Online ratings are what brought me to Social Media marketing. It was 2008 and I foresaw the direct correlation between online ratings, social networking and business operations. I discovered customers were talking to one another instead of listening to advertisements. Social Media fueled their conversation and now online ratings are one of the first places people go when they’re looking for solid, trustworthy advice.
After my years as a manager at Beverly Hills BMW, I stayed in touch with my good friends/ex-coworkers. One of them had moved on to a BMW store in Orange County and I became a customer there. After my car repair in 2008, I decided to leave my review on Yelp. When I searched for the dealership, I found they had a rating of 1.5 stars.
Surprised by this (because I knew this dealership had high CSI ratings through the manufacturer), I decided to do a mini market study on my couch that night. There are about 50 BMW dealerships in California. Shockingly, I found that all but about four had less than 2 stars on Yelp. That’s when I knew there was going to be a way for me to bring my years of auto retail experience into the mix of online ratings and Social Media.
I’ve always been a natural networker. Word of mouth referrals have always been my go-to source for finding trusted sellers and online sites make it so easy now. But if you’re not paying attention to what’s happening out there, things can go very wrong.
Just recently, 19 companies agreed to pay $350,000 in fines for posting fake online reviews. The stakes are high with this dangerous practice. The obvious reason is that you’ll be found out. The not-so-obvious is that when it comes time to pay the fine, it’s you and your business that’s on the hook. The vendor walks away clean.
I know nothing should shock me anymore but aren’t their like a billion reasons not to buy fake reviews? It’s a deceptive advertising practice and Google will take you down hard. Perhaps the problem isn’t that businesses buy them but that they don’t know they’re buying them. They take the word of the salesperson who promises a bountiful profile of solid 5-star ratings. Still, when the red flag waves, many choose to look the other way.
Improving your online reputation is no easy task. I’ve seen a couple of car dealerships who have over 200 reviews and a 2-star rating. To me, this would constitute a call to 911 (if their was such a thing). When you’ve got a large amount of reviews and your overall rating is very negative, that represents a consensus not just the few opinions of your disgruntled customers.
How many sales have you lost because of your online ratings? There are ways to improve online reputation…
7 Right-Now Actions to Improve Your Online Reputation
1. Make sure your company culture is ready for prime time.
There’s a local dealer here in Southern California who reached out to me to help them with their “Yelp problem.” A look behind the curtain showed me it’s not the online part of their reputation that’s gone wrong. It’s their culture that’s causing the negative reviews and that effects their actual real life reputation. Their processes are “old school” and it reflects in the customer experience. That fact is reflected in their 100+ 1-star Yelp reviews.
2. Establish and maintain an internal process for capturing happy, loyal customer reviews.
This starts from the top and must be managed effectively with solid leadership and accountability. CSI programs are great but that’s not what customers care about. They don’t really trust those anymore. An effective process would include clear objectives, training, development, pay plan changes, and a marketing plan.
3. Recruit reviews honestly, openly and with enthusiasm.
The last employee your customer deals with in their transaction can have the most impact. Train front line personnel to ask for referrals! This works: have your employee look your customer square in the eye and say, “Our business is based on referrals. Would you please share your experience with others online here.” (and offer them a printed reminder with your profile’s URL).
4. Recognize that online reviews are a company asset.
You’re already focused on keeping customers happy, right? Then why not maximize the payoff of those efforts by recognizing that happiness is a valuable online asset. A flock of glowing reviews will grease the gears of search engines to greatly increase your exposure in regionally-based searches. Combine that with the powerful effect of word-of-mouth, and online reviews deserve a place under “assets” on your company’s balance sheet.
5. Acknowledge that software can help but it’s not a replacement for hard work.
There are providers out there claiming to “manage your online reputation.” No one manages your business’ reputation but YOU and your staff. The software you use can certainly automate some of the tasks but your internal process to capture happy, loyal customer reviews is your foundation.
6. Convey the importance to your front line personnel by communicating WIIFM (what’s in it for them).
When employee’s see their names in online reviews, it can be very powerful. As Google shifts and changes its algorithms, more and more you’re seeing sales personnel showing up in search results for a business. When you incorporate online review building with their compensation, you’ve got an avenue into getting their buy in.
7. Handle negative reviews quickly, sincerely and with social finesse.
There is a very special way to approach replying to negative reviews. This is where an online reputation coach can really help. It takes finesse and years of online social experience to know how to respond.
Here’s how not to do it: this is from an actual dealership’s profile. The customer wrote seven paragraphs on why not to buy a car from them and ended the review using all caps, “DO NOT BUY A CAR FROM xxxx”. This was the dealership’s response:
“Thank you very much for taking the time and effort to write your review of our dealership. We do appreciate any and all feedback. It certainly sounds like you had a very frustrating experience with our sales department and we are deeply saddened that your experience with us was less than perfect. We would definitely like to hear about your visit in further detail, so if you have a free moment, please give our Sales Department Customer Service Representative xxxx a call directly at (xxx)xxx-xxxx.”
Three things went wrong with this response:
- It could not sound more corporate. In fact, the same canned response is given for every one of their negative reviews.
- They refer to her experience as “less than perfect”. Really?
- The General Manager doesn’t even take the time to respond. He pawns it off on someone else.
If I’d been that customer, the store’s response would’ve enraged me even more. A better response would have been:
“Wow, how sorry I am that your experience with us was this negative, xxx (customer’s name). We have failed. I’m xxxx, the General Manager of xxxx and I’d like to talk with you personally about how we can do better. Please call my cell at (xxx)xxx-xxxx. I truly want to make every customer’s experience a positive one and I hope you give me the chance to rectify things with you. Thank you so much for your feedback. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Improving your online reputation will be one of the hardest tasks you’ll ever take on. Take these right-now actions and your job will be easier.