[Cover Story] Can you hear me now?

Features - Cover Story

Whether you like it or not, right now your customers are posting online reviews about your pest management firm. Here’s how to respond to the good, bad and ugly.

July 31, 2012
Kristen Hampshire

Just when you think you’ve got your web presence under control, out from nowhere pops a nasty review of your company — and, of course, Google gives it higher priority than your own company’s site.

Horrible company, didn’t get rid of my bugs. Technician tracked mud into my house — thanks a lot! I’ll never hire XYZ Pest again.

Let’s face it, you can’t control what every employee does on every customer visit. Stuff (good and bad) happens. But now, customers have a megaphone to let the world know exactly how they feel about you. And when it’s not pretty, the repercussions can hurt business.

With a proliferation of online review websites, including Angie’s List, Yelp, Yahoo local listings, Citysearch and more, customers have plenty of venues for posting grievances.

Really, anyone can write an online review.

And online is where people go to seek advice on which service companies to hire. The Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker reports that 81 percent of consumers go online to verify recommendations before making a purchase, by researching product/service information (61 percent), reading reviews (55 percent) or searching ratings websites (43 percent).

Rather than talking to the neighbor or asking a friend, people today are more inclined to fire up the Internet and ask Google what pest control business to hire.

“Consumers are more comfortable complaining online because they don’t have that face-to-face confrontation about something they are not happy with,” says Michele Vance, director of sales and marketing at Schendel Pest Services in Topeka, Kan. “I don’t know if customers are more critical or if their expectations have changed, but it is simpler now to sit behind the computer screen and post a comment that you might not say directly to your technician. So I think online review sites have emboldened some consumers.”

It’s up to your company to manage your online reputation, otherwise customers (potentially disgruntled ones) will do it for you. “If you are allowing other people to use social media to craft your reputation, you have no voice,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs, National Pest Management Association.

He Said, She Said.
Angie’s List is an online review standard. The company has been around since 1995, when it was started as a grassroots referral service firm. When it launched its dot-com version in 1999, the online review portal boomed. Cheryl Reed, communications manager who works directly with Angie of Angie’s List, confirms the he-said-she-said talk about service companies and who to hire happens online these days.

And according to Reed, visitors who go to AngiesList.com are not browsers — they’re looking to hire. Now.

“Historically, everyone has talked about service companies to their friends and family,” Reed says. “The Internet lets companies listen in on those conversations to the extent that they never have before.”

Your pest control company would probably never find out if Neighbor Jones said your service was sub-par. But when that comment is posted on an online review site, that information is hanging out for everyone (including you) to read.

This can be a good thing. Online, you’ll read the good, the bad…and the ugly. And you can respond and actually strengthen customer relationships or improve areas of your business that are publicly cited as weak, Reed says.

“The biggest mistake companies make is not paying attention to online reviews and not participating,” Reed says. Another common mistake: Posting a canned response to a negative (or positive) review. Finally, companies often blow off the negative remarks, figuring they’ll get buried or that no one will believe that nonsense. “It’s important to take time to really review a negative interaction and see what you can learn from that, and how you can fix it,” Reed says. (See related story on page 36.)

The first step, though, is to find out what people are saying about you online. Those review sites rank high with Google, Vance has learned — even higher than one’s own company website in some cases. “What we found out is that reviews are more important in the algorithms that search engines use to organically rank your website,” she says.

The Right Way to Handle Social Media Questions from Customers

Editor’s note: Kevin Sherrill, operations manager at Sherrill Pest Control, Manchester, Tenn., recently was involved in a conversation with a Facebook fan that PCT thought was an example of awesome customer service. The following Facebook exchange occurred in mid-May. (The customer’s name has been deleted to protect her privacy.) Note that from the time the customer stated her complaint/question, it only took Sherrill 20 minutes to respond initially and then another 20 minutes to get her the answer — all “after hours.”

“When we run one of these big contests, we have to watch things very closely. I have had fans tell me they would spend up to six hours a day working on these contests to have a better chance to win,” Sherrill told PCT.

“I feel that if our fans are willing to invest that much time interacting with their friends about our contest, then we owe it to them to be there when any issues arise.”

Kudos to Sherrill for his quick response and great attention to detail. — Jodi Dorsch

Sherrill Pest Control: Only 4 weeks until Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival...do you have your tickets yet? Don’t miss out on your chance to win! Check out the details by clicking on the Name The Bonnaroo Bug at the top of our wall or at www.facebook.com/
. – May 9 at 8:57pm

Customer: I can’t get the link to work to enter to win Bonnaroo tickets! And I reeeeeally want to wiiiiiin tickets!! lol – May 9 at 9:32pm via mobile

Kevin Sherrill: I’m sorry (customer name). Apparently, the link is not working on the fb mobile site. If you go to full site the link should work fine. I will look into this and see if we can get this issue worked out for our mobile users that prefer to use fb mobile. – May 9 at 9:53pm via mobile

Kevin Sherrill: Ok (customer name), apparently custom fb pages can’t be viewed on fb mobile. Either go to the full fb site on your mobile device or use a computer to be able to view it. We will look at ways to work around this in the future. Sorry for the inconvenience. – May 9 at 10:12pm via mobile

Customer: Okay thanks for the info!!! – May 9 at 10:20pm via mobile

So a couple of employees, including Vance, are charged with monitoring Schendel’s online presence. “There are so many online review sites, I don’t think you could monitor all of them,” Vance says, adding that Schendel follows the 80/20 rule here. They keep an eye on the largest sites: Angie’s List, Google and Yahoo.

Additionally, Schendel Pest Services set up Google Alert key words so Vance is notified by e-mail of any online mentions of the company. “We have Google Alerts set up on every essential combination of our name,” she says.

Henriksen suggests digging online by typing in your company name plus the words “positive” and “negative,” including key contacts in your company and descriptors of services. “You may want to put in, ‘I love my pest control company,’ and, ‘I hate my pest control company,’” she suggests. “If you have a challenging company name, you may want to spell it a couple different ways to make sure you are covering all of your bases.”

On Angie’s List, companies can sign up for free, monitor reviews and participate by responding. And this is what the review site encourages. “If you sign up with us, we know who you are and that you are the authority who represents your business,” Reed says, adding that companies cannot review themselves or submit reports on competitors.

“In order for companies to have that voice and show the other side of the story, they have to participate in the process,” Reed says.

Dealing with Downers.
When a prospect is searching for pest control services online and the search engine produces a list thousands long, how deep will someone go before making a decision?

What if the top mentions of your company are negative reviews? You better do something about it, because what people say online about your business can hurt you.

“Reviews can go viral, and they can be a breeding ground for totally unreliable customer feedback,” Vance says, adding that social networks are propelling people’s desire to seek approval (or disapproval) from “friends” online before making purchases. “Social networks have become this major source of feedback because a lot of their members tend to accept or follow what other network members endorse,” she said.

So what do you do if a customer doesn’t like you, and says so online? Henriksen says, speak up — but distill your emotions, and acknowledge the complainer’s pain. After all, their beef could be legitimate. You can’t watch all employees at all times, and with online reviews, your workers are on stage 24/7.

“Humanize your response, show empathy, address the problem and offer to fix it,” Henriksen says. She offers this script: We’re sorry you experienced [insert issue]. I wouldn’t like that either. We certainly train our employees differently, however if one of our employees had a forgetful moment, we want to make that right. Please call or text me now at [insert contact].

Here’s why a response like this works, Henriksen says. First, you acknowledged that the client is upset, and you showed them that you heard their message by repeating it back to them. You said, “That’s not acceptable to us. We train differently.”

“That is where future customers might think, ‘They don’t normally do that,’” Henriksen says.

You asked the upset customer to call you so you can have a personal conversation — and that’s the key. “It’s much easier to alter their perspective if you can speak to them personally, so try to get that online poster to talk with you directly on the phone,” Henriksen says.

After the problem is rectified, and the customer is satisfied, try asking him or her to go back online and post an update on how the problem was handled. If they won’t, “Say ‘thank you, we’re glad you are committed to staying with us,’” Henriksen says, adding that you can go online as the company rep and explain how the issue was resolved.

Will one bad review destroy your reputation? Probably not. “We are human beings, and very rarely are we operating at 100 percent every day,” Reed says. “But we have learned through years of reviews that companies can turn around customers when they pay attention to negative reports and fix the problem.”

What happens when you’re silent and ignore the posting rather than add to it? More attention to the negative post, right? You could lose a customer for not owning up.

Henriksen shares her experience searching online for a New York City hotel. She found a spot in a great location at a fair price, but there were online reviews citing bed bugs. The hotel did not respond to her to confirm the problem was resolved. “If they had just done one little thing about it, I would have stayed there, but I chose not to because they were silent,” Henriksen says.

Accentuate the Positive.
Online reviews aren’t all bad. And when they’re good, you can use those positive posts as a vehicle for promoting your service. For example, say a client praises you online for technicians removing their shoes before entering a home. Respond with a thanks for complimenting the team. Offer more information: “That is one of our 12 steps for protecting our customers’ homes that we have in place,” Henriksen says, drawing an example. “Hopefully you notice the others, or here is a link to what they are.”

Here, the company has shown appreciation for the positive feedback, confirmed that customer care is part of the culture, and provided information so prospects reading the review can learn more.

Those glowing reviews also can bury the less palatable ones. And there’s no reason you can’t ask clients to say something nice. Schendel Pest Services launched a campaign to collect positive reviews. The company e-mailed 500 clients with the subject line, “We Like You a Latte,” and offered them a $5 Starbucks gift card for going online and writing a review.

Within an hour, Schendel had collected five reviews. Within 48 hours, a dozen customers took the company up on its offer. By the end of the first week of this promotion, more than 20 clients took the time to review Schendel.

“Thankfully, they were all positive reviews, but it was a little bit of a gamble,” Vance admits.

“There is no harm in asking good customers to go online and post a review about your business,” Vance says, adding that the reason Schendel launched the campaign was because the firm just wasn’t getting reviews at all. “We were getting the Angie’s List reviews, but on broader reviews like Google Places, we weren’t showing up.”

The key, for positive and negative reviews, is to have a plan in place. Decide how you will address the downer posts. What response mechanisms are in place at your company? How will field personnel get the message? Put a follow-up system in place. And concerning positive reviews, it’s equally important to chime in online and to reward clients and your employees getting the company some online glow.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore those reviews.

“It’s clear that this consumer behavior is only going to become more habit-forming,” Reed says. “If you’re a company that could be reviewed, you need to know what people are saying about you.”


The author is a Cleveland-based writer. She can be reached via e-mail at khampshire@giemedia.com.

Illustration by Britt Spencer