Why Two Stars is the Worst Rating

It's never fun to receive a one-star review.

No business leader likes to see an angry customer posting in public. That one-star review can harm your company's reputation and might discourage new customers. But the reviews you should be really concerned about are the two-stars.

In this short post, I'll attempt to explain why.

Customer giving two stars on a rating scale.

Let's start with something a bit counterintuitive: a few negative reviews can help your business

Research conducted in 2015 by PowerReviews and Northwestern University found that consumers are most likely to buy from a business with a 4.2-4.5 average star rating. That's because a business with a few negative reviews seems more authentic, and over 80 percent of customers specifically seek out negative reviews. 

(More: How to Respond to Negative Yelp Reviews)

So what's the difference between a one and a two-star review? Let's look at recent reviews from a popular restaurant in San Diego. As of this writing, it has 2,503 reviews and a four-star overall rating.

Restaurant with four-star Yelp rating.

Here's a one-star review of this restaurant from Travis M:

One-star Yelp rating.

People often write one-star reviews like this as a way to express anger at a service experience, rather than a true review of the business. When you break it down a bit, you'll notice a few things that detract from the review's credibility.

  • The customer didn't actually dine at the restaurant.

  • This is the only Yelp review written by this user.

  • The nearest Jack In The Box is over a mile away, and is not a comparable alternative.

The reviewer also wrote that getting seated immediately is rare, which indicates some repeat business. If this restaurant was legitimately a one-star experience, why would you keep coming back? Chances are, this customer was really upset about their experience and wanted to punish the business. 

Now let's look at a two-star review from Kat C written just four days earlier:

Two star restaurant review.

This review is much more credible than the previous review, for a few reasons:

  • Specific details are given, giving a sense the review is accurate.

  • Some positives are mentioned, such as the taste of the Kobe burger.

  • The reviewer has 91 Yelp reviews.

Unlike the one-star review, this one is a bit more measured. The gist is the service is very slow and the food is hit or miss. And the two-stars make the review feel like the customer was trying to be fair.

Side note: The damning part is the three-star review immediately before this one and the five-star review immediately after it both mention slow service. And despite a four-star average, when you filter for just recent reviews the restaurant's rating dips to about 3.8.

You don't have to take my word for it. Try reading one and two-star reviews of businesses in your area. See which ones tend to be more credible and let me know what you come up with.

Bonus Resource

You can learn more about serving customers via social media from my LinkedIn Learning training video. You’ll need a LinkedIn Learning or Lynda.com subscription to view the entire course, but you can get a free 30-day trial here.


The Most Important Review Site for Small Businesses

Love them or hate them, online review sites are an important part of small business.

Customers use sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and others to search for businesses like yours, read customer reviews, and even leave feedback. In fact, a 2018 study from BrightLocal found that 86 percent of US consumers use online reviews to help find local businesses.

The challenge is there are so many review sites that it's hard to know where to start. And you have a small business to run, which means you don't have a lot of time to mess around.

Fortunately, I've done the research and found which one site customers rely on the most. Here are the results along with how you can easily take advantage of these insights.

Website with customer ratings.

The Most Popular Review Site

I surveyed 1,004 adults in the United States in January 2019 to ask which online review site they rely upon the most. Google is by far the most popular.

Graphic showing the most popular online review sites. Google has 60% of the market.

There are two caveats to be aware of.

The first caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be overinflated. I used Google Surveys to do this study. It gives you a fairly random demographic sample, but in this case it also increases the likelihood that respondents would prefer Google, since they found my survey on Google. That's a huge grain of sand to keep in mind as you look at the data.

Just to check the results, I conducted an informal survey within my own network. And guess what? Google was still tops, followed by Yelp and then Facebook.

The second caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be underinflated. Think about how you naturally search for a business. I recently went to a used furniture store to look for a new table for The Overlook. When I got there, the store was unexpectedly closed so I needed to find somewhere else to go.

Instinctively, I opened the web browser on my smartphone and Googled "used furniture store." Google instantly gave me a list of stores near my location along with their ratings.

According to HubSpot, Google owns 70 percent of search engine traffic. That number jumps to 85 percent for searches on mobile devices. In other words, Google is how customers search for reviews when they don’t realize they’re searching for reviews. 

What Can You Do About It?

The first thing you should do is claim your free business listing on all the major platforms your customers use to look for you. While Google is the most popular, the other sites get their fair share of traffic, too. Womply has published some helpful guides.

Make sure you respond to every review a customer leaves you. Keep in mind your response isn’t just to the reviewer; it’s a signal to other potential customers that you care about service. BrightLocal's data reveals that 89 percent of customers read business's responses to reviews. 

Now here's where focusing on Google can pay off. Remember how I quickly found a highly-rated used furniture store by searching on my smartphone? 

Google uses reviews to help prioritize which businesses it shows when potential customers search for businesses like yours. So you can improve your search rankings without hiring an internet wizard. All you have to do is work on getting a lot of good reviews for your business. And here's the kicker—unlike Yelp, Google is perfectly okay with you encouraging customers to write reviews!

The company even provides this helpful guide.

More Resources

Here are a few additional resources to help you drive more customers to your business with online reviews.

You may also benefit from my LinkedIn Learning course, Serving Customers Using Social Media.


Things We Could Use More of in 2019

The original title of this post was, "Things I Can Do Without in 2019." 

It was intended to be a mini-revolt against all the customer service predictions we're inevitably seeing right now. Number one on my list was going to be "predictions." 

The list immediately struck a negative, "get off my lawn!" tone. Number three on my list of things I don't want was "negativity," and I quickly realized the irony. So I scrapped the list in favor of something more positive.

It's easy to point out what I don't want, don't like, and generally could do without. 

What about what I want? Surely, there are some things in the world of customer service that we could use more of. Here are three things that come to mind.

Notepad with “New Year, fresh start!” written on it.

Humanity

A lot of people worry about the customer service apocalypse, where we're all replaced by robots and AI. Automation has its place, but human-powered service is still vitally important.

My local bank branch just remodeled its lobby to add in more ATM machines and reduce the number of tellers. A friendly ambassador now greets you as you walk in and encourages you to try the machine. 

Yet when I experienced a problem with the ATM machine immediately outside the bank, the ambassador was unable to assist me. She insisted I had to call customer service (isn't that who she was?) because the branch didn't service the ATM outside, only the ones in the lobby.

In a world of automation, there will always be a role for humans who add human value to the service experience.

That's why I like going to my local True Value hardware store over the big box retailer down the street. The store is overstaffed by conventional retail standards where you usually have to wander the aisles looking for help. At True Value, there's always someone there to quickly help me find the right items for my project. The associate will walk me all over the store until I find everything I need, and give me helpful advice if I have any questions.

What can you do to add humanity to your service in 2019?

Curiosity

For years, I relied on an oft-quoted stat:

  • 55 percent of communication comes from body language

  • 38 percent of communication comes from tone

  • 7 percent of communication comes from words

A mentor shared it with me so I believed it was true. I shared this statistic in my training classes and even came up with exercises to demonstrate the importance of using the right body language and tone.

One day, while doing research for a book, I decided to investigate the source of this data. It turns out this claim was completely untrue! To borrow from the late Paul Harvey, the rest of the story was even more interesting.

Let's infuse our day with a bit more curiosity. What we might learn about service could be amazing!

Commitment

I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "We're going to work on our service culture this year."

The executives making this statement may have the best intentions, but adding "this year" to the end already signals the temporary nature of the initiative. Service culture, should not be a flavor-of-the-month exercise.

Inevitably, the initial enthusiasm of these initiatives devolves into a check-the-box program where someone hangs up a banner, holds a meeting, declares victory, and then moves on without anything really changing. Without commitment, enthusiasm is worthless.

There's a chance you've set some pretty big customer service goals for 2019. 

One way to keep your commitment is to make those goals a part of doing business rather than a separate project. For example, if you have a customer satisfaction goal, can you identify how that goal will impact other business drivers such as revenue, cost reduction, and customer retention?

I set a goal to publish a revised second edition of my first book by April 2. 

Publishing that book is not the finish line. I make a living writing and speaking about customer service. So I've set a revenue target for the book. And I'm already using the book to land more speaking engagements. This pushes the book beyond a fun side project and makes it an essential part of my success.

How can you turn your enthusiasm for the new year into a true commitment?

Take Action

I try to do something with everything I read. I hope you do as well. Here are a few ideas:

  • Find a way to demonstrate unexpected human kindness today.

  • Use curiosity to guide you to learn something new and useful.

  • Take one step towards your goals.

Incidentally, my book is called Getting Service Right. It explores hidden and counterintuitive obstacles to outstanding customer service. You can download a free chapter from the book's website.


The Surprising Reasons Why Video is Better Than Hiring a Trainer

I typically have a lot of conversations with customer service leaders this time of year who want to hire me to conduct training for their team. I almost always try to talk them out of it.

Yes, I realize I'm talking myself out of paying clients. But my goal in these conversations is to be helpful. The surprising truth is video is usually much more effective than hiring an external consultant for frontline customer service training. 

This blog posts lays out the reasons why video can be better.

Why should you believe me?

  • I've spent more than 25 years as a customer service trainer.

  • I'm a Certified Professional in Learning & Performance (CPLP).

  • I'm a past president of the Association for Talent Development’s San Diego chapter.

Two important caveats here:

One: In the interest of full disclosure, I have 18 training videos in the LinkedIn Learning library. I started working with LinkedIn Learning in 2013 when I realized the power of video.

Two: The focus here is on customer service training. I'm in no way suggesting that video is the best way to learn any skill.

Person watching a training video on a smartphone.

Video Costs Less

Let's start with the easy one. Using training videos can run as little as 10 percent of the total cost of hiring an external trainer.

Keep in mind the trainer's fee is just one of the expenses you'll pay:

  • Trainer's fee

  • Licensing and printing fees for materials

  • Labor cost of employees attending training

  • Labor cost of employees who provide coverage during training

  • Facilities cost

  • Catering cost

Here's a simplified cost comparison I worked up for this blog post.

Cost comparison of live training vs video.

Notice employees are spending far less time in training with the video example. My training videos typically take 50-75 percent less time to complete than a live class.

This is a key part of the cost/benefit equation, and it also leads us to the second area where video is superior.

Video is More Flexible

Hiring an external trainer can be a logistical challenge.

First, there's getting a date on the calendar. My next available date is three months from now. Internally, you likely have busy and slow periods to contend with along with employee vacations and other initiatives competing for time.

The day of training is also complicated. Most businesses don't have the luxury of shutting down their operation to send everyone to training. A typical solution is to divide the team into two or more classes, and then run extra shifts and even overtime to maintain coverage while some people attend the workshop.

But your troubles don't end there. What do you do if someone calls in sick that day? Or what happens when you hire two new employees next month? Those people missed the class entirely.

My training videos are on demand, which means each individual can watch them when convenient. You could assign a few videos to everyone on the team, give them a week to watch them, and have each person watch just a few minutes at a time.

This minimizes the disruption to your operation. And it allows new hires to attend the same training as the rest of the team. Watching the video on demand also has an incredibly important learning benefit. which we’ll get to next.

Video is More Effective

By now, most leaders tell me, "Ok, I understand that video costs less and is more convenient, but I'm willing to spend the money to get the best results."

The surprising response to that is video is still the way to go! Here's a simple exercise to help you understand the problem with a full or half-day live training class.

  1. Think about the last customer service seminar or conference you attended.

  2. Try to recall about how much material was covered during that time. 

  3. Now identify how much material you actually implemented. 

The answer for most people is depressingly low. 

That's because we're typically bombarded with too much information during a live workshop. We learn best when we receive new information in small chunks and have a chance to implement that information repeatedly over time.

This is where video really shines!

All of my video courses are split into short segments that are 3-5 minutes long. The intent is to watch just one or two segments, identify the specific skills they cover, and then go back to work and implement those skills.

For example, in this training plan for learning to serve upset customers, participants start by watching just two videos that total less than 10 minutes. The videos focus on understanding why customers get upset, and how a customer's anger can influence our instinctive fight or flight response.

Participants are then asked to go back to work and spend time implementing what they learned from these short videos. After a few days of practice, people will greatly improve their skills, and they can go back and watch the next video.

This leads to another benefit. Video gives you an opportunity to review content as needed. So if you had a particularly challenging customer, but can't remember that de-escalation technique you learned a few months ago, you can go back and re-watch the video to refresh your skills.

Conclusion

You don't have to believe me. I encourage you to run your own experiment and see how video can improve customer service training. 

Here are some resources that will allow you to try this at little to no cost:

First, you'll need access to either LinkedIn Learning or Lynda.com. You can get a free 30-day trial account if you don't already have a subscription. 

Next, pick a topic from the enormous library. I've already laid out a training plan for using the Working with Upset Customers course, but there are many courses to choose from.

Finally, send your team through the training and see what type of results you get. You can use this primer to learn how to use the videos effectively. 

As always, you can contact me for assistance. I’m happy to have a conversation and walk you through it.


Lessons From The Overlook: Customer Service vs Customer Experience

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

We recently had some upset guests at The Overlook. This story helps differentiate between customer service and customer experience, and highlights why you need to understand both.

Our guests had originally booked a different cabin with our property management company. That cabin suddenly became unavailable, so our property manager re-accommodated the guests with us.

They were clearly unhappy with the move. When people get upset, research shows they can become more judgmental and less open to ideas. In this case, the guests sent our property manager a slew of nit-picky complaints about The Overlook: there wasn't enough counter space in the bathrooms, there's only one television, etc. 

One complaint really caught our attention. The guests claimed our cabin had just three bedrooms, not four.

We disagree with their count, but serving customers is a perception game. Here's how customer service and customer experience both played a role in this situation.

The “controversial” fourth bedroom. Photo credit:  Idyllwild Vacation Cabins

The “controversial” fourth bedroom. Photo credit: Idyllwild Vacation Cabins

Definitions

Let's start with defining the terms customer service and customer experience. 

The two get mixed up a lot. There's a trend where customer service teams are renaming themselves the Customer Experience Team, but they're doing the same thing they were before. But customer experience is really much broader.

So what's the difference? Here's a simple, concise definition of customer service from the Oxford English Dictionary:

The assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.

Customer experience is much broader. Here's a definition I really like from Annette Franz:

The sum of all the interactions that a customer has with an organization over the life of the “relationship” with that company… and, especially, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions the customer has about those interactions.

Graphic depicting customer service as a subset of customer experience.

Customer experience encompasses customer service. It also includes product design, product quality, advertising, and many other factors not traditionally considered to be part of customer service.


Service or Experience?

Our guests' complaint about the cabin really having just three bedrooms helps differentiate between customer service and customer experience.

Advertising is part of the customer experience, since it helps set expectations for what a customer will get from your product or service. The Overlook is advertised as a four bedroom cabin:

  • There are two bedrooms with queen beds on the main floor.

  • There's an en suite master bedroom with a king bed downstairs.

  • The fourth bedroom is upstairs from the main floor.

The fourth bedroom has a king-sized bed, a closet, two windows, and its own bathroom. Our guests complained that it wasn't really a bedroom because it doesn't have a door. 

The customer service aspect was our property manager listening to the complaint with an empathetic ear and trying to rectify the situation in some way. Adding a door wasn't a feasible solution during the guests' stay, so they were ultimately offered a discount as compensation for their numerous complaints.

Now let's look at the customer experience aspects that go beyond customer service.

  • The bedroom's lack of a door

  • The bedroom’s lack of a television

  • The way the guests used the bedroom

Our guests' party included young children, and their perception was the kids sleeping in the upstairs room were too loud for the adults because the room didn't have a door. They also complained that the bedroom lacked a television, so what our guests were really looking for was a place for the kids to entertain themselves while not disturbing the rest of the house.

Improving the Guest Experience

It's easy to write-off these complaints. The same guests complained the cabin was dirty because the kids’ white socks had dirt on them after the kids were running around outside in their socks.

Yet there's often a kernel of truth in nearly every complaint.

Their biggest issue was they weren't staying in the cabin they originally wanted. The Overlook was clearly not a great fit for these guests who probably would have been happier in a cabin with a separate TV room where they could stash the kids. Our property manager might steer a similar family to a different cabin the next time guests need to be re-accommodated.

The upstairs bedroom is private and you can't see into it from the main floor, but some guests might still expect anything labeled a bedroom to have a door. So we've updated our advertising to explain that one of the bedrooms is a loft with its own bathroom.

There's a word of caution here, too. 

You could spend a lot of money if you tried to give every guest exactly what they wanted. For example, we could put televisions in every room and add a door to the upstairs bedroom based on the feedback from just one unhappy group of guests. But that would be costly and it wouldn't dramatically improve the experience for our ideal guests who are coming up to the mountains to enjoy the outdoors and the peaceful serenity.

We look at feedback in the context of our customer service vision: Welcome to your mountain retreat. So when some guests shared that they wished there were extra towels since they went hiking during the day and then used the hot tub at night, we saw this as an opportunity to enhance the experience in alignment with our vision. In this case, the cost of the extra towels was a worthwhile investment.


Take Action

Our property manager handled the situation well. The guests were placated in the end, though they probably won't be returning to The Overlook since it’s not a great match with their needs.

We met with our property manager afterwards to discuss the guest experience improvements outlined above. One of the many reasons we like working with Idyllwild Vacation Cabins is the owner, Martha, always looks for a way to improve her guests’ experience.

You can take action in your own business by understanding the difference between customer service and customer experience. Service is important, but you need other elements such as a good product, fair policies, and helpful advertising to create the best experience.