As a small business owner, you know the importance of maintaining a positive reputation.
Word-of-mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools you have, and happy customers will often want to share their excitement about your business.
In person, it's easy to tell if a customer is satisfied with their experience.
If they are, it's almost too easy to draw new traffic to your business with referral offers, promotions, and coupons.
But what if you're doing more business online these days? How can you tell if your online reputation is as good as it is in person?
How can you boost a positive online presence and reach more people?
The possibilities for increasing customer satisfaction are endless.
You know your customers best, so get creative! What can you do that will be meaningful to them? How can you show them that you care?
There isn't a simple "magic formula" we can share that works across the board, but these posts may help you get started:
Today, we're going to focus on that other big question: how can you boost your reputation online and reach more people?
Please keep reading to learn about the importance of developing a strategy for positive reviews online and sticking to it!
Table of Contents:
- Why Reviews are Important
- How to Encourage Positive Reviews
- How to Take Negative Reviews in Stride
- Monitor Your Competitors
- Encourage Your Customers To Upload Photos
- Understand How Online Reviews Can Impact Search Engine Optimization
Why Positive Reviews are Important
Have you ever been sitting at home with a friend or your spouse trying to choose a dinner spot?
You're both feeling adventurous and want to try someplace new.
What's your next step? Do you open the phone book and start scanning? Probably not.
You most likely reach for your phone and search for 'restaurants near me' or other relevant searches.
From there, you might look through your social media platforms.
But, what do you think about what you do when the list of nearby restaurants appears?
Do you start calling places to ask them if their food is good? Of course not.
You scan the list to check the star counts and reviews from previous and current customers!
The reviews you read will absolutely influence your decision on where to grab a bite to eat.
If our example alone isn't enough to show you why reviews are essential, check out these statistics from Bright Local:
- 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, with 52% of 18-54-year-olds saying they 'always' read reviews
- The average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business
- Only 53% of people would consider using a business with less than 4 stars
- The average consumer spends 13 minutes and 45 seconds reading reviews before making a decision
- Among consumers that read reviews, 97% read businesses' responses to reviews
Are reviews important? YES! Your prospective customers trust and are influenced by the reviews they read.
Next, we'll share some tips for encouraging customers to leave reviews and how to handle any negative comments.
How to Encourage Positive Reviews
Online reviews can affect your search ranking, strengthen your reputation, and better understand your customers. So, online reputation management is critical.
How can you get more positive online reviews for your small business?
Here are three tips for encouraging your happy customers to leave positive comments:
1. Monitor third-party sites like Google, Yelp, and Open Table.
To work on growing reviews for your business, you first have to know where customers are talking about you.
This will depend on your business type and the habits of your customers.
Here are some excellent third-party review websites to check your business listing:
- Open Table
- Better Business Bureau
- Angie's List
- Yahoo! Local Listings
Your customers may often write reviews for your business on sites like these, along with your website.
Keep an eye on as many of these as possible to keep in touch with your customers and better understand their experience with your business.
2. Ask for feedback
This critical step may seem obvious, but don't forget to ask customers for their feedback.
Building customer relationships is critical, even online.
Here are some ways you can do this in an online environment:
- Include a link to a survey or review site with their order confirmation.
- Add a "Submit Feedback" button to your website.
- Send an email requesting feedback a few days after their order is fulfilled/delivered.
- Create a post on social media asking for customer feedback.
There are many different ways to ask for customer feedback, but be careful not to incentivize reviews.
Giving customers something in exchange for a review can lead to persuasive, misleading, and at times, fake online reviews.
This is prohibited per the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Endorsement Guide.
The best thing to do is create loyal customers who will review your business without asking them to.
3. Respond to all reviews, whether positive or negative.
When someone leaves a review about your business, they are giving up time out of their day to write their thoughts down.
Although not quite as fun to respond to, even negative reviews from unhappy customers (when tactful and constructive) can help you improve your business.
One of the best ways to have happier customers is to fix the things that aren't working.
It is both courteous and very important that you or a representative from your business respond to each review.
Thank the customer for their time, show your appreciation for their patronage, or express a sincere apology for a disappointing experience.
This positive content, even on a negative review, can help a lot in the long run.
When current and potential customers see reviews with personalized responses, they will be encouraged to share their experiences too.
Plus, as we noted earlier, 97% of customers who read reviews also read business owner responses.
How to Take Negative Reviews in Stride
Discovering four- and five-star reviews for your business is like opening a huge birthday present: exciting and awesome!
However, when you receive reviews like these, a wave of dread may wash over you:
"If I could give this place zero stars, I would. Our server was SO RUDE. Never coming back." – Oscar G.
"Go here if you want to have the worst customer service experience of your life. One star just doesn't seem low enough to represent my recent visit." – Ron S.
Navigating the waters of negative online reviews can be tricky, but it can be done calmly and professionally. It's key to not take a customer complaint too personally.
We find it is best to follow a simple, 4-step plan when responding to reviews like these.
Here are some examples of those four steps:
1. Determine if the review is real or spam.
Unfortunately, not every review comes from an actual customer.
But, unfortunately, fake reviews will impact your business as if they were real.
Here are a few tips to help you spot fake reviews:
- Check for glaring spelling and grammar mistakes.
- Look for overuse of verbs and the word "I" or "me."
- Be wary of generic names, fake names, or numbers only, and profiles without a photo.
- Look for phrase repetition across multiple reviews.
Not all bad reviews are fake, and as we mentioned earlier, even negative feedback can positively impact your business.
Take your time to determine if the review is fake or not before you report it.
While most social media sites won't let you immediately delete a fake review, you can report spam comments.
It can take up to two weeks to hear back on a fake review report, so be patient.
2. Create a list of common responses to begin the conversation.
Negative reviews can be incredibly disheartening, especially if you feel you've been inaccurately represented.
Before crafting your response, take a deep breath and perhaps step away for a moment.
The worst thing you can do is respond out of anger.
We recommend creating a running list of initial generic responses you can use when you aren't sure how to respond.
Make sure these express genuine concern for their poor experience and a willingness to make things right. Here are a few examples to help you get started:
"I'm very sorry to hear about your negative experience. That was never our intention. We appreciate your feedback and want to make it right."
"Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I'm very sorry to hear that we did not meet your expectations and would appreciate the opportunity to make things right."
"We strive to only deliver the best products to our customers, so I'm sorry to hear that you were not satisfied with your purchase. What can we do to make it right?"
One of your goals here should be to engage the customer in a conversation that may lead to another chance to serve them.
Keep in mind that it IS possible for the customer to go back and change their review. If you're able to improve their second experience, they may feel inclined to bump up their star rating.
3. Personalize responses when you can.
Often, a disappointed customer just wants to be heard.
If you receive a detailed review and understand why the customer is dissatisfied, do not pass on the opportunity to make things right.
Carefully craft and personalize your message to respond to the customer's specific grievances.
Most customer reviews are left under the customer's actual name, which means that when you respond, you should use their first name.
Let's pretend we are responding to the first negative review from above. An appropriate, personalized response could be:
"Oscar, I am so sorry to hear about your recent visit. We strive to provide high-quality experiences and customer service to all our guests. Please send us a direct message or call in so we can make it right and your next experience better."
Addressing your customer by name shows that you truly care for their personal experience. Always apologize, even if you feel it was not your fault.
The way you handle negativity will show Oscar and your other customers how to truly feel about them.
4. Explain how you are fixing the problem or addressing the issue.
Whether you're responding with a public comment, private message, or phone call, you should explain what steps you are taking to fix the issue. And truly take those steps.
If a customer took the time out of their day to leave a review and express dissatisfaction, it's likely that they just want to see the issue fixed. So, have that tough conversation with an argumentative employee.
Address those product quality issues with your supplier.
Review those prices to ensure they're consistent with the current market, and let your customers know that you are committed to serving them better.
Customer satisfaction is the key to the success of your small business.
It may be challenging at first to monitor and maintain satisfaction in an online environment, but with a little bit of practice and the right strategy, you can keep customers happy and boost your online reputation.
Monitor Your Competitors
While keeping a close eye on how customers discuss your business or write reviews for your business on the review sites, it's essential to monitor your competitors too!
Whether customers are trying to find a new restaurant or a new dental practice, they're probably going to look up multiple businesses online, so see what customers say about your competitors.
If you discover areas where your competitors are excelling, and you're falling short, you can figure out what you can do differently to make up for it.
Encourage Customers To Upload Photos
User-generated content for your business is great, and there's no better content than photos.
If you ask your customers to write reviews for your business online, ask them to upload photos as well.
77% of consumers say customer photos have a greater impact than professional photos.
Photos you take of your business will be great and make your brand look good, but customer photos paint the real picture.
Customer photos won't be taken in perfect lighting with a professional camera.
Instead, they'll be taken quickly on smartphones.
But these authentic images can significantly improve your online reputation, especially if they're paired with a favorable review.
Understand How Online Reviews Can Impact Search Engine Optimization
Negative feedback can deter potential customers, but they can also impact your business's visibility in search engines.
Negative reviews influence if your business shows in the competitive and coveted "three-pack" for map listings on Google.
The "three-pack" are the businesses that show up at the top of the Google Map listings.
So if you're visiting Miami and looking for a cafe, you might type into Google "cafes in Miami" or "cafe near me."
A map listing of the top three cafes in the area will appear at the top of the search engine result page, most likely in the first position.
The businesses in the three-pack get about 44% of all clicks.
Only 8% of potential customers click to see "More Places."
Businesses with 4-star ratings or higher are most likely to occupy positions in the three-pack.
Small businesses that do not monitor or manage online reviews risk decreasing their visibility in search engine results, making it next to impossible to build an online presence.
For more tips to help your small business in the digital world, check out these posts: