Up For Review
You hire quality employees. You pay for all the necessary training. You buy the latest equipment. You build a culture and form an operation that fits with your vision of helping people who’ve been in an accident.
You do everything right … and then a single online review brings everything to a screeching halt.
While a single customer’s review isn’t reflective of your shop’s entire body of work, studies show that one opinion can put a dent in business. Dimensional Research found 90 percent of consumers read online reviews to determine a business’s quality; BrightLocal reports 88 percent trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations; and a Harvard Business School study shows a one-star increase on Yelp leads to an average 5–9 percent increase in a business’s revenue.
And one more stat: Business2Community found one negative review can cost you an average of 30 customers.
Each year, these studies reveal more and more people are not only reading, but trusting online reviews, making addressing the negative ones a top priority for business owners, says Kevin Dean, president of Internet marketing agency WSI Net Advantage. And according to Dean, there’s an art to responding to negative reviews that many shops still need to master.
FenderBender spoke with two shop owners who turned negative reviews into five-star ratings by following up with customers. They discuss how specific scenarios affected procedures at their shops and, along with Dean, what to keep in mind when responding to reviews online.
SHOP ONE: THE BACKSTORY
Chad Kiffe is a talker. He's the general manager at Berli’s Body & Fine Auto Finishes. The shop started as a one-man operation 30 years ago, which meant owner Joe Berli conversing with each and every customer himself.
That origin makes online reviews intriguing to Kiffe. The highly successful, $8 million shop out of Pflugerville, Texas, has no shortage of five-star reviews on Yelp, and Kiffe tries to thank customers for positive reviews to prove he’s an attentive manager that, just like Berli in the shop's early days, is in tune with customers. He also, in turn, occasionally responds to a negative review.
The issue is one many body shops encounter, Kiffe says—a miscommunication over cost. Berli’s estimator relayed one price, but the first-time customer heard another. Upon receiving his bill, the customer felt blindsided and thought he was grossly overcharged for certain repairs.
Kiffe did not initially respond to the review online. Instead, he called the customer to apologize and assured him he would utilize the mix-up as a lesson for the shop. “I didn’t want him thinking we were just taking care of him because of the online review,” Kiffe says. “The biggest thing is being real with a customer." Kiffe then invited the customer to come back for any other issues—which, it so happens, thanks to a new rear bumper scratch, the customer took Kiffe up on.
After the bumper was fixed, the review went from one to five stars and the customer updated his review: “I was impressed with the sincere attempt and listening skills of the GM (Chad),” he wrote. “In any case, Chad informed me that he personally used my review to discuss customer service with his crew and thanked me for the review since he would have never found out about it had I stayed silent. At no point did Chad attempt to avoid my complaints or make excuses. He simply listened and apologized and asked me to give them another chance if I ever needed any future body work.” In response to the updated review, Kiffe wrote: “We appreciate your patience and understanding. Joe Berli and myself are very grateful that you gave us a second chance to serve you. Our hope is if you need anything in the future you will not hesitate to call us. It was a pleasure meeting and talking with you. We appreciate your business and the opportunity to serve you.”
Kiffe held a meeting with the shop's staff, using the customer’s review as a lesson in customer service. He stressed the importance of communicating costs, and why it’s important to be clearer and more patient with first-time customers.
Sometimes when we relate to a customer who hasn’t been in a situation, it’s overwhelming to them,” Kiffe says. “If they react negatively, we need to take it lightly and show we’re here to help.”
“This response is professional and uses the power of suggestion that the issue was handled privately and to the customer’s satisfaction. It does not put the car owner on the spot by discussing the ungratefulness of the customer for expediting the repair. The customer may not even have known they were expedited! The response simply apologizes and is appreciative of the chance to make it right. It is a calm response that seems more concerned about the customer feeling better rather than explaining why it happened.”
SHOP TWO: THE BACKSTORY
As a classic car enthusiast who spends months restoring vehicles, Mark Cantrell claims to have a particularly fine eye for detail, which he thought lent well to the collision repair business when he opened McLeod Auto Body in 1984.
Cantrell would argue he was right: In 1997, research firm Dun & Bradstreet conducted a survey of 57,000 collision repair shops across the country, and McLeod ranked 25th in the nation.
Ironically enough, however, a key moment of missed detail caused Cantrell’s shop to receive a lone three-star rating among its 90-plus five-star reviews on Yelp.
This particular reviewer was new to Seattle and had not one, but two cars in Cantrell’s shop. McLeod had performed an over-the-phone estimate for one of the vehicles, only to discover the vehicle needed different parts when it arrived, causing a two-day delay. Upon receiving her car back, the reviewer found shards of glass on her passenger side floor.
“I’m disappointed that they didn’t take care of this pretty seemingly standard detail given the past (and now seemingly shady) reviews touting that they leave your car spotless,” she wrote. “They charged nearly $200 for installation, and they can’t even take care of that 5-minute detail? Now I have to drag my vacuum outside.”
After attempting to reach out by phone and email, Cantrell posted a response publicly on Yelp:
“First, there is no excuse for leaving glass in the car. If you read your bill you will see we did not charge you the normal one-hour charge for glass clean up. We normally have a one- to two-week backlog, but we pushed you ahead because of the window being out and your other car was in our shop for another repair.
“The part we needed that caused the extra day we would have never seen in a photo. We don’t usually schedule cars in without seeing them first for that reason, but I think Mark Cheyne, our estimator that helped you, was just trying to accommodate your predicament of both of your cars being gone.
“The part on Friday got here about 4 p.m. We were going to call and tell you we didn’t have time to finish due to it’s a two-hour assembly, but the tech jumped on it and got it together about the time you got here and they rushed the clean up trying to get the car done for you. In hindsight, we should have kept the car so it could be cleaned better.
“Everyone here does take pride in doing good customer service. It’s what I have built my 31-year-old business on. I think in trying to do good customer service, we dropped the ball and I am very sorry for that. If we can do anything to help make it up, please call me.”
After posting his response, the reviewer finally responded in a private message and upgraded her rating to five stars.
“The manager was apologetic for the lack of glass cleanup in our first car, and offered to make it right, and I do appreciate the gesture,” she wrote.
As a result of responding to reviews online, Cantrell has updated certain shop procedures, such as stricter schedules for updating customers and, through this particular review, performing follow-ups to over-the-phone estimates.
“I think with every one of these reviews, we learn something different,” he says. “We come away with a better understanding of the customer.”
“This response is best delivered in person to the owner of the car. There is a lot of relevant information that might satisfy the car owner. It seems that extra effort was made in repairing the car, but all of that effort was not communicated to the car owner at the time of service. Putting that information in the review response pushes back the issue on the car owner, almost making them seem ungrateful for the effort.
“While trying to explain why they made the errors, the response still does not shine well on the glass repair shop. In their hurry they still overlooked basic customer satisfaction techniques like glass cleanup and car damage prevention they say they practice. Essentially they admit they exchanged speed in fixing the window with delivering a quality, finished product to the customer.”