Do your duty and engineer a…

A couple of weeks ago, while I was in Delhi on work, I stayed at a hotel for 6 days. During the stay, one afternoon, as I walked out of my room, a lady—a hotel staff—in the corridor saw me and enquired if everything was ok and if I needed something else. I was surprised by her question since I have never seen he before. But I said that everything was perfectly fine and I didn’t need anything else. Then she requested me to do something!

We ordered pizza during the weekend. The delivery was swift, as expected and the pizza was excellent. While delivering the pizza, the delivery guy requested me to do something.

Recently we went out to eat. We had a great time and ate to our heart’s content. While paying the bill, the waiter requested us to do something.

We hired a vendor to fit pigeon nets for our balcony. The vendor was recommended by a friend and after he finished his job (very well done!), he requested me to do something.

I went to a doctor recently. After the consultation, I got a text message from an online brand that aggregates doctors. It asked me to do something!

You may have already guessed what the ask was, in all these occasions.

The first 4 were personal, face-to-face – they told me their names and asked me to leave a positive review online – on TripAdvisor, Zomato and Google. The last one was from Practo.

One of my clients, after I became an independent consultant in the field of communications (PR, social media and marketing), was an SME with a diminishing lead pipeline problem. And they hired me to find out why the leads are drying up despite them doing a good enough job in marketing, much like the earlier year. During my research, I figured that the company was, among other reasons, too dependent on one online portal that was one of the most popular aggregators in the space they operated in. That portal also had a vendor directory where clients leave reviews of the vendors they worked with.

Many of the competing SMEs (both Indian and global) had very good reviews, while this company’s reviews always seem mixed despite very good results, continuing work and years of association. I anticipated the issue, but confirmed it when my client said that they don’t do assisted reviews, that is, prep the client and be on call when they leave an online review. In all probabilities, the other vendors who are getting very positive reviews engaged with the client for reviews specifically and assisted them in the process, to ensure that they get a completely positive review, as best as they could. This is actually a norm in the B2B space.

In a perfect world, we are generally told that our work should speak for itself – we shouldn’t. Bhagavad Gita’s (most commonly understood/associated) crux says this too, in another way – do your duty, don’t expect results. But, we also live in a highly complex, attention-starved world. In such a world, if we need to engineer a better word-of-mouth for our work (deservedly, when we have indeed done well; this won’t work if our work was poor in the first place) because that may influence others to also consider us for the work, then so be it. There is no shame in making this request. The choice to abide by it is always with the other person anyway.

What the hotel staff, waiter and cab drivers do is explicitly seek good reviews – they don’t merely say, please review us; they say please review <name> well on <a specific platform>. They are aware of how it could be useful to them, perhaps during appraisals and are engineering a good outcome by working towards it *after* doing a good job in their work first.

I’m sure a LOT of people may ignore such pointed requests, but the more they ask, the more the number of people who may end up leaving a good review. And these reviews help! We end up making our decisions from these reviews left by strangers.

Also, the people who do ask customers/clients to leave a good review on a specific platform that matters to them are smarter than the rest. They have thought-through the value of such reviews and are making a proactive effort – not to game reviews, but to engineer them to their advantage.

An extreme version of this activity was depicted beautifully in the science fiction series Black Mirror’s 3rd season, in the episode called Nosedive. The plot of that episode goes, “Society uses a technology where, through eye implants and mobile devices, everyone shares their daily activities and rates their interactions with others on a one-to-five star scale, which affects that person’s overall rating. One’s current average can be seen by others and has significant influence on their socioeconomic status“! But, as I said, this is an extreme 🙂

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