By Adam Mendler, founder of Beverly Hills Chairs.
Regardless of the business you are in, there is no currency more important than your reputation. In the age of Yelp, potentially interested customers can quickly and relatively effortlessly examine your reputation before deciding whether to purchase from your business. Needless to say, there are few things business owners hate more than bad reviews. We love when people say great things about our products, our service and our people. But when someone gives us one star, we go on red alert.
Our exemplary Yelp score and the positive reviews that underlie it serve as significant selling points to prospective customers. We reference our Yelp rating in our marketing material, in our sales calls and on our website -- but that was not always the case. In fact, our first customer review was scathing. And as always, the customer was right.
My brother and business partner came up with the idea behind our furniture company and started buying, refurbishing and selling Herman Miller Aeron chairs out of his apartment. He advertised locally and interested customers would check out the chairs in his living room -- and occasionally stick around for a beer. When we formally launched the business, my goal was to professionalize my brother's idea, creating and building a real scalable organization. We built an e-commerce site, offering refurbished Aeron chairs to customers all over the country. And shortly thereafter, a few people found us and we were off to the races. Or so we thought.
Our first Yelp review came from one of our first customers, the chancellor of a university in Kentucky. He bought a chair from us and it did not arrive by the date we had promised. As he expressed his unhappiness on Yelp, recapping his experience and sharing his concerns while giving us one star, the chair meant for him remained in our office. When his review went live, everyone on our team had one thing in mind: fixing the problem. However, we really had three problems rolled into one: an unhappy customer, a bad Yelp review and the chair not delivered on time.
I immediately emailed the customer, introduced myself as the CEO and asked for his phone number, requesting to speak directly at his earliest convenience. When we spoke, I opened our conversation by apologizing profusely, providing context -- that we were literally just starting up and still ironing out kinks -- and promising to do whatever I could to make up for our inexcusable service and make his experience as positive as possible. I did not know how he would reply but was prepared to listen closely to any additional feedback he wanted to provide.
As it turned out, my apology was music to our customer's ears. He immediately changed his review from one star to five, noting how impressed he was that I took the time to reach out. I worked closely with my business partner and our operations manager to not only send our customer his chair as quickly as possible but to examine and resolve the underlying the issues that led to the delayed shipment in the first place. By taking responsibility, communicating directly and humbly and getting to the root of the problem, I was able to turn a menacing lemon into lemonade.
While companies should follow a customer-centric approach in every aspect of their operations to prevent customers from becoming dissatisfied in the first place, if you are faced with a problem (and in my view, there is no problem more concerning than customer dissatisfaction) you must aggressively rectify it. Winning over disgruntled customers requires hands-on leadership, humility and the default perspective that the customer is always right. Apologize, listen and most importantly, genuinely care. Treat your customers the way you would like to be treated. By showing authenticity and addressing the problems that spurred the expression of concern, you, too, can flip an unhappy customer.
Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group and founder of Beverly Hills Chairs, Custom Tobacco and Veloz Solutions.