When choosing where to shop, most consumers now start their buying journeys online. Research shows that 90 percent of shoppers look up online reviews of businesses when deciding where to spend their money.
This makes having a clean and positive online reputation critical to the success of businesses today. Few know this more than Michael Fertik, executive chairman, founder and owner of Reputation.com. Founded in 2006, the company helps businesses manage their online brand by ensuring that their star ratings and reviews fairly reﬂect the service they provide.
We recently had the chance to speak with Fertik about why a business's online reputation matters so much and how organizations can keep their online image as positive as possible.
Q: Why is it important to keep a handle on your business's online reputation?
A: Reviews either convince customers that a business is right for them or lead them somewhere else, often with better reviews. Potential and existing customers are increasingly turning to online resources to see other consumers' opinions before buying a car, shopping at a specific retailer or scheduling an appointment with a doctor.
In fact, 8 out of 10 consumers begin their online search for a business with Google, Bing or other search engines. Consumers' increased reliance on online resources means that tracking a business's online reputation is a critical part of building a thriving company.
Q: Is keeping a positive online reputation just as important for small businesses as it is for large businesses?
A: A positive online reputation is important for businesses of all sizes, including small businesses, which often lack the resources to dig [themselves] out of a hostile customer encounter that goes viral.
More than ever, businesses, especially small and medium-size businesses (SMBs), need to be cognizant of their online reputation to ensure an accurate representation is reaching current and potential customers, and ultimately attracting people to their brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Q: Do all online comments about your business impact your overall online reputation? For example, does a Yelp review carry more weight than a tweet? Or vice versa?
A: Far and away the most prominent source of online ratings and reviews is now Google. Review volume on Google is eclipsing that of every other review site for most industries.
You must have a large volume of positive reviews on Google to compete now. You also need those reviews for your business to be found, since the vast majority of consumers start their search for a business or service on Google.
Q: What is the best way to generate positive online comments about your business?
A: I recommend that businesses develop a system for generating reviews from satisfied customers. Asking for honest reviews can help generate valuable insight and tips from customers.
Businesses can request feedback and reviews from customers at the register right after the point of sale or shortly thereafter via email campaign, tablet-based kiosks, or surveys.
It's important to catch the customer when they're interacting with your business and secure their feedback while their positive encounter is fresh in their mind, which also lends it to be considered as a hassle-free touchpoint.
Q: If you have negative comments about your business online, how should you handle it? Should you respond to each one or ignore them?
A: Let's be honest – no one wants to see a negative online review posted about their business, but it is important to know how to react in the event that you do. It's important to respond quickly and acknowledge the unsatisfied customer, offer a direct line of communication for resolution, and stay away from canned, generic responses.
Most importantly, use the customer feedback to improve your business and service offering so that a single negative piece of feedback does not become a recurring refrain that ends up damaging your brand.
Q: What advice do you have on how to respond to negative comments so you don't come off as defensive or argumentative?
A: Take a step back before responding. It is important to be careful and think through whether to respond to a hostile critic. If you respond and admit that there is a problem on your end, it can humanize your business.
Reputation.com's data shows that customers often convert negative reviews to positive ones when support teams respond with genuine concern and help the customer reach a resolution. I recommend these suggestions to consider when crafting a response to a negative comment:
- Thank the person for taking time to provide feedback.
- Empathize with the person's frustrations or concerns.
- Apologize for not meeting expectations or living up to company standards.
- Suggest connecting offline to resolve the issue.
Q: How can you be proactive, instead of reactive, when managing your online reputation?
A: Using online reputation management (ORM) software is the most streamlined way to proactively manage your company's online reputation. You can monitor reviews, respond to them from a single dashboard, and request reviews to get a more accurate and representative picture of true customer experience.
ORM also provides actionable data around customer sentiment, ratings and reviews that can help improve your company's online presence and drive revenue. Having actionable feedback can help businesses develop ways to overhaul their customer service strategies.
Use online surveys to proactively learn and react to customer sentiment before they write a less-than-positive review or express negative comments on social media. Reputation.com surveys allow you to assess performance and uncover unknown issues before bad reviews affect your online reputation.
Being able to fully engage with customers on social media will also help proactively manage your online reputation, especially if you use a platform that scales across all the company's locations for effective community management.