Online review sites like Yelp, Zagat, and Citysearch have in many ways become too influential in determining the reputation of businesses everywhere, especially on a local level. With the increased importance of online search, review sites are consistently popping up in local searches. So are reviews on Google Places, which always shows up on a Google search. If you’ve got a website or established web presence as a small business owner, chances are it will show up in a local search query. But what happens when a negative review about your small business pop up?
Being committed to an online marketing plan should mean showing up in a local search. The problem is, actively monitoring for mentions of your business takes time, and if not done well, a negative review or poor experience could be waiting for everyone to see. A potential customer could then think twice about doing business with you. And with so many review options online, chasing them all down could be a burden. Ignore them if you wish, but statistics show that 70 percent of consumers online trust opinions of unknown users.
The good news is that small business owners aren’t powerless when it comes to online reviews and whatever is contained within them. In fact, online review sites have given more options to small businesses wanting to respond and make a concerted effort to “do right” by customers. Here are seven steps you can take to avoid negative reviews, and how to respond if you do get dinged.
Always focus on customer service: This may seem elementary but with happy customers the risk of negative feedback, either privately or online, is dramatically reduced.
Know what’s being said: Negative comments should never be allowed to linger. By using Google searches (searching for mentions recently, like in the last seven days) you can see what new things have popped up and address them quickly, if necessary.
Give customers an outlet: Social media sites like Facebook have become popular for customer feedback and reviews. But even listing an email address on a small business website for customer feedback can make all the difference. If you don’t give customers an outlet to voice their concerns, they’ll find one publicly.
Never go on the offensive: It’s easy to get angry and frustrated when someone took the time to slam the business you pour your heart and soul into. But it’s important to focus on making things right with the customer and potentially encouraging them to update or recant their review. In these kinds of public forums the “customer is always right” applies.
A response isn’t just for the unhappy customer: As I mentioned, online review sites pop up in searches, which means reviews can be read by anyone. A negative review can be seen, but if it’s followed by a thoughtful response by a business to rectify the situation, readers will know they’re serious about customer service. That effort could pay off more with future customers than the one that left unhappy.
Offer a real solution: Anyone can say “we’re sorry and want to make things right.” Take it a step further and offer up a true compromise. Let the customer know there’s a discount, free product, or something extra in it for them if they allow you to rectify the problem. Don’t forget, all of these efforts are public, so going above and beyond will improve a small business owner’s online reputation with readers.
Encourage positive reviews: instead of waiting for a negative review, give happy customers an incentive to go online and positively review your business. Similar to actively seeking referrals, give your best customers perks for taking the time to evangelize your business. It will be worth the effort for both parties in the long run.
Have you been victimized by a negative online review? How does your small business typically respond when to being dinged online? What advice would you offer to other small businesses?
Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.