Prevent Negative Reviews: Manage Customer Expectations
“Cash only, please. Thank you.”
This exceedingly polite handwritten sign is taped to the door of my neighborhood bakery. Every time I walk my dog past the bakery, I think about how the simplest acts of setting appropriate customer expectations can help prevent customer dissatisfaction, and may help prevent negative online reviews.
One of the common triggers that compels people to write negative reviews is when the customer experience does not match expectations. This can play out in lots of ways, but here’s one example, an excerpt from a Demandforce review in which a patient gives a poor rating, largely due to a mismatch between expectation and reality:
Some negative reviews are more preventable than others, and setting appropriate customer expectations is one practical step that businesses can take to prevent negative comments from creeping into their reviewscape.
Is there something about your business that could catch your customers off guard? Whether it’s a temporary inconvenience or a special feature that you’d never change about your business, if it has the potential to ruffle feathers or cause confusion, let people know about it as early as possible in the customer experience.
One example we give in our book Five Stars: Putting Online Reviews to Work for Your Business is a restaurant called The Raymond. Here’s an excerpt of what customers see after they make a reservation on OpenTable:
Please note that the Raymond is proud to offer both indoor and outdoor seating on our craftsman style covered, heated patios. If you have a preference please indicate in the Special Requests field, and we will do our best to accommodate your preference. However indoor or patio seating cannot be guaranteed.
This message does a couple of things right: First, it forewarns diners that they may be eating outside, eliminating the element of surprise from the customer experience. Second, it’s worded with marketing in mind, describing the patio seating as a desirable location, not a second choice. (The description of the patio is accurate – I’ve eaten there. And this is of course another way to set appropriate customer expectations: make sure your marketing efforts don’t mislead your customers about your products or services.)
One ecommerce site that does a good job of setting customer expectations is advanceautoparts.com. Here’s one example:
This store has an appealing offer of free shipping, but doesn’t want the customer to complete their order before seeing the fine print. The details link is prominently placed within the promotion, and leads to a page that clarifies important restrictions.
In another example, the red text on this product page should head off any potential mismatches between customer expectations and the actual purchase experience:
No additional discounts, in-store pickup only. Got it.
There’s nothing particularly difficult about taping a sign on a door, or adding a few important details to a promotion, reservation confirmation, or product page. The trick is in thinking through the customer experience that you provide and anticipating how it might not align with your customers’ preconceptions. This mindset can help you improve customer satisfaction, which can have a positive impact on your online reviews. Not sure where to start? Get insights by having a conversation with anyone on your staff who has direct customer interactions.
What are you doing to manage your customers’ expectations?