Turning a negative into a marketing strategy for internal processes and external sales funnels.
We live in a world where one bad review can ruin your business. Platforms like Yelp and Tripadvisor have literally lit a fire under small business owners worldwide. Queuing them to get their act together and customer service is golden. Not only are good reviews a rite of passage for service-based businesses, it now spills into business sales. Platforms like Yelp, Trip Advisor, (arguably) Linkedin are the scorecards of the consumer product marketplace. It’s the new standard yellow pages, operating like a blockchain, the new yellow pages. My experience working with small businesses in the fashion and lifestyle retail space is that Yelp.com is always on the marketing agenda.
“What can we do to increase our Yelp score?” “Can you leave us a good trip advisor review? We’ll give you a free bottle of champagne?” These are legit phrases owners and executives have asked me, all in the name of a good digital footprint. And so it wasn’t a surprise to me that high-end dry cleaners tasked me with increasing their Yelp Score. An increase in 1 start could yield a 20 percent increase in company revenue. To them, that could meet an additional $1M in sales! So on my first 30 days as a Marketing Lead, I logged into work and got to work. Here’s the story of how I came to oversee the restoration of a Christian Dior gown owned by the one and only Elizabeth Taylor.
It was a busy day at the factory. Designer clothes were cleaned and pressed to perfection by 9AM. And by 10AM when I walked in, they were bagged and ready to be delivered to Manhattan’s elite. I made my way through the chaos into the back of the factory. As soon as I got to the door of my office my co-worker informed me he found the lady’s contact information in the company database according to her bad review on Yelp.com and that WE were going to call her and ask to restore her Christian Dior dress.
The bad review read:
“I’ve absolutely had it with the company! They ruined my vintage Christian Dior dress! I brought it to them to clean and I am now seeing bleach or dye marks on it! I didn’t even think about taking it out of the bag to examine it. I’m livid.”
And so here we are huddled in a conference room about to call “Mrs. Apple” and ignite a war. People who truly love their clothes, designer clothes, are on another level. Well maybe it’s just Christian Dior because every time I give my Dior over to my own local dry cleaners, I hold my breath - for the entire week. Anyway, back to the story:
“Hello, this is Jason and Melissa calling from Pristine Dry Cleaners. Is this Ms. Apple?”
“Why yes, it is. You know you all ruined my Christian Dior dress and didn’t have the nerve to call me back!!!!”
“And that’s why we are calling you back now. We both just joined the company and following up with valued customers.”
With hands ablaze, I stepped into the conversation. This dude was not the best at customer service. “We read your review on Yelp.com and feel awful about it. I know how much this piece means to you and the company wants to restore it back to wearable conditions.
See where this is going? The conversation went on for at least thirty minutes. We scheduled a pick up for that same day. The next morning I came into my office and there was the dress. A Long green dress from like the 1960s. It wasn’t anything someone would wear but let me remind you how conservative the fashion was during that time period. The dress was also purchased at an auction. It was once owned by Elizabeth Taylor. Don’t really know if she wore for TV or for a photo shoot, but it was definitely camp.
The first thing I did was examine it. I took it out of the plastic to take some photos of it. I called Ms. Apple to update her about the dress and what the artisans intended on doing. She was still fuming from yesterday's conversation.
“Don’t you dare ruin the fabric.” “It fits me to my measurements, so don’t alter it.”
I reassured her that the dress was not in good hands and that I’ll be thoroughly monitoring the process. Let me be clear, that it wasn’t my job to do all of this. But my goal was for Mrs. Apple to delete her Yelp.com bad review and replace it with a 5-star review. The marketing aspect of it was clear and I had to do what I had to do to make it work. The company had about 20 reviews and 6 of them were between 1-2 Stars. Mrs.Apple’s was a 1-star and it was the most recent bad review.
I didn’t quite know if my strategy would work. After all, this dress required some major reconstruction. The fabric had to be re-dyed and this required the company to outsourced this specialty service to a family dye factory located almost 2 hours away. We also had to replace a rare organza fabric, that was to be ordered straight from Paris. That part alone would take 2 months with customs, communicating with the suppliers, and shipping. Of course, Ms. Apple wasn’t happy about this. It was the spring and we told her the dress would take about 4- 6 months to be restored.
In the meantime, to get better reviews on Yelp.com, I launched a massive company-wide Yelp contest. Customer service reps, seamstresses, drivers, and sales reps were in competition to get their names mentioned in a yelp.com review. Every 4 and 5-star review meant an extra $30 to their paychecks. As soon as I set out the internal email announcing the contest, my fellow employees got to work. I also created marketing collateral to hang up around the office and factory, created copy for customer service phone scripts - “Leave us a Yelp.com review. Let me walk you through the process for an extra 10% off your bill.” I also created in-store signage about Yelp.com and programmed an iPad for customers to leave reviews during the pop up events. To say the least, my tactic was overexposure. By the way, this was in 2016, so everything was like ASAP.
By the end of two months, I saw a quarter of star change on Yelp.com but the 3-star score was not changing. How could this company call themselves the best service when Yelp.com, the bible, said otherwise. I had to understand from a platform’s perspective what it was going to take to move the needle. My meeting with a Senior Sales associate was not necessarily wake up call but a queue that it was going to be harder than expected.
The sales associate told me that not only did the company have 6 bad reviews for public viewing pleasures, but that there were more shady “unconfirmed” reviews waiting in the queue. Meetings with platform representatives are also so standard. They tell you about the product features and try to sell you on their services. For Yelp.com that meant buying into their Yelp.com platform management system for business for a few thousand a year. Ah, no! Did I mention I had basically no marketing budget?! Then this sales associate told that even if I do go about my strategy of personally reconciling each bad review, the algorithm was going to be harder to manipulate!
Of course, I didn’t tell the company owner about the platform’s caveat. Instead, I did reinforce the need to get more validated and confirmed reviews on the company’s page. I also pushed for everyone in their company to be on their A-game. You know give good customer service. In the age of technology, it’s expected that the person behind the counter or delivering our shit is supposed to be polite, well - mannered, on time and filled with solutions. Yet, it’s never the case. It does require one to have EQ, as in emotional intelligence. Was I really going to have to teach customer service etiquette classes too??
Following my meeting with the platform, I focused on reconnaissance work and Mrs. Apple’s Dior dress. It was now at the Dye factory. This process took the longest. “Everything’s fine Mrs.Apple.” We are waiting for the fabric to arrive from Paris. I also informed her the dress wouldn’t be ready for another six to eight weeks. By this time it was almost 4 months we had the dress in our possessions. I could feel she was getting annoyed.
“Ok well. I want to wear it in January to the Oscars! So please have it ready by then!”
My heart started beating faster and I hung up the phone. That was in exactly 5 weeks. What the hell was this Dye House doing? I needed an update personally. I had been relying on the Operations manager to give me these design updates. Again, I was the marketing manager so it wasn’t my job to follow up on production. When I called this 75- year - old design house, no one picked up, so I left the message. Then, I called back a few days later. Still no response. An old guy finally called me back and informed me that the dress wasn’t dyed yet. That he was still testing the dye. WTF?! We had 4 weeks to get this dress red carpet ready and this dress wasn’t dyed.
“Well, how long is it going to take?” I asked this old guy calmly.
“It will take 2 weeks.” He responded back to me.
“OK. Well, can we please expedite this process? The client needs it red carpet ready in 3 weeks.”
To speed up this story. We got the dress done in time but not before I sprouted a few grey hairs and a major cause of anxiety. At the end of the day, Mrs. Apple gotta wear her dress to the Oscars but honestly not without the drama. And that’s just it, it was too much drama. She was happy with it. From the pictures she emailed me, it was drowning on her, but that was to her liking, not ours.
A week or so after the restoration was revealed, I called her and brought up the Yelp.com comment again. I offered her 20% off on her next service. She hesitated in accepting it. I needed her to remove her comment.
“I would LOVE… ``''It would mean so much to me…” “ On behalf of the company….”
I was putting in work. Three weeks later, I saw logged into the Yelp platform and saw that her comment was removed and that a new comment was replaced. I was ecstatic. Of course, I told the owner as soon as I had the chance. The company’s Yelp Score was now 4 stars. When I started with the company it was like 2.5 Stars. We gained more business but not solely because of her Yelp score. It was a combination of other marketing campaigns. Still, it was a successful campaign and became embedded in the company’s sales strategy.
Overall, the cool thing about this whole ordeal was getting to restore a designer dress once worn by an American legend. The lady who purchased it was equally interesting. So New York!