Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Technology has made it very easy for consumers to provide instant critiques about your business on a variety of platforms. For a small business, it can seem daunting to know what to do to manage your reputation online and scary to realize how much this matters for both how customers find you and how they make decisions about whether to choose your company over the competition.
How To Manage Customer Feedback
Depending on what type of business you have, customers can review you or your products or services on Google (Google My Business, specifically), Yelp, Facebook, Amazon, Angie’s List and TripAdvisor, as well as many other, industry-specific “aggregator sites”. The best way to manage online customer feedback is the same way you address other core parts of your business: with a plan and dedicated resources.
Before we get into the details of how to develop a process to manage online reviews, let’s step back a moment to explore your primary objectives:
- Quickly and fairly respond to negative reviews.
- Show potential customers that you care about their feedback.
- Make any necessary adjustments to your business in response to common themes in reviews.
- Encourage glowing testimonials.
Give Customers an Offline Outlet for Poor Reviews
Your goal as a business owner is to provide superior customer service. There is nothing that you can do online that can counteract the experience your customers receive “in real life” (IRL). That said, no business is perfect, and some customers may have unrealistic expectations or have a less-than-stellar experience, for a number of reasons. Expect criticism, and be ready for it.
One way to prevent unhappy customers from leaving reviews online is to provide them with many other opportunities to provide feedback that doesn’t involve posting on Yelp, Google or other third party sites. This might mean having a customer comment card on your table at a restaurant, posting a customer service phone number on a company vehicle or even hanging a sign in your place of business with instructions on how to register a complaint. You may have even been on the receiving end of a service when the technician says, “Is there any reason you wouldn’t recommend us to your friends?” This is a gentle way to address any potential complaints before they become a larger problem.
Train your staff to respond in these situations, including what options your employees have at their disposal to “make it right” with the customer before he or she leaves. If you aren’t a bricks and mortar business, you can add a visible complaint form to your site so customers have a place to vent, rather than going directly to Yelp. Marketing automation can allow you to contact a customer by email or text soon after a transaction so that you can quickly receive and address any potential complaints before they become a larger problem.
Reviews Are An Opportunity To Engage
We now have a variety of ways to easily offer our feedback as customers to local businesses. Although this fact can cause headaches at times, try to think of this constant flow of comments as a positive. As a business owner, you have lots of information at your disposal to improve your business practices, and the platforms to have a direct conversation with your customers.
Some unhappy customers may be gone forever, but you may be able to coax some of them back into the fold. The effort you put into making things right will be noticed by anyone who looks at your reviews. We all know that nobody’s perfect, and so while you can’t go back in time and stop a customer from having a bad experience, you can do what you can to refund a service or offer another chance to try your business or products.
How to Develop a Review Management Process
The best way to prioritize online reviews is to make reputation management a part of your regular business processes. If you haven’t already, the first thing you want to do is to claim your business’s listings on Google My Business, Yelp and other industry-specific review sites (we already mentioned some examples of third party sites above, but think TripAdvisor, Angie’s List or Urbanspoon and other sites in your particular business niche). Use a dedicated email for these accounts which can be monitored by someone in your organization on a daily basis and a cell phone number that can receive notifications and quickly act upon them or notify someone else to respond on your company’s behalf.
One frequently-asked question is whether one review site is more important than the others. Since many consumers “just Google it”, and these results currently have the highest ranking of any other review site, you may consider prioritizing your Google My Business ranking. Look at your competition. How many reviews do these businesses have? What is their star rating? Set a goal to get at least as many reviews and a better score, and keep in mind that this will change over time.
As you might imagine, consumers may look at more than one review site, particularly if the product or service carries a higher price tag. So, you’ll need to make sure to monitor your reviews on the sites which are most popular for your niche.
Make sure all of your information on each review site is correct (and consistent), including your business name, address, phone number, store hours, website URLs and business categories. If you have multiple locations, make sure you have separate profiles for each address.
Each review site has its own set of notifications which can help you can stay on top of reviews. You can also check these sites periodically, whether that means weekly, daily or a few times a week, depending on the volume of reviews you receive. You may also want to investigate sites like BrightLocal and MozLocal which have dashboards to help with review management.
Once you have determined which review sites to monitor and have claimed all of your locations, you’ll need to determine who will respond to reviews and how to respond to positive reviews, negative reviews and everything in between. Your review process will likely be more time intensive at first, while you are developing your company’s tone and refining an escalation procedure for poor reviews. Once you decide upon a process, document it and share it with your team.
If you have never responded to your online reviews, you’ll need to decide what to do about existing reviews. You may choose to respond to poor reviews that came in over the last 3-6 months, mentioning that you weren’t previously aware about the issue in question but would like to address customer concerns. Depending on the volume of reviews you receive, any negative reviews older than six months may not be as important to address, as you’ll probably want to put your efforts into getting more positive reviews.
Although each platform is distinct, and all have slightly different best practices, there are a few things you should keep in mind when deciding how to respond to different types of reviews.
How to Respond to a Postive Online Review
What to do when your business gets positive reviews (usually defined as reviews with four or five stars):
- Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. It’s much more common to go online to complain than it is to leave a compliment, so kudos to you and your staff for a job well done! Pass along the positive feedback to your team. You may factor these reviews into your staff’s performance objectives and performance-based incentives.
- Respond to the customer. In many cases, happy customers feel good seeing a response from a real person. Just a brief public message thanking the reviewer for taking the time to write and inviting him or her to keep coming back is sufficient, but by no means necessary. If you are struggling to keep up with responding to reviews, of course, you’ll want to make sure to prioritize responding to all negative reviews.
- Make it personal. If you have developed a distinct voice or tone for your business, it’s your time to show how you are unique.
- Take advantage of free advertising. Your response is public, so anyone reading reviews can see what you write. You can take advantage of the opportunity to briefly mention a new product or offering. Just make sure not to come off as too sales-y.
- Share the love. Consider incorporating the review on your website’s testimonials page, in email newsletters or sharing the review on your social media channels.
How to Respond to a Negative Online Review
Sadly, not all reviews are so encouraging. When you (or your surrogate) respond to a negative (usually defined as a one or two-star review), remember:
- Don’t take it personally. When you put your heart and soul into your business, it can be soul-crushing to read some of the mean-spirited things people can say.
- Respond as quickly as you can. Once you have had some time to process the feedback, answer the review as quickly as you can.
- Respond privately first, if you can. Send the reviewer a private message at first (if this is an option on that particular platform). Make sure the reviewer feels heard. Be careful in crafting your response. Apologize for the negative experience, and gather any information you might need to investigate the situation further. If you receive no response, post a public response in a few days that is brief and invites the reviewer to provide more information about the incident so that you can perform further research. That way, you can cover your bases and show you care about negative feedback.
- Have sample responses ready, but personalize them. You aren’t a robot, and your responses shouldn’t all be exactly the same. Address the person by name, reiterate his or her specific concerns and show that you care about customer service by trying to rectify the situation.
- Address any factual errors. If a review includes a factual error, you’ll want to make sure to correct that in a public (yet polite) way, both for the benefit of the reviewer and for anyone else who may stumble across the review.
- Be human. Own up to any mistakes you or your staff may have made, and accept responsibility for missteps.
- Make it up to the customer, if you can. If the reviewer has a legitimate complaint, offer a refund or a chance for the reviewer to come back again. Do not offer something in exchange for someone removing a review. If you feel that you have addressed the customer’s complaint and won back his or her business, you can encourage the person to update a review to show that the complaint was addressed.
- Respond with the particular platform’s best practices in mind. Yelp has an e-book with its best practices for responding to reviews, for example, and Google has information about its reviews as well.
- Keep the positive reviews coming. More on that a bit later, but the idea is that over time, you can work to increase the number of positive reviews so that the one-star review has less of an impact.
Possible private response to a negative review:
I’m so sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience at our restaurant last week. I’m very disappointed to learn that you waited for so long without being seated, even when there were empty tables.
I checked with our manager that night and found out that we were short-staffed. This still doesn’t explain why you waited for half an hour for your meal once you were seated.
Although unfortunately I wasn’t there that night to witness what happened, I’m glad you wrote the review so we have an opportunity to earn back your trust. I would like to invite you and your family back for another meal, this time on us.
Please let me know when you plan to stop by so I can make sure our hostess knows you are headed our way.
Owner of Mamma Mia’s Italian Restaurant
As a business owner, you rely on your employees to be the face of your business. That’s why your employees need to also understand the importance of online reviews. Employee behavior is related to 57% of customer complaints (think of that eye-rolling employee at your local coffee shop), so make sure to provide feedback to employees and make any needed changes in response to legitimate concerns that customers have about the service they receive at your establishment.
Some negative reviews may be left by competitors or disgruntled former employees. In those cases, the content of the review may not address real business concerns, but rather come across as a character attack. In other cases, the review is completely over the top or defamatory. In those cases, you’ll want to report the review. Each review site offers a slightly different way to request a review be removed. You can take the opportunity to respond publicly, mentioning that you have reported the review and why.
We have discovered that this review was left by a former employee. We have flagged the review for removal, since it does not address the concerns of a real customer and therefore does not assist those wanting to learn more about our company and the services we offer.
Sincerely, Business Owner Name
If reviews cite illegal behavior or practices, resist the urge to respond. Engage your legal team for advice on how to proceed, as any action you may take could be used against you.
In some cases, customers leave a star rating with no description. Unfortunately, these types of reviews leave very little for the business owner to respond to, so you will usually just leave these reviews without any response.
How to Encourage Glowing Reviews
Just as you don’t want to have social media profiles for your business which aren’t maintained, you want to encourage your customers to leave reviews on a regular basis. Why, you ask? The most recent reviews will typically show up first, so if there is one which is not particularly stellar, you’ll want to displace it with more positive reviews so it’s harder to find. It’s also worth mentioning that although older reviews do factor into your star rating, reviews older than three months are no longer considered relevant by 73% of consumers.
If you think you are bothering your customers by asking them for a review, think again. Businesses ask 70% of customers to leave a review, and of that number, 50% actually do so. Most consumers understand how important these reviews are for local businesses, and they are happy to take the time to leave a review if they have received exceptional service.
Some of the best practices around soliciting reviews include:
- Asking a small, select group of customers to leave a review at a time, so that reviews don’t get filtered. It looks fishy to Yelp if your business suddenly gets 10 five-star reviews. Reviews can also get filtered if the individual has never left a review before or if the review is very high or very low.
- Setting up a routine so that you continually and gradually build up a number of reviews. Not everyone will leave a review, so you could consider contacting a small segment of recent customers via email each week.
- Avoiding promising any rewards for leaving a review. Buying reviews is unethical and may cause your business profile to be removed.
- Make it easy for customers to review you. Google encourages business owners to create a link for customers to provide reviews. You can also encourage your Facebook fans to leave a review.
- Avoid asking customers to review you on Yelp. Yelp prohibits companies from directly requesting reviews, so avoid this practice for this site. If you do send a link via email or text to your Yelp profile, the review is likely to be filtered by the Yelp software, so your efforts will likely be fruitless since filtered reviews are buried and don’t factor into your star rating. What you can do is display Yelp signage in your location, embed reviews on your site and tell your customers to “Find us on Yelp”. Since Yelp handles reviews differently than on other platforms, some companies have a specific strategy on Yelp that might involve identifying who is a Yelp user, asking for reviews in person after a service or transaction and directing customers to leave a review on the Yelp app (since those reviews are less likely to be filtered).
One way you can encourage reviews is to ask your customers how likely they are to recommend your business. You can avoid negative reviews by only reaching out to people who respond in a positive way and asking these customers to post a review.
What Happens After A Person Reads Reviews?
After a potential customer looks at your reviews, what is he or she most likely to do?
Review sites generally link directly to your homepage, so it makes sense that this is an obvious next step for someone deciding whether to take advantage of your product or services. If you haven’t already made your site responsive, now’s the time. While some potential customers will check out other review sites, most will go to your site to learn more about your business, and mobile search now outpaces desktop.
Look at your homepage from the perspective of someone who has just visited a review site. Make sure that your homepage provides a clear and compelling case to potential customers to help move them towards a purchase.
Make Online Reviews A Priority
The single most important thing you can do as a business owner is to provide the best customer experience. Period.
Once you have done that, make sure you put sufficient resources into your online reputation management. Gone are the days when businesses could rely upon more traditional print and television advertisements to raise awareness about their product or service. Once you implement a reputation management process, make sure to monitor your reviews and make adjustments and any needed changes in how you do business to keep your ratings above your competition.
The way consumers make purchasing decisions is changing, and you want to make sure your business is well-positioned to capitalize on these changes. By understanding the importance of online reviews, being responsive to your customers and encouraging positive reviews, you can help improve your chances that customers will make the decision to choose your business.
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