Online ratings are what brought me to social media strategy consulting. It was 2008 and I could see the 4-way intersection of social media, online ratings, customer experience and business operations becoming the foundation to build a modern business.
I discovered customers were trusting one another instead advertisements and social media fueled their conversations.
Online ratings are one of the first places people go when they’re looking for solid, trustworthy advice so it stands to reason then that staying informed on the latest ways to improve your online reputation could actually increase business.
I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of my colleagues from my days managing car dealerships. Back in 2008, one of my friends had moved to a BMW store in Orange County and I became a customer there. One day after picking up my car from service, I decided to post a Yelp review for them. When I searched for the dealership, I found they had a rating of 1.5 stars.
Surprised by this (because I knew this dealer was a good operator and the store had high CSI ratings through the manufacturer), I decided to do a mini market study on my couch that night. There were 50 or so BMW dealerships in California at the time and shockingly, I found that all but about four had less than 2 stars on Yelp. That’s when I saw an opportunity to leverage my years of auto retail experience and bring value to companies who needed guidance with social media marketing.
Now that 8 years have passed, social media and online reputation have merged. In fact, SEO, content marketing and social advertising work together to provide companies with lucrative ways to attract, engage and sell to their target customers.
I’ve always been a natural networker. Word of mouth referrals have always been my go-to source for finding trusted sellers and online ratings sites are where most people turn today.
- 90% of consumers read online reviews.
- 88% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
- 86% will hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative reviews.
- Customers are likely to spend 31% more with a business that has positive reviews.
- 92% will use a local business if it has at least a 4-star rating.
Reviews are Insanely Influential
We now live in what Forrester Research has dubbed “The Age of the Customer,” and guess what? Empowered customers are more demanding than ever, and they have the ability to make or break your business. They don’t trust what you say about your product or service, and they really don’t trust your ads. Instead, they trust other people like themselves.
I’ve seen way more than a handful of car dealerships who have over 400 reviews and a 2-star rating. To me, this would constitute a call to 911 (if there were such a thing). When you’ve got a large amount of reviews and your overall reputation reads negative, that’s a consensus…not just the few opinions of unhappy customers.
Myth: My Reputation Can Take Care of Itself
Online ratings and reviews have the potential to be the single most effective and rewarding marketing channel for small and local businesses, and yet most marketers and business owners do very little to foster and shape reviews because they assume it’s out of their hands. They take a wait-and-see approach—forever.
8 Right-Now Actions to Improve Your Online Reputation
Improving, protecting, and promoting the company’s online reputation should become part of daily operations. Negative reviews deter buyers. If you have even one negative review, it’s impossible to gauge how many sales you lost because of it. Use the following 8 actions to improve your online reputation and give your company every chance to reach its revenue goals.
1. Remove the Obstacles that Stymie Reviews
FACT: 90% of consumers read online reviews. 6% write them.
Happy customers don’t often write reviews. They’ll say they forgot to, never thought to do so, got too busy or that it’s just too difficult.
Make it easy for your happy customer to write reviews – and peace of mind in the process. Implement a proactive, automated process with the help of online reputation management software like Grade.us. This not only makes reviewing your business easy, it simplifies the tasks required within the daily operation of your business.
2. Earn the Privilege of a Positive Review
Every customer is looking for a guide.
One of the most important things a guide does in a customer’s life is to participate in their transformation. They help the customer become somebody better than they used to be. Rather than sell them products, you actually position your products as tools they can use to win the day.
Positive reviews are a natural extension of your customer’s transformation.
3. Respond to every review honestly, openly and with enthusiasm.
Responding to online reviews is an art form.
Positive reviews deserve acknowledgement. Respond to each one with a sincere note of thanks. If you’re familiar with the transaction or can do some behind-the-scenes research, mention a detail that the customer will remember. Everyone likes to feel important.
When someone writes something negative about your business, it’s easy to become reactionary. Cooler heads always prevail so stand back, take a deep breath and give yourself time to regroup. Be open, honest and conciliatory. Be humble and offer to do whatever you can to solve the problem.
4. Recognize that online reviews are a company asset.
Happiness and enthusiasm about your company is a valuable advantage.
A flock of glowing reviews greases the gears of search engines to greatly increase your authority in local search.
Combined with the powerful word-of-mouth effect, positive online reviews deserve a place on your company’s balance sheet. After all, if you’ve put in the time and effort to improve your online reputation, positive reviews are worth their weight in gold. Something to remember if you ever consider selling the business!
5. Acknowledge that software can help but it’s not a replacement for hard work.
There are providers that promise to “manage your online reputation” but let’s get the facts straight. No one truly manages your company’s reputation but YOU and your staff.
Software automates your process but that’s only if you have a process to begin with.
Within your company are the seeds from which a stellar reputation blooms. Sustain your process by creating a review funnel, invite customers to provide feedback and recover unhappy customers before they vent online.
6. Engage Employees in Your Process
Customers are Googling salespeople. Reviews equate to online authority and when employees are mentioned, it increases their value to the customer and the company. Trustworthy employees make the company appear trustworthy.
When employees see their names in online reviews, it’s very powerful. Use this as a leverage point to engage them in the review process. Improve your sales process to build online reputation:
- Establish WIIFM (what’s in it for me)
7. Craft the Right Message When Inviting Reviews
One of the benefits of using software to support your efforts to improve your online reputation is that it guides the customer through the review funnel with a simple choice of either, “I had a good experience.” or “I had a bad experience”
If they choose “I HAD A GOOD EXPERIENCE” here are two examples of the right way to ask for a review:
- “Our business is based on referrals and we’d really appreciate you sharing your experience with others online.”
- “Thank you for the awesome opportunity to serve you. We’d love to hear about your experience and no doubt, others would too.”
If they’ve chosen the “I HAD A BAD EXPERIENCE” they will click to a landing page that helps recover unhappy customers before they vent online. Here’s an example of the right message for this scenario:
- “Thank you for alerting us to your bad experience. We don’t like bad experiences either. Please allow us make things right. We’ll contact you within 24 hours (often sooner) to find a solution that works for you! (and humbly ask how we could’ve done better).”
8. Offer an Incentive to Engage
Before the most conscientious among you cry foul, I don’t mean to suggest that you ever offer an incentive in exchange for a positive review, a practice that is not only unethical, it violates the terms of service on many review sites and may lead to FTC fines, getting banned, named and/or publicly shamed.
But you might offer a no-strings incentive to get customers a step further into your review funnel. For example, Grade.us clients can attach an offer to the landing page they drive customers to for feedback (NOTE: I’m not a paid endorser for Grade.us. There are many available solutions).
The no-strings offer is simply a way of getting more people to the landing page. The offer—maybe a discount coupon or a free download—is available to anyone, whether or not they post a review. But making the offer available there, on a page otherwise designed to guide customers through the process of submitting a review, increases the odds of getting that review.
Taking the necessary steps to improve your online reputation pays off. If you find you’re still not comfortable with rolling out an internal process to capture your happy, loyal customers’ feedback, contact me here >>here<< and I’ll be your Sherpa. You’ll get traction and begin to improve your online reputation quickly.