Customer reviews represent the digitalization of word-of-mouth recommendations, and as such they present small business with a powerful brand building and marketing tool.
One of great boons of the internet is that sometimes the customers come to you thanks to positive online reviews you did not even know existed. But what happens when satisfied customers don’t write reviews and disgruntled ones do? Whether you know it or not, those negative reviews are skewing the public’s perception of your business and could be knocking a few stars off your customer rating.
These days, customer reviews are a critical tool for managing your brand reputation and, ultimately, increasing sales. Mountains of research show consumers trust online reviews more than advertising and that many now start their shopping journey searching for them. According to the Brightlocal.com Local Customer Review survey:
- 86 percent of consumers and 95 percent of people between the ages of 18-34 read online reviews for local businesses. Consumers feel confident in forming an opinion of a local business after reading an average of 10 reviews.
- Recent reviews are more valuable, with 40 percent of consumers putting more faith in reviews written in the past two weeks.
- 91 percent of people between the ages of 18-34 trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
- 89 percent of consumers read a business’s response to reviews.
The data speaks for itself. You need to have a strategy for generating a steady stream of positive reviews. The good news for small, locally owned businesses is that customer reviews have a way of leveling the playing field.
Finding the best reviews sites
If are new to the customer review game, the first thing you need to do is confirm which online review sites matter most to your business. The best way to do that is to simply search for customer reviews of your business and your competitors to see what pops up. Pay attention not just to which sites’ reviews appear first, but how well trafficked they are. Pay attention to the number and the quality of the reviews of businesses likes yours and how those businesses respond. If nothing else, you may learn something about your target customers, and you will almost certainly learn something about your competitors.
Be sure to check the review sites terms and conditions for businesses so you understand their dos and don’ts. Rules are evolving in response to review gatekeeping services that emerged in the mid-2010s to help businesses boost their online review scores. Yelp penalizes business that actively solicits reviews, while Google My Business warns businesses not to discourages negative reviews or solicit positive reviews.
If you choose to solicit reviews, a good strategy is to do so personally when a customer compliments you on a job well done. People like to help others, and are more likely to respond to a personal request, particularly if it’s made in person. Whether you make the request on the phone, in an email or in person, be sure to provide the customer with the web address for where you’d like them to leave the review.
You can also solicit reviews via social media posts, email newsletters and even invoices, although such broad solicitation makes you more vulnerable to negative reviews.
Customer review etiquette
Once you get reviews, try to respond promptly using the following guidelines.
- If it’s a good review, craft an original response within a week. Thank the client for taking the time to share their thoughts, and look for opportunities to cross promote other services that might interest consumer reading the thread.
- It it’s a neutral or lukewarm review, respond as quickly as possible. Empathize with their concerns and don’t make excuses. Acknowledge the positive and explain how you can remedy the problem, either now or moving forward.
- If it’s a bad review, address it immediately both online and off. Bad reviews happen to everyone eventually. State that the situation is an anomaly and thank them for bringing it to your attention so that you can rectify the issue with your team promptly. Make sure to convey that you understand their concerns and take accountability. List what you have done or will do to resolve the issue and ask if you can contact them directly. Take care not to sound defensive or dismissive. With some skill and luck you may even be able to turn an unhappy customer into a brand ambassador.
The internet has created a new frontier of opportunities and challenges when it comes to connecting with customers. Prospective clients are going to seek out online reviews regardless of your opinion or involvement, so invest some time to manage the conversation and protect your brand reputation. You’ll learn a lot about your customers and customer service along the way.