Practicing Spa Service Recovery Online

Most spa owners and directors I know will bend over backwards to resolve a customer complaint. But there's a startling exception--somehow, many of us have decided to ignore complaints that are made in online reviews. Mention the word "Yelp" to just about any small business owner and you might even need to duck. Fast.

Why do we treat the online complainer differently?

Many spa operators believe that negative reviews are largely bogus. It's true they do skew to the negative. For example, we use a review site created by Demandforce.com that enables our customers to write reviews about us. Our approval rating is about 95% on the Demandforce site.  On Yelp, our four star rating equates to an 80% approval rating. Demandforce has created a certified review process, which means that only actual customers can write reviews. None of the other review sites do this, leaving them open to what only can be described as fraud. And worse still, Yelp is in the practice of "aging out" reviews written about your spa by someone who is otherwise not yelping, in 90 days. So that happy customer who writes a positive review about your company can have only temporary impact, unless they decide to write additional reviews about other businesses. Yelp believes that this process legitimizes the reviews. They're remarkably unconcerned about the fact that they can't prove any of their reviewers ever visited your business.

It's important to understand the psychographics of the Millenial customer (the current 16-33 year old slice of our market.) Ms./Mr. Millenial is non confrontational, is extremely concerned about what other people think about him or her, but has very high expectations. Boomers might call them spoiled. They live online and are comfortable there. This combination pretty much ensures that they won't complain to you directly but will likely take out their frustration at their favorite review site.

A customer is a customer, whether they're calling you, writing to you, talking to you, or publishing their opinion of you online. Do what you'd do if that customer were at your front desk. Service recovery and complaint resolution is the same whether someone has yelled or Yelped.

Yelp enables you to contact that reviewer, through their anonymous user interface. Sign up for a free business account. You'll get updates, including notifications of new reviews. Reach out to the reviewer, treating them with the same concern and respect that you would any other unhappy guest. In all the time I've been dealing with Yelp, I have identified only two "illegitimate" reviewers. In almost every instance we've been able to bring the complaining guest back for another service and, though we do NOT ask them to do this, they have amended or updated their negative review. In many cases they have lauded our service recovery efforts.

As part of the "do-over" process I ask these guests to complete a detailed Mystery Shop evaluation. One reason for this is to demonstrate to them all the touchpoints involved in their visit, and all the things that we did correctly. It helps make them aware of the complexity of the spa experience, and it's often eye-opening to them. In all honesty, people who do online reviews make very good mystery shoppers.

Not surprisingly, complaint resolution and service recovery is one of our most popular webinar topics. It's literally the biggest moment of truth in your company, and something you must train and prepare for. The adrenaline surge that comes with dealing with an upset customer is the equivalent to that which you'd get when facing a life-threatening situation.

We're pretty excited about DemandForce; it's currently available for Millenium and SpaBiz users, and extracts data from your database to help manage customer relationships. Since we started using it at Preston Wynne a month ago, we've amassed close to 40 new reviews, almost half the number that are currently on Yelp. Since all review sites' data are aggregated by Google, this is helping Preston Wynne Spa create a more positive online image as well as boosting our search engine rankings.

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