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 customers are still feeling positive about your business? How can you boost your reputation online 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? Keep reading to learn about the importance of developing a strategy for online reviews and sticking to it!
Table of Contents:
Why 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. Most likely, you reach for your phone and search for ‘restaurants near me’ or something similar.
Now, 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 down the list to check the star counts and reviews!
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 important, 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 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, 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, but here are some good sites to check:
- 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 own 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 is a critical step that may seem obvious but don’t forget to ask customers for their feedback. 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 plenty of 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.
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 (when tactful and constructive) can help you improve your business.
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.
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 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. 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. 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.
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.
Oftentimes, 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 make sure 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.
For more tips to help your small business in the digital world, check out these posts: