The days of consumers making purchases blind or listening to advertising alone are gone. The information age and cell phones have put nearly infinite data at your customers’ fingertips. And they’re using it.
In fact, 90% of consumers read online reviews before they visit a business.
For most business owners, that statistic can inspire both hope and fear. You want them to hear honest feedback from your happy customers. On the other hand, unhappy customers post reviews too and you have no control over what they’re saying.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. To stay on top of your online reputation management, start with these key steps.
Online reputation management tips
You have more input in customers’ online reviews than you think if you follow these top tips.
Claim all your listings
If you’re a business, chances are that you have a listing on countless online review sites. From Yelp to Google, people are already leaving feedback whether you know it or not.
In most cases, you need to claim your listings and prove that you’re the business manager or owner to manage your listings. This allows you to keep your contact information and business hours up to date.
It also gives you the all-important power to respond to reviews. As we’ll explain later, this is one of the most valuable things you can do for your reputation management.
Do a Google search for your business name. This will bring up most or all of your review site listings. Claim all of them that permit you to and keep a list so you remember to keep an eye on them.
Use a specialty tool
Online reputation management doesn’t have to be a DIY project. A review management tool can go a long way toward your ability to keep your star rating as high as possible.
Different tools use different methods to improve your reviews. Most of them have an automatic email system that gets feedback from customers.
When customers are happy, the tool invites them to leave a review and sends them easy-to-use links. When customers are unhappy, it will alert you instead so you can reach out and try to make amends.
Stock up on good reviews
No matter who you are or what you do, a negative review here and there is inevitable. You’ll upset someone every once in a while, even if you’re completely in the right.
It’s next to impossible to get a review site to remove a negative review unless you have proof that it is fraudulent. The best way to safeguard your rankings against negative reviews is to stock up on positive ones.
Make it part of your routine to invite happy customers to post a review online. Spread the word with your staff and make sure they’re suggesting it on a regular basis. You can even hand out business cards as reminders, telling customers where they can post reviews.
Respond to every review
As we mentioned above, responding to reviews is an instrumental part of your reputation management. This includes positive and negative reviews alike.
For positive reviews, thank the reviewer for their feedback. Keep it simple and let them know that you look forward to serving them in the future.
Negative reviews tend to trip up businesses more often. Be brief and apologize for the fact that they were unhappy with their experience. Don’t get defensive but if you weren’t in the wrong, don’t roll over either and say that you were.
Remember that the simple fact of responding is worth as much as the actual words you say. It lets reviews and, more importantly, future potential customers see that you care about your customers and that you’re paying attention.
Choose your words carefully
Let’s get more in-depth into the issue of responding to negative reviews in particular.
The trick is to avoid getting defensive, even if you 100% believe that you were right and the customer is wrong. While you can defend yourself and support your team in their actions, you will want to be compassionate.
After all, you truly regret that the customer didn’t have a successful visit with you, so let them know.
Always be professional, even if the reviewer speaks with a harsh tongue. It’s your job to take the high road and to stay positive no matter what. If the customer has gone on a swear-ridden tirade while you’ve responded calmly and professionally, it reads in your favor for future customers.
Another key rule is to avoid using the same canned response over and over. The purpose of a response is to show that you care, and a copy-and-paste job says the opposite.
Always offer a next step. Invite the customer to contact you to discuss how you can rectify the situation, or let them know that you’ll be in touch. Your response should never amount to, “Oh well, what’s done is done.”
Finally, be careful about privacy regulations. If you’re in a sensitive industry like healthcare, read up on what you can and can’t say in a public forum.
Be cautious about incentives
We mentioned above that you can counteract negative reviews by burying them in positive reviews. Some business owners try to do this by offering incentives to those who leave reviews.
This can be tricky, so use caution. Make sure your wording is clear that customers will get the incentive whether their review is positive or negative.
Even if you do this, it can be risky. If customers see that you average one review per month and then you suddenly received 30 good reviews in a week, it looks suspicious.
Making the right name for yourself
Gossip spreads like wildfire online. When the topic is your business, that gossip can either be your best friend or your worst enemy.
The online reputation management tips above may not prevent you from ever getting a one-star review. However, they’ll make sure that your happy customers have a voice and that you make the best possible impression on new customers before you even meet them.