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Supporting image for How to Improve Your Company’s Customer Experience – @jaybaer
How to Improve Your Company’s Customer Experience – @jaybaer
The Agents of Change

For smaller businesses that don’t have the power of supply chains and distribution chains to always compete for the lowest prices, the next best way to compete in the online marketing realm is to concentrate on customer experience and customer service.  And yes, there is a difference.

Knowing how to utilize your customer’s reviews of your business and services – both good and bad – and knowing how and when to respond to them and where to post them can make a huge difference to not only your potential and existing customers, but also in how Google views and ranks you.



Rich: Digital marketing and online customer service are broken, and Jay Baer brings the repair kit. Jay has created 5 multibillion dollar companies and is the most retweeted person in the world among digital marketers. He is the President of Convince and Convert, a consulting firm that helps the world’s most iconic brands like United Nations, Nike, 3M, and Oracle use technology to win new customers and keep the customers they’ve already earned.

A New York Times bestselling author of 5 books, Jay is the host of the Social Pros Podcast, part of his Convince and Convert podcast network. He is also an avid tequila collector and a certified Barbeque judge. Those are some impressive qualifications there at the end. Jay, welcome to the show.

Jay: My friend, fantastic to be back with you. Thank you for taking the time. I’m hoping we make time to get together for some tequila and BBQ ASAP.

Rich: We are going to get together ASAP at AOC. Of course you are going to be – I’m so excited – that you are going to be my opening keynote at this year’s Agents of Change Conference. There’s only one person in the world that’s more excited about this and that’s Yuri from Machias Savings Bank, who was really the inspiration to bring you here. I mean I asked you but he was the one that made it possible, so he’s more excited than I am.

Jay: Yuri is the man and I am fired up to spend some time with him and everybody at AOC, it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s just days after my oldest daughter goes to college, so I will be emotional and weak and wistful, and we’re going to need some tequila.

Rich: Absolutely. Alright, well we certainly have some here. Ok, so let’s get to the questions part of the interview, which is really the meat and potatoes of it.

So I was looking at a lot of the stuff that you’ve been doing lately and so much of your work – blog post, videos, books – are in some way or another about the customer experience. Why do you focus so much of your attention on the customer experience?

Jay: Well I think ultimately all success comes from the customer’s experience. There’s actually research from Walker – which is one of the big consultancies – that says that by 2020 a majority of businesses will be based on customer experience.

So whereas today a lot of people make decisions based on price, they make decisions based on availability, increasingly we will make decisions based on customer experience. So it’s a thing that breaks ties. So if you are 4 times more expensive than other guys then you’re probably going to have some trouble. But if it’s anywhere close customer experience is the thing that breaks ties, it’s the thing that builds businesses, it builds reputations.

So marketing impacts customer service and vice versa. Customer service your people and how they’re trained, all of it comes back to the customer experience. I think it’s really foundational and we’ve gotten really distracted in the last few years about very specific things in our business, mainly around marketing, So how can we do social media better, how can we do this better or that better. Ultimately if you just treat people better you will be a better organization.

Rich: That makes a lot of sense. And the two things that you mentioned earlier in terms of price being a factor and availability, but we’re seeing both of those things kind of go away, in part because of the internet because we can always be checking process so there’s always probably going to be some point where a lot of those do start coming together because of price. And then availability, drones will probably be dropping everything off and it’s not going to be a matter of weeks anyway.

Jay: That’s right, yeah, it’s going to be hard to sustain an advantage on price or availability or some of the other things we historically use as a key differentiator. In a global economy it is harder and harder to sustain, especially for smaller companies. Big companies can win on price because they have purchasing power, and big companies can win on availability because they’ve got supply chain and distribution channels.

But if you’re a small or medium sized company it’s going to be really hard to win on those criteria, so the only way that you can survive is to build a better mousetrap, and a mousetrap is built from customer experience.

Rich: Do you see a difference between customer experience and customer service? Sometimes I think those words are used the same, but how would you kind of define the differences between those two?

Jay: Customer experience is how you make people feel and how you make people feel about your business. Customer Service is one of the things that creates those feelings. So marketing is customer experience, the sales process is customer experience, customer service is customer experience.

Customer experience is the umbrella relationship between the organization and its customers, or even potential customers. Customer service is a very important building block of that umbrella. So customer experience is sort of a big brother, customer service would be the little brother.

Rich: Ok. So we talk a lot about social media on this podcast and a lot of people feel that social media is best then you’re just venting to companies that have somehow pissed you off in the world, and obviously that affects large and small companies. There’s got to be a good way to respond to people when they are seething and venting against our companies, but is there an actual ROI for responding to negative feedback?

Jay: Oh absolutely. And much more so than ever which is kind of the good news for the situation. For a long time businesses didn’t really have a tremendous financial upside in being great at customer service. Because all of our interactions fundamentally between companies and customers were one to one.

So for a really long time – like the time of Pompeii until just a little while ago – if you wanted to interact with a business you did that face to face, via letter, via fax, via email, or via telephone. So if the company took care of you that would be great, and if they didn’t that would be unfortunate and you might feel the need to talk to other people about your experience.

So let’s say you had a customer service problem and the company handled it poorly and made a bad situation worse, a few years ago you might tell people at your church or at your kid’s soccer game that they aren’t a very good company, and that would have some negative consequences for that business perhaps. But not very much, because how many people do you really talk to, how many people can you really tell your story to.

And now, however, when an increasing share of customer interactions take place in public – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, Trip Advisor – customer service is a spectator sport and it changes the math of customer service dramatically. It’s not just about keeping the customer happy it’s the fact that lots of other people are watching how you handle that customer. And so the economic incentives to be great are much higher, and the economic disincentives to be bad are also much more significant.

Rich: Ok. And I think everybody realizes in the age of Yelp that we need to be paying more attention to what people are saying about us – and of course Facebook, too – but I just think specifically about this or Trip Advisor.

So for the small business owner or even the solopreneur, how does he or she manage all the different messages that could be coming in through all the different channels that are out there? They may not even be on Snapchat but people could be complaining about them on Snapchat. Is there some methodology or ways that we can tackle all that?

Jay: Ultimately what we want to do is answer every complaint in every channel, every time. If you answer every complaint in every channel every time, you might say, “Gee, that’s a lot of effort and takes some time, we don’t have all that time”, you’re going to have to make time. At one point we didn’t have to worry about answering emails either, I am old enough to remember that pre-email era. But yet we somehow manage to make time to spend with email.

And we’re going to have to do the same thing now because our customers demand it of us. We did tons of research and found that 1/3 of all customer complaints are never answered. And when you don’t answer a customer complaint, it decreases customer advocacy by up to 50% because you’re basically saying we don’t care about you enough to even respond. When you answer a customer complaint – even If you can’t fix their problem – it increases customer advocacy by as much as 25% just because you said, “I hear you”.

So I’m not suggesting that the customer is always right, that’s not that case. I am suggesting that it is in your financial interest for the customer to always be heard. Now does that require a little time, absolutely. Does it require a little effort, absolutely. Does it require to be someone’s job – maybe not a full time one – but should someone be held accountable, absolutely. So you may have to actually spend less time doing marketing and more time doing customer service because it’s a spectator sport, and in a lot of ways customer service is marketing.

Rich: I’ll tell you, that kind of feels overwhelming in some ways for somebody that might be a small business.

Jay: It’s a stair step, so you have to say who do we answer first. And so part of that is based on each business having a different mix of complaints. We do a lot of analysis of this stuff for our corporate clients and every business is going to have a different mix of phone vs email vs social vs rating sites. Sometimes you’re going to have 50% calls, 30% emails, 20% Twitter, 0% Yelp. But in almost every small business they’re answering the phone and they’re probably answering email. So I know it may seem overwhelming, but why if a customer chooses to contact you through a different mechanism, why would you just decide not to do that.

Because if a customer calls you, you wouldn’t think of just not answering it or letting it go to voicemail indefinitely, you’d answer it. But if the customer is saying “we choose a different contact mechanism”, they want to communicate to you via Yelp for Facebook or whatever, and you have to respect that. It’s not like its roulette and customers are spinning a magic wheel and the ball falls on Instagram and that’s what they use to contact you, they chose Instagram because that’s what they prefer.

So we have to accept the fact that consumer preferences around a contact mechanism is just the beginning of this evolution and we have to be nimble enough and smart enough without businesses to devote a little time in a lot of different places. Now that doesn’t mean you have to answer everyone in 5 seconds but you’ve got to have your head on a swivel a little bit.

Rich: I also think that if you are willing to create a social media profile for your business on a specific channel, you have to show up. So if you are going to set up an Instagram account you have to be willing to say that this is a way that you can communicate with me. If you don’t, I understand what you’re saying that you should still respond to somebody even if they reached out to you on Instagram even if you don’t have an Instagram profile. But at the very least if you are going to set up an account for your business you need to have that channel on.

Jay: Yes, no doubt. It’s a really important distinction because it’s the difference between complaining at a company and complaining about a company. You absolutely categorically need to answer every time somebody complains at you. So if you have a profile and they leave a comment on your profile, that is a direct interaction, that is a postmodern telephone call. If somebody is just o their own Instagram account and they say they don’t like a company and you happen to find it just from keyword search, then you can choose whether or not to jump in. I would argue that you should, that there is no downside to that and it will actually help the company, but I understand resources are not infinite.

Rich: Now I’ve also seen situations where somebody may respond to something and they may respond in a kind of aggressive way. Are there times – you say that we should always respond – but are there times when you just let the person vent and the more I respond to it the worse it’s going to get? I’ve definitely seen situations where it seems like the company or the business person under attack was inadvertently making things worse by getting into a conversation with a troll.

Jay: Yeah, it’s tricky because there are certainly some people who cannot be placated. But let’s remember the goal is to communicate with the people in the audience, not necessarily to the customer at hand.

Its super common and understandable – especially in a small business environment – if somebody complains about your business it feels like somebody is telling you that your baby is ugly. It creates a lot of angst. In fact one of my favorite parts of the book is we interview people and I say, “Tell me what happens when people confront negativity, negative complaints, and customer attacks.” And they said it actually changes the wiring in your brain and triggers a very powerful “fight or flight” mechanism when your blood pressure literally goes up and your heart rate increases. So it’s actually no wonder you see a lot of business owners handle these kind of negative situations poorly because they’re not thinking truly on a physiological level, they’re not thinking clearly.

So what you want to do is never react instantly, you never want to react in the moment, you want to give it a little time. Not too much, because speed is important. But you want to give yourself a couple of pauses here, take a deep breath and think it through, and then follow some of the advice that we have in the book about empathy and recognizing that the customer has a right to complain and that typically there’s a kernel of truth to almost anything.

And then you kind of follow this formula where the more angry they are, they less angry you are. So if they are really outlandish, you’re massively rational. So you almost play the opposite game with people who complain about you, and that is very effective in many cases as knocking the stuff out of them. What they want is for you to take the bait, they want for you to get into an argument with them online. And if you don’t give them that satisfaction they may still go on and on, but at that point everybody who’s looking on realizes that you’re the rational one and they’re the irrational ones.

So the other thing that’s really important to recognize is the rule that I talk about a lot in the book which is the rule of “reply only twice”, which says that you never ever under any circumstances regardless of channel answer a customer more than twice online. I don’t care if it’s Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or writing Yelp, it doesn’t matter. If they say “We hate you”, you say, “We’re terribly sorry, how can we help?” If they say, “You can’t help, we just hate you, you’re the worst”, you just say, “I’m really sorry you feel that way, we’d love to talk to you about this in a more nuanced capacity, here’s my phone number and email address, let us know if we can help.” And if they come back a third time, you just let them go. That’s it, 2 and out.

Rich: Alright. That’s some good advice in terms of how to respond to some of these things. Now one of the things I hope you can talk about is the difference between first and third party reviews, what are the pros and cons of each one of those? Can you kind of define them and then tell us what you think of them?

Jay: Yeah. I’m glad you talked about that because it’s a really emerging field. Even since I published the book there’s been a lot of things happen and I wrote a couple e-books about it recently.

So third party reviews are what we typically think of, they’re reviews about your business that live on a third party platform like Yelp, or TripAdvisor, or Angie’s List. In lots of industries there is a third party review provider tht is specialized to that vertical. So there’s apartmentratings.com – which ironically is for apartments – there is one that I talk about in the book called realself.com which is a ratings and reviews portal for the plastic surgery industry. So you can go on and give 1-5 stars to your boob job or your butt lift or whatever.

So almost every vertical has something like that, and so that’s the classic third party that we think about, and yes you want to have more reviews there and you want to answer reviews there and those kind of things.

But now we’re starting to see more focus on first party reviews. First party reviews are those that live on your own website, so those might be powered by a software tool or maybe you’re just collecting them and putting them on your site. And while historically that’s been nice to have, now it’s getting more important because Google fairly recently has decided to change the way they rank webpages so that if you have first party reviews on your site it actually gives you additional love in Google’s search algorithm. And the more of those reviews you get and the more consistently you attain them, the better off you will be.

So quite literally, first party reviews help search results – which is incredibly important for local businesses in particular – because now what we’re seeing is people trying to balance between “give me your feedback and we’ll put it on our site” versus “take your feedback and put it on Yelp”.

Rich: Ok, so I find this really interesting an a little bit confusing because I can totally understand why people would pay attention to third party reviews like Yelp or TripAdvisor. Those are kind of an ivory tower that are protected, but I can choose to post only the people that like me on my website. It just feels to me like that’s too easy to gain that system, so can you speak to that at all?

Jay: Yeah, I think it’s theoretically easy to gain that system. Some might argue that – though I don’t know this to be true, but I suspect it – that there’s something in the algorithm that says if all of these reviews are positive then we’re going to discount the whole pile.

There’s a couple reasons why you shouldn’t only put good reviews on your site. Most notably because it actually imperils the credibility of all of them. There’s terrific research on this point that says when people look at reviews and they’re all positive, they don’t believe any of them. So this may sound crazy, but you actually want to have some 1’s and 2’s mixed in with many more 4’s and 5’s. But it’s actually mathematically true that you want to have some negative reviews because it builds credibility in the whole batch.

Rich: See I can understand that for a pizza place that gets hundreds or thousands of customers a year. But I have to say I’m thinking about flyte new media right now where we maybe have only 50 new clients over the course of the year and so for me to put up a review – and of course this would never happen because everybody loves us – but if I were to put up a review that said “2 stars because Rich fell asleep in the middle of a kickoff meeting and I smelled alcohol on his breath”, you know I’m not going to put that on my website.

Jay: That’s a classic complaint.

Rich: Oh my god, I’ve heard that one so many times. But it just seems like for certain businesses that’s going to be a tougher thing to put up negative reviews for maybe a service-type business like web design.        

Jay: What you’ve got to do is spin that into a positive, right? That’s the key. You don’t just put it up, you put it up with a response. So the response gives you the opportunity to show that you care and you’re sorry and you’ll stop drinking in the meetings and all those kind of things. So negativity is not always negative, I guess that’s the best way to put it.

Rich: I agree.

Jay: It’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate a little bit behind the scenes how you really handle your business.

Rich: I agree and I do think it might work better for some businesses rather than for others to be quite that transparent and honest. This might be a little nerdy but do you know if there’s a format that Google is looking for, I know when there was Schema – schema.org – it was like here is how you actually format the reviews?

Jay: Yeah, that’s the best way to do it. The best way is formatting, and they have a reviews markup to do it that way. The third party tools are PowerReviews and Bazaar Voice automatically structure it that way. You can’t just stick it in your HTML and presume that that’s going to be additive to your search results, you have to structure it the right way.

Rich: What are some of the changes that you’re seeing going on in costumer experience these days? What are some of the newest or biggest changes – I know we just talked about one of them so maybe that would have been your answer – it could be anything, online reviews, businesses using Facebook Messenger, anything else that you’re thinking about right now?

Jay: Well I think part of it is just what we talked about in the book is now coming true in large measure, which is companies using a lot more channels as contact mechanisms. Facebook Messenger is a terrific example, you’re seeing lots more businesses using that either transactionally in doing status updates and things like that through Messenger or using Messenger as just another inbox. We’re also see more and more businesses using video in a customer service context which could be a short Instagram video or short Snapchat video, a short Messenger video, a Twitter DM, a lot more use of video in a customer service scenario which is great.

And then more and more consideration – we see a lot of people talking about it but not many executions of it yet – of companies really wanting to embrace the concepts of self service and community based service. The best customer service is customer service you don’t have to do because people can find the answer themselves, and that’s what people want. We’ve done tons of research on this that says 73% of people who have a question want to be able to find the answer themselves on the company’s website.

So I guess a shorter way to describe this would be there’s going to be a lot more very large dynamic FAQ’s than we have today. It’s not just going to be 6 questions, it’s going to be 6,000 questions.

Rich: You’re a tequila collector. Can you have your tequila and drink it, too

Jay: I think if I have tequila I always drink it. I’m not certain if that is a “yes” or a “no” answer to your question.

Rich: I think it’s a “no”.

Jay: I’m not a very good collector of tequila or wine because – tequila is less about aging, but wine certainly is – and it’s like if I buy this wine now, in 10 years it’s going to be ready to drink. And I’m like, 10 years… we’re all day to day, I just don’t really have that kind of time horizon. I’d be surprised if there’s a lot of digital marketers who are good at wine collecting and things that require decades to come to fruition, that’s not how we’re wired.

Rich: Alright, what’s your favorite tequila?

Jay: My favorite tequila is Casa Dragones, which tastes like angel tears. It is an unbelievable tequila, it is really something else. It’s been distilled so many times that it’s almost like a tequila vodka, I guess would be the way to describe it. It’s really something.

Rich: So Jay this has been great. Where can we find you online?

Jay: You can find me most of the time at convinceandconvert.com, which is our main site. I have a very active blog and multiple podcasts, email, all that stuff. Then you can find me personally at jaybaer.com.

Rich: That’s awesome. And of course you can also find Jay – if you happen to be in Portland…

Jay: AOC, baby.

Rich: You heard it. He’s going to be onstage opening up the day at Agents of Change 6th Annual Digital Marketing Conference. It’s going to be fantastic.

Jay: I’ve got a new story about a ferret that I might bring to the stage at AOC, we’ll see how I feel, it’s a pretty good one. 

Rich: There you go. If you want to hear about Jay’s ferret – or at least his ferret story – then you’re going to either have to come to Portland, Maine and see him in person or you can grab a virtual pass.

Jay: You probably have wild ferrets in Portland, Maine, it’s like a creature that’s around and out.

Rich: It’s the ferrets, it’s the moose, it’s the lobsters. It’s a crazy animal party here all the time. Alright Jay this has been awesome, thank you man, I appreciate it. 

Jay: Thanks.

Show Notes:

Want to learn more expert tips from Jay about digital marketing tools to attract and retain customers? Then check out his personal website, his business website where he has an informative blog, and follow him on Twitter.

Tools to help format customer reviews:

 Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and he puts on a yearly conference aimed at that as well. Head on over to Twitter to connect with him, and grab a copy of his brand new book geared towards helping businesses generate more leads.