Reputation Management: Why Businesses Can't Ignore Online Reviews
For many customers, online reviews matter as much as personal recommendations. Learn how you can generate positive online reviews to win more customers.
When a user searches online for a local business, the first thing they will see is a star rating, based on the reviews that previous customers of that business have left. For most searchers, this is a critical step in their decision process:
- 86% of customers read reviews for online businesses
- 91% of customers between the ages of 18 and 35 trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
- 57% of customers only use a business if it has 4 or more stars
For many local businesses, these stats are daunting, because obtaining online reviews and ensuring the majority of reviews are positive feels uncontrollable. But as the influence of online reviews continues to grow, all businesses must have a strategy in place to manage their online reputation.
If you own or manage some aspect of a local business, keep reading to learn how to approach three critical aspects of online reputation management:
- Best practices for generating online reviews
- Strategy for generating positive reviews
- Dealing with negative reviews
How to Encourage Customers to Write Reviews
In many ways, your strategy for obtaining online reviews can be weaved into your existing business or marketing activities. For example, it can be as simple as putting a short link to leave a Google review on your receipts, or adding a call-to-action to a monthly newsletter if you have one. If you have customer service representatives who follow up with customers by email, this is another opportunity to include a link.
One of the most effective and rewarding approaches is to simply ask customers in person. Ask them how their experience was and encourage them to write about it online. Make it a habit amongst your customer representatives to request or at least mention the ability for customers to leave an online review.
Of course, the best strategy is simply having excellent customer service. Ensuring that every customer is treated well and leaves with a smile on their face is the most important thing for not only improving your star rating, but for keeping your business running.
Getting Strategic with Online Reviews
If you're starting with little or no online reviews, then obtaining more reviews is definitely a priority. But the unfortunate truth is that customers are far more likely to leave a review for a negative experience than for a positive experience. As a result, ensuring that you generate positive reviews requires a more intentional strategy.
A great place to start is to approach loyal customers or those who are obviously very satisfied with their experience.
When it comes to the timing of asking for a review, it depends on your business. With a traditional retail business where the customer journey is short, asking immediately is recommended. For businesses where the customer journey is longer, such as a B2B company or a multi-step consumer service (e.g., home remodeling), you can extend this a little further and ask after 1-2 weeks.
One key thing to remember is that you are not allowed to incentivize customers to leave positive reviews. Entities such as Google and Yelp will be able to identify these reviews and subsequently filter them out, and your business may experience penalties as a result. However, you can incentivize your employees to provide exceptional service and ask customers for review, and you may reward them if their name is mentioned in the review.
Handling Negative Online Reviews
Every business at one point or another is bound to get a negative review. As mentioned previously, customers who feel their experience with a business was in any way negative are more likely to leave a review. And even one bad review, left untouched, can prevent a customer from purchasing your product or visiting your store.
No matter how bad the review is, you absolutely should respond to it. Take an apologetic tone and do your best to remedy the situation. Under no circumstances should you argue with the customer, point fingers, or become combative in any way. If you are able to fix the situation that caused the customer to leave a negative review, often that person will update their review for the better. That said, don't compose your response with the expectation that the customer will change their review.
Remember: Online Reviews Aren't Going Away
Managing your business's reputation online is always going to be critical. Review platforms like Google and Yelp have become so powerful and pervasive, to the point where many customers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Simply put, you can't ignore or underestimate the impact of what customers say about you online.
As you think about your strategy for generating reviews, remember that you know your customers best. If you don't know which of the above methods will work best, test a handful of them in small batches before making any a standard practice for all customers.
Ultimately, don't let customer reviews scare you. At the end of the day, as long as you provide exceptional customer service and create a welcoming, positive environment, generating and maintaining a good reputation online should come easily.