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Don’t Let Bad Phone Service Hurt Your Online Reputation

Long before they pick up the phone to call, many of your prospective customers have already researched your business and formed an opinion. Ideally, they’re finding you through the best kind of advertising: word-of-mouth recommendations. In the past, that happened across the backyard fence, at the table, and by the office water cooler. But now, the conversation is most likely taking place online: what feels like a private discussion is actually quite public. And that’s why it’s critical that you don’t let bad phone service hurt your online reputation.

A customer’s bad experience on the phone with your business can explode into a larger customer service issue with a negative online review. (iStockphoto)

Because that kind of publicity can affect sales. A 2011 Harvard Business School study found that a one-star increase in a business’s rating on Yelp can increase sales by as much as 9%. Negative reviews may decrease sales. A 2011 Online Influence Trend Tracker survey found that 4-out-of-5 consumers changed their minds about a purchase after reading a negative online review. Bad online reputation reviews and social media chatter hurts any business, small local ones suffer the most. You could be losing customers without knowing who they are or why they chose a competitor.Online, Strangers Seem Like Friends

In 2011, Bright Media conducted a survey that studied how reviews of local businesses affected sales and reputation. The results should be a wake-up call to any small business owner who thinks he/she can ignore the Internet: 70% of respondents said they considered a company’s online reputation before choosing a local business. 67% said they have read online reviews previously. 49% are more likely to choose a local business that has good online reviews. 69% trust local reviews as much as recommendations from people they know personally.

That final number is fairly shocking, but it makes sense too. On social media sites, strangers feel like close friends who warn about the surly waiters at an upscale local restaurant or the horrible customer service at the local spa/dentist office/video store/dry cleaner. You get the idea.

But this “private” conversation is actually available to the world. Imagine having it appear in the top search engine results for your company!

Good Customer Service = Good Online Reviews

Businesses can avoid that by focusing on what really matters to customers: good products and great service says On Hold Company’s CEO, Bryant Wilson.”I’ve seen small business owners tearing their hair out over a bad review. But they should be focusing on the level of service that’s causing these reviews.”Many companies use social media as a customer service early warning system instead of being proactive and working to avoid situations that lead to problems that affect online reputations. Once a customer leaves your business, they’re likely to contact you by phone with any questions or problems. If they hang up angry or frustrated, they’re going to talk “or type” about it, warns Wilson:

“If I’m already unhappy, a bad phone call just adds fuel to the fire,” says Wilson. “If I’m already at my computer, Yelp is just a click away.”

We all know the frustration of opaque phone systems with long waits where you finally reach a surly customer “service” representative who has no idea how to help you and doesn’t seem to care. Unfortunately, it seems as though a negative Tweet or angry online review is the only way to get a company’s attention. Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo put it best: “The companies seem to notice something’s gone wrong only after you broadcast your complaint to the world.”

Don’t let it get to that point.

A Good Phone Experience Is Critical

Remember that a majority of your customers want to talk with a live person. Surprisingly, even the younger generation still prefers to contact companies by phone but they hate having their time wasted. This is one area where small business often stumble. With only a small staff to draw upon, a receptionist or even a temporary clerk may be answering customer service calls. Take the time to train them on basic phone skills like standard greetings and how to transfer calls without disconnecting the caller.

At some point, your customers will be placed on hold, so use that time effectively as well. A good on hold messaging system can help eliminate customer impatience and frustration by providing information about your products and offering tips to get more information such as directing callers to your Web site’s FAQ page or online chat system.

On Hold Company can help you deliver effective on hold information and marketing messages with relevant music. Combine that with excellent customer service and your customers will applaud your online reputation and be logging in to sing your praises instead of slamming your service.

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