in a public forum. The overall goal here is to properly communicate the internal information with their experience. Sometimes, all they require is a call back to discuss. Our fault or not, they are always happy to hear from us, and that customer will almost always become a repeat client. Sometimes, no matter who’s at fault, they will remain very angry, ask for a refund, and many times, will never even respond to you. Your job is to carry out your company’s customer service protocol. If you do not have a negative review protocol, there is no better time to start one!

Anuj Patel, Director of Business Affairs
Windy City Limousines in Chicago, Ill.

Paul Thompson Online reviews should be a dialogue. It’s our chance to join the conversation, whereas in the past, these client conversations were happening in circles we didn’t have exposure to. I’m thankful for the opportunity to join the conversation, and I respond both online and directly. It’s important for current and future clients to see that your customer service continues, even after the trip has ended. I also trust today’s consumer to be wary of flaming reviews that are inconsistent with the overall review theme. In fact, clients trust a client more when there are a few bad reviews to offset all the good reviews, which is a reasonable conclusion to draw. As a smaller operator, I like to manage this conversation myself, and I loop my staff in as needed. My goal is to always seek out continued business, with any reasonable client, and I’ve had great success with that. Most people just want to be heard.

Paul Thompson, CEO
Accent Chauffeured Transportation in Santa Fe, N.M.

Jonathan Wilner For us, negative online feedback isn’t frequent at all. Generally, we catch this long before it gets out of hand. When we see something online, we try to respond on the site and address it directly with the client by telephone and by email to see how we could have made the experience a more pleasant one. Although we understand that we make every effort to provide the highest quality service on every level, sometimes something doesn’t go exactly as planned.

We investigate on a case-by-case scenario and always put ourselves in the client’s shoes so that we have a higher understanding of the issue. Hopefully they will give us the opportunity to make it right.

From time to time, we get a call from a client who claims that their trip was ordered at a later time and refuses to pay for waiting time. When we get that call, we very politely apologize and tell them that we will listen to the recordings and get back to them. If we find that the recording reveals that they made the error, we call them back and explain that we listened to the recording and found that they did, in fact, order for that time and we will share the recording if they like. They usually just say “OK” and drop the issue.

We work with all of our clients and understand that mistakes happen and things get forgotten, so we take this into consideration when and if we will bill the clients for a trip.

Jonathan Wilner, President
A. Harrington Limousine Service in Edison, N.J.

Scott Woodruff We have a person on our team who handles any sort of complaint or possible complaint. We train our chauffeurs and team to notify management if there was an issue or if something may have not gone exactly as planned—even if everyone was happy in the long run. We see this as an opportunity to reach the client again. If we did something wrong, usually an apology is all the client actually wants. It shows we care about the business they give us. I have heard when you take an opportunity like this and show sympathy to the client and compassion, it actually makes the client 10 times more loyal to your company in the future.

The key is to get the information from your team, and then call the client before they call you. The main thing is to listen to the client; that is really what they want.

Do not ignore issues. Unfortunately, this is something a lot of companies do. Figure out the problem, listen, work together for a solution, learn from it, and move on to make your company better.

Scott Woodruff, President & CEO
Majestic Limo & Coach in Des Moines, Iowa

We’ve loved hearing your answers to our benchmarking questions since debuting this interactive section—but we always welcome suggestions for future topics, too!

Have you wondered how others in the industry have tackled a concern you’re currently facing, handled a delicate issue, implemented a certain policy, or do you simply want to propose a topic for our consideration?

Send an email to rob@chauffeurdriven.com and you just might see your query answered in a future issue. We look forward to your input!