The Gist

  • Cultural sensitivity. Respect varying customer cultures for personalized services.
  • Brand identity. Recognize your business reputation and train staff accordingly.
  • Response Strategy. Respond proactively and respectfully to all customer feedback.

Back in 2007, Google first introduced the business rating system in the US to allow businesses to post on their business page. At first, this rating system was seen as an opportunity to reach more potential customers while promoting businesses in new ways. For businesses, this meant being held accountable to a standard of excellence that Americans have always come to expect.

All seemed well until Google started expanding this product internationally and Americans took their high expectations to far-flung parts of the world, not realizing just how different cultures can be from their own.

Recently, my fiancé Mike and I began our five-week adventure across the world and have witnessed, firsthand, just how unfortunate this rating system has become. Some of our greatest experiences have been in establishments that had less than four stars, while some of our bigger disappointments have been with near-five-star ones. Why? Each of us are tuned differently to want and need different things, which makes most rating systems completely skewed from the start.

Below are two examples of what we’ve encountered.

A Dutch Pancakes Place Deserved More Stars Than They Have

We were in Amsterdam for the first part of our journey and went to a 3.9-star place called Pancakes, located in the heart of the old part of the city. It was a tiny little establishment on a busy sidewalk, with only a few tables inside and two outside, and was also quite busy. 

But because it catered to those who are gluten-free, and it was a Dutch pancake place, I didn’t care if I was waiting 30 minutes for service — the stars it was earning from us were centered around the fact that I could eat there. While service was slow, the people working there were very kind and even more appreciative that we understood. Workers there said a lot of Americans, as well as other cultures, are not as patient and it’s led to bad reviews and at times, loss of business. They got five stars from us.

Related Article: Customer Experience Meets Community Experience: Lessons From Overseas

A Seychelles Tour Operator Has Great Reviews but Not From Us

I am actually writing this article from the Seychelles, and just the day before I wrote this, we took an excursion with a local tour operator who has received 4.9 out of 5 stars on Google. Like most of us who are used to a prompt culture, we expect confirmation emails the evening before an excursion and on-time arrival to pick us up. It was a little concerning that we had not received a confirmation email, so I reached out and received a prompt reply.

However, the next day, we made it a point to get up early, race through breakfast and be at our meeting point exactly at 8:30 a.m. — the time agreed upon. When 8:45 a.m. passed, I was re-reading the confirmation email to make sure we were in the right place — we were. Then, 9 a.m. passed, and I messaged the tour operator, wondering if they were still picking us up. Then, 9:15 am arrived and that’s when the driver arrived. At the same time, I received a less than pleasant response about my “impatience.”  While we had an amazing time on the excursion, it was my need for promptness (45 minutes late is a lot) and her response that drove my lower rating for them.

How We Can Improve Customer Ratings of Our Business

The real issue here is the combination of the internet and being a strong what’s-in-it-for-me culture, and it’s something that we, as CX professionals, know all too well, can do a lot of damage. The fact that we rely heavily on different rating systems to promote our businesses is something I’ve long had a distaste for.

With my above examples, it sheds a Batman-sized spotlight on the fact that no matter what a rating is for, it is natural for a human to take into account their personal wants and needs, their own culture, perhaps someone they like/dislike at your business, as well as what is currently affecting their day. It begs the question, how can we get customers to give better ratings when there are all of these factors at play? After those two experiences on my travels, as well as many others, I’ve devised three tactics that help support better customer reviews in the future. 

Related Article: The Best CX Lessons From Real Customer Conversations

Tactic 1: Know Your Demographics Well

These days, we need to know our customers (and potential customers) almost as well as those humans we know in our personal lives. Are there particular cultures that tend to purchase from you more than others? Understand and know their customs. Even the smallest gesture goes a long way. For example, we saw a Qatar Airways customer service representative hand an Asian passenger their ticket with both hands, as is customary in Asia. 

Learning Opportunities

Or, is there a particular age group that seems to buy from you more than others? Ensure your employees understand how to interact with them. Believe it or not, the later our workforce works in life, the greater disparity in working styles occurs and that can lead to some difficult interactions. 

Tactic 2: Identify, Then Train on What You’re Known For

Yes, we all know what our businesses sell, but do we really know what customers (and potential ones) see us being known for? Have you seen a trend developing in your ratings’ comments as to why you received that rating? In the case of our pancake place, if the business had the ability to hire one more person, it would have been known for food AND prompt service.

These days, the majority of customers are focused on what they purchased, the quality of human interaction they received/continue to receive and the promptness of the completion of the transaction/service. While what they purchased is important, and promptness is certainly up there, it’s the “human interaction” piece that seems to make or break a business. Had the tour operator approached her response with a bit more kindness, I would have most likely overlooked the 45-minute delay and would have given the experience a higher rating

Tactic 3: Respond to What Has Already Occurred

When I am researching just about any business to potentially use, I do read many of the comments, starting with the most recent, to see what trends, if any, occur. If there are unfavorable comments, I check to see if the business has responded and if so, what the tone of the response was. These days, everyone is short-staffed (I’m still wondering where all these people went off to), and customers have less patience than ever before (call it another form of long COVID effects), which means negative reviews are in high supply. The businesses that take the time to respond in a kind, patient manner will earn my business because it tells me they are doing their best in their set of circumstances.

Regardless of whether you receive a negative or positive rating with or without a comment, take the time to respond in-kind with humbleness and honesty — the latter of which should be demonstrated within reason. For example, if the level of customer service wasn’t on-par with a customer’s expectations, and you know it’s been a systemic issue, find a way to acknowledge the issue and what efforts are being made to rectify that in a positive way. It demonstrates to future customers that you are grateful for those that have supported you, regardless of the outcome.

Ratings Aren’t Going Anywhere, so Let’s Work With Them!

While I may detest highly subjective rating systems and their oftentimes dishonest outcomes, they are a part of most businesses across the world. Learning about our customer base, identifying what we want to be known for, how to train on that, and demonstrating appreciation and humbleness — even in the face of negativity, will go a long way toward better/great ratings in the future!

For us as customers ourselves, take a step back and think of what’s most important to you in an experience, as well as potentially the business you represent (if applicable). Be mindful of those who are providing you a service and check in with yourself if you’re feeling as though what you are receiving is sub-par — is it how your own day is going or does it really not meet your expectations? Why? Do you feel that others unfairly rated a business? Why? Combat their review with your own!

We often forget that when we need ratings at our own work, it’s just as important to rate others to help their own businesses do well as well. It’s never fun when a business you love closes because they didn’t receive the positivity they may have deserved.

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