A good business reputation is worth its weight in gold. For a small business, building and keeping a good reputation depends on its customers, as well as effectively managing customer reviews as they appear online.
The importance of online customer reviews cannot be overstated. The numbers vary slightly, depending on who’s talking. But 90% of consumers not only read online reviews, they are heavily influenced by them. They trust them even more than the personal recommendations of their friends.
Online reviews matter – and small business owners need to encourage their customers to write them.
“Your brand,” said social media expert Brian Solis, “is defined by those who experience it.”
MANAGING CUSTOMER REVIEWS
You have satisfied customers because you provide a valuable service or excellent products. Your next step? Leveraging those positive customer experiences to your benefit.
It doesn’t happen without an effort.
First, set up profiles on multiple customer review sites. Don’t stop with the major sites, like Yelp and Angie’s List. There are industry-specific sites, such as RateMDs for healthcare.
Take the Direct Approach
The best way to get a good online review is the direct approach: just ask for one. Whenever a customer takes the time to compliment you, whether it’s in person, in an email, or by telephone, ask them to make the same comment on Yelp or some other site. Chances are they’ll be happy to oblige.
Make It Easy
Many of your customers will be willing to provide a good review, but don’t make them go out of their way to do it. Put links to your review sites wherever you can: in a follow-up email, in your e-newsletter, and on your website.
Sweeten the Pot
It isn’t ethical to buy good customer reviews, but you can offer incentives. It could be a discount for future business, or a small monthly giveaway.
Many of your customers will reward your efforts by leaving the positive reviews you seek. If the review site allows it, make sure to say thank-you.
You can’t please everyone; bad online reviews are going to happen from time to time. What it comes down to is the expectations of your customers, and whether they are being met.
When negative reviews happen, don’t overreact. Chalk them up as a part of doing business. They can even become a learning experience.
It’s a good idea to have a strategy in place, so you can respond in a timely and appropriate manner. There are things you definitely should not do:
The worst thing you can do after a negative review is ignore it. It gives the impression that you don’t care.
Never use the review site to argue, or tell customers they are wrong. Better to acknowledge the issue, pledge to address it, and move on. The art of managing customer reviews should never involve an ongoing exchange of vitriol.
Some business owners have been known to write their own positive views, especially if they want to counter negative ones. It’s a bad idea. Not only is it unethical, there’s a good chance you’ll be found out. It’s embarrassing, and sites like Yelp may flag you with a warning to readers.
Above all, be tactful. If you engage in a back-and-forth with a complaining customer, bear in mind that potential customers will see your comments. Your reasoned replies to negative reviews can actually work in your favor.
The ugly, darker side of online customer reviews is this reality: some customers will threaten to leave bad reviews unless you give them something, like free goods or services. That’s extortion, and giving in to it would be a huge mistake.
If you’re threatened like that, your options may be limited. If he or she follows through, you can file a complaint with the review site, take the person to court, or hire the services of an Online Reputation Management company.
Just as ugly are fake reviews – the wild card of online reviews. It’s becoming a big business, one that the PBS NewsHour program called “mind-boggling” in size and scope. In New York, the state Attorney General’s office went after the problem in 2013. In 2015, the online retail giant Amazon filed a lawsuit against more than 1,100 people they said had posted fake reviews on that site alone.
Don’t live in fear of getting bad online reviews. They’ll happen from time to time, so managing customer reviews should become an essential part of your business reputation management strategy.
Follow your social media pages to stay on top of what your customers are saying. There are monitoring tools available that will alert you to whenever your business is mentioned anywhere on the Internet.
Internet Reputation has the expertise and tools that small business owners need to stay competitive online, and get them the positive online reputation their business deserves.