Saturday, September 23, 2023

You asked for it and we listened. In this column, we ask operators of all sizes and from all walks of the industry a question about their business and report their answers so you can assess how your own company compares to your peers. If you would like to participate, please email Rob Smentek at rob@chauffeurdriven.com for next issue’s question.

TOPIC: With online reviews being so important, how do you handle the unsatisfactory ones? Can you give an example of a disgruntled customer that you turned into a happy customer?

Benchmark and Best Practices My business process is not based off “online influencers” and their opinions as much as real-time personal experiences. When customers ask about our company’s online reviews, I really have no clue what they are. Instead, we harvest all our proponents into video testimonials, which we can then send directly to potential clients because we feel that pitch really holds the most weight in any sale we want to close.

A few years ago, we were spammed and defamed in our Google reviews by a hostile fringe group after one of our employees posted their opinion about a controversial topic on their personal Facebook. Because some who viewed the post disagreed, they attacked the employee and, by association, our company. In a matter of hours, we had more than 250 fake defamatory reviews smearing our business. Our cyber security/IT contractor was able to remove all the fake reviews (except one), and then block and ban the usernames, but it cost us more than $15,000 to do so. Lesson learned: I cannot, and will not, weigh my business success from online reviews.
Michael Barreto, President
Metropolis Passenger Logistics in Essington, Pa.

Benchmark and Best Practices We have had our fair share of negative reviews over the years, and generally we reply in an apologetic yet confident manner. Usually, we make service issues right before customers can even post negative reviews. On the flip side of this, some of our best customers are referrals from other good customers. The best review is a long-standing customer recommending a friend or colleague to us.
Nick Boccio, General Manager
Buffalo Limousine in Buffalo, N.Y.

Benchmark and Best Practices Negative reviews are never a good thing and how you handle them can make all the difference. I try to respond to every review that comes in, whether positive or negative. Since the negative reviews are so rare, I address each one very carefully by first contacting the passenger offline. I ask what made their experience unsatisfactory, if not already detailed in the review, and try to come up with a solution to either fix the mistake, if any, or to provide an explanation to why they may have had the experience they had, especially if it is nothing of our fault or the review was based off an opinion that was unfair.

In one instance, our affiliate's chauffeur did not show up for the trip, so the owner of the affiliate company took responsibility and personally got behind the wheel to do the pickup. The customer was already extremely upset at this point and posted a very negative review before the service even began. Once this review was posted, we took notice immediately and collaborated with the affiliate to find a way to make this customer's experience the best it could be. Fortunately, they were happy with our efforts and posted an updated positive review instead. That is not always the outcome, but we always strive to do our best in every situation.
Abdou Brahim, President & CEO
VA Executive Sedan & Limousine Service

Benchmark and Best Practices In marketing, word of mouth is unmatched and uncontrollable. The way we respond to clients is more important than their actual review when handling negative situations. Consumers are looking at the 1-star ratings and seeing not only what they said, but how you respond. Professionalism, honestly, and politeness are essential and will show your true colors in business. You can respond with facts, but it's really important not to blame or insult the customer who left the negative review.

A Facebook memory recently reminded me of a big blunder a few years ago where we essentially left a family without transportation for a wedding because we didn't provide the car-seat-compatible vehicle that they requested. We apologized profusely, obviously refunded their trip, and went as far to offer additional comped services for a future date. The client responded with "we didn't know people did business like this anymore, thank you for actually being concerned." A service failure or poor review is always a chance to earn a long-term customer—but it's all in the execution of how you handle it.
Erica Bugbee, Operations Manager
ExecuStar World Class Transportation in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Most of the time I have very happy and satisfied customers, but once in a while, I will find someone who is mad at a casino (if you know what I mean) and will turn out to be unhappy customer. When that happens, my office will reach out to them and ask them how we can do better next time. We then will give the customer a discount or flowers and champagne.
Ash Demissie, President & CEO
Winner Limousine in Las Vegas, Nev.

Benchmark and Best Practices Comments, rants, photos, and gossip on social media will be read and shared to a much wider audience. In fact, in a matter of minutes, a post can make you the most despised person on Facebook if it hits the wrong nerve. Failure to respond to a negative online review implies two things: You don’t care, and you’re guilty of the things written. We always take a moment to reply with our apologies and, if necessary, an explanation. We also always attempt to have further discussions in private (offline) and we have successfully asked people to remove or update their negative review once addressed. Never ignore bad reviews.
Harry Dhillon, President
Ecko Worldwide in San Jose, Calif.

Benchmark and Best Practices Answer all reviews—there are automations like Zapier that can be set up to reply with “thank you for taking the time to review us,” but change frequently so it does not seem like it is an automated reply.

Manually answering all reviews in a timely manner is integral, but all bad reviews must be investigated, replied to, and owned if a service failure was your fault. Depending on the circumstances, we do not automatically offer money back but instead offer discounted or complimentary future service to retain them as a client and demonstrate our typically impeccable service level. Did they miss their flight because your vehicle broke down? They may want to cancel the return pickup but you can offer a complimentary return trip. Was the AC not as cold as they would have liked? This might not be worthy of a refund, but a discount of a future service may be the offer that makes the client happy.

Turning an experience from a negative to a positive is something that comes with experience. As the owner, take responsibility for the review and answer appropriately and personally. Treat customers as you wish to be treated. Customers are not always right, but validating their complaints will go a long way toward a satisfactory resolution that will hopefully keep the client coming back.
Len Joseph, President
On The Town Limousines in Frederick, Md.

Benchmark and Best Practices The importance of online reviews should be addressed regardless of whether the reviews are positive or negative. Always respond to them in a kind and professional manner. To avoid negative reviews, the best action is to be proactive and reach out to the client after the trip on how satisfied they are with the services provided.
Stefan Kisiov, Managing Partner
K&G Coach Line in Park Ridge, Ill.

Benchmark and Best Practices One of our customers posted a negative review on Google regarding our billing and invoice practices. After publicly responding to the customer, we initiated a private conversation and thoroughly reviewed the invoice with them, line by line. We clarified our policy and explained where they could find all of the information which is explicitly stated several times during the booking process and can also be found in our FAQ page. Additionally, we provided evidence that this is a common practice within our industry. Through transparent communication, the customer understood our actions were ethical and aligned with our agreement and industry standards. As a result, they withdrew their public complaint and have become a long-term customer who regularly uses our services.
Shariff McMichael, President & CEO
Dav El/BostonCoach in Everett, Mass.

Benchmark and Best Practices Online reviews are incredibly important, and ignoring a poor review is detrimental to your online image. If you’ve made a mistake, own up to it, apologize, and note how you are going to resolve the issue. It’s also important to scan your online reviews for fake or false reviews. We recently found a competitor who left us a fake review, but we discovered it out right away and were able to deal with it because we are diligent in checking these reviews daily.
Nina Parson, Director of Sales & Marketing
Company Car & Limousine in Cleveland, Ohio

Benchmark and Best Practices Bad reviews are just as worthwhile as good ones. We’re not going to make 100 percent of the people happy 100 percent of the time, no matter how hard we try. If there’s a public negative review, I will respond publicly. As much as I’ve wanted to send a scathing response sometimes, it’s just not professional and I won’t do it. I’ll write the response, walk away, and if it sounds anything other than kind and respectful, I’ll re-write it before hitting send.

One of my “favorite” screwups happened a while back, and we didn’t learn about until four years later. We had sent a marketing email asking people to vote for us in one of the “People’s Best” contests with a link. Then, almost as an afterthought, I had my people add another link stating, “If you feel that we do NOT deserve this honor, please click here to send the owner of our company an email.”

I received one single email from a customer. She told us that the chauffeur was late, threw her luggage into the van, and drove like a jerk. I asked if I could call her, and she agreed. We had a wonderful conversation, and I was able to bring back a disgruntled client who uses us regularly now. What did I do? I apologized sincerely and with heart. I had already let that chauffeur go, as there was pattern, and I comped her next trip to the airport. I also told her that chauffeur was no longer with us. She told me that she appreciated that I cared enough to ask, call, apologize, and make it right. She felt heard and valued.

All legitimate feedback is valuable. You won’t know what to improve if you don’t hear a complaint now and then.
Tracy Salinger, President & CEO
Unique Limousine in Harrisburg, Pa.

Benchmark and Best Practices Through Addons, our system blocks any reviews of less than 3 stars. So far, we only had four of those reviews in the last 12 months, and all were related to overages due to going overtime. We then send the client an email with GPS proof. We have a 5.0-star rating with our Google business rating.

Leveraging negative reviews to improve your processes and responding with honesty and empathy toward the reviewer can generate customer loyalty, not only from the person who had a negative experience but from other potential clients who see how you reply.
Jess Sandhu, Director of Operations
A&A Limousine & Bus Service in Kenmore, Wash.

Benchmark and Best Practices Wait a minute, pause, reflect, gather your thoughts, but, most of all, let some of the anger you feel dissipate before responding to a negative review. Always respond, even if the review is preposterous, which is often likely.

Example: The only negative review we’ve had in 15 years was from following an incident where a chauffeur exchanged paint with a vehicle (parked too close to the intersection, according to police report). Unfortunately, it was neither the paying client nor the person whose car was involved that took it upon himself to smear my company online. I was furious—but, I waited until I had a cooler head to respond. With more calmness, I was able to articulate a response that had the goal of making negative poster look foolish and entitled when read by a potential client. It’s been a year and I have not had a single potential client inquire about that singular negative review.
Quentin Shackelford, Owner
AllClassLimo.com in Wichita, Kan.

Benchmark and Best Practices We only work B2B, and in my experience, negative online reviews are usually written by private consumers. If we have negative feedback, we respond to the customer via e-mail and solve the problem accordingly.
Ralph Van Delden, CEO & Co-owner
Van Delden Limousine in Amsterdam

Benchmark and Best Practices There are a few different types of negative reviews. First, there are those that are from competitors or former employees. Those are usually pretty easy to get removed because there is a conflict of interest. Then there are those that are made in error, whether they incorrectly chose the wrong rating and didn't leave any review at all or maybe they got the wrong company. If it is just a low rating with no review, it would be wise to follow up and ask about the rating. If it is for the wrong company or from a person you don't show as a client, reach out and say that you have no record of a client with that name but would like the person to reach out to you so you can resolve and correct the situation. The last kind of review is the true negative review. I find that it is best to respond to the person to ask them to call you so you can discuss how it can be made right. If you don't want to do that or they refuse to discuss it, state that you are very sorry their service was not the 5-star service you would have liked them to receive, address whatever concerns may have come up, and specify how you are going to use their negative review to right the wrongs and provide a better experience to clients moving forward.
Tim Wiegman Jr., President
Boulevard Limousine in Olathe, Kan.

We’ve loved hearing your answers to our benchmarking questions—but we always welcome suggestions for future topics, too!
Send an email to rob@chauffeurdriven.com you just might see your query answered in our next e-News.