It’s no secret that word of mouth is one of the most powerful ways a business will attract new customers. Positive experiences, whether it be with a company’s product or service, can go a long way towards helping you gain new clients while negative experiences may deter future business. With 90% of consumers saying they research business reviews before engaging, the power of user reviews has never been more crucial to a business owners’ overall marketing plan and brand identity. For this reason alone, it is vitally important to understand the value of reviews as a way to increase business and help control your online reputation.
If acquiring and responding to customer reviews and experiences is not something you think about already – it should be.
A Case for Effective Reputation Management
Think of the last time you ordered a product, went to a new restaurant or tried a new service provider before checking their reviews – it probably doesn’t happen very often. Even though reviews may not be the only factor in your buying decision they generally contribute to your overall perception of the service or product’s value. If a product or service has been perceived as being exceptional by a large audience of unbiased users, this communicates your product or service as being reliable or dependable.
According to a 2017 survey, positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business more.
Additionally, the more customer reviews you have, the more reliable your business will appear. One positive review is not going to have the same impact as 10 or 20, just as one negative review won’t be as harmful as many. Even if you have a few negative reviews, as most companies do, having a high volume of overall reviews lessens the impact of a single negative review.
Furthermore, negative reviews can be seen as an opportunity. Business owners and managers should always respond to negative reviews! This is the time to make things right and to show potential future customers that even when something goes wrong unintentionally, that your business is committed to making it right and solving the problem. This is at the very core of reputation management. Issues are bound to arise, some customers will inevitably be challenging, so taking the time to regain control of these situations is crucial to growing trust in your brand and integrity in your business and public image.
New Policies from Review Giants: Google & Yelp
Okay, so reviews are important. But what is the best strategy to collect reviews when Yelp and Google, the giants of the review world, are increasingly restrictive of the way businesses are able to ask for reviews?
Google has recently joined Yelp in penalizing those that solicit reviews from clients, but the restrictions and guidelines varies between the companies. While Yelp doesn’t want you to ask for reviews period there is a growing consensus that the review policy isn’t as robust as it sets itself up to be. As long as you’re not blatantly soliciting reviews by offering incentives and overwhelming your email lists with spammy review requests, you can work within Yelp’s policies to request reviews from legitimate customers.
Google has been a bit more clear as it communicates its review solicitation policy; the nuts and bolts come down to two fundamental no-nos: you cannot offer an incentive for a review (ex. $10 off your next order if you leave us a review!) and you cannot send out bulk review requests to you customers. This makes perfect sense – offering an incentive can imply you are buying your reviews, and this has always been against the rules. Requesting reviews via bulk email solicitation reeks of spam and this too has always been disallowed.
While these policies may initially seem restrictive the overall goal is to create an online environment where all reviews are real. It is far too easy to leave a bogus review online and that not only hurts the business for whom the review is left but also the platform (Google, Yelp, etc.) that publishes the reviews. Don’t forget, a legitimate review from an actual client is still totally acceptable, and encouraged! As such it is in everyone’s best interests to follow the new guidelines and perimeters for acquiring and leaving online reviews.
Reputation Management that Works With the New System
There are a variety of ways to encourage clients to leave positive reviews for your business and also follow the guidelines outlines by review sites.
The first line in your battle for effective reputation management is a system that helps store and manage your clients information – in order to know who to reach out to you have to have this data aggregated in a single place! Known as a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) this kind of database will allow you to store client information and any relative information for things like remarketing, email newsletter lists, documents, notes, and reputation management.
Keep Notes on Your Clients’ Experience
If having a system in place is step one, the next step will be to ensure you put that system to work for you. Keep notes on the client’s experience with your business, their preferences and needs for potential future marketing opportunities and any issues that may have arisen. A color-coding system can also be useful to identify those who had a great experience from those people who you may need to work on strengthening the relationship.
As Soon as Business is Completed, Ask for Feedback
Once a customer has purchased your product or service or an order has been fulfilled, this is the time to reach out for their feedback, as their experience is still fresh in their mind. Customers expect that you will send a message to ask if they’re enjoying their purchase or service experience. Feedback can be either positive, negative or neutral, so this can not be seen as a solicitation of or coercion for only positive replies.
Request a Review
Once you have received feedback from your client, you can then handle any issues that the they found with the product or service and direct them to leave a comment about their experience on a review site such as Google, Yelp, Facebook and more.
No Review? Implement a Newsletter
Persistence is your friend in this situation — if at first you don’t get feedback, try and try again. As long as you have gained the person’s email address legitimately and they have opted in to receiving mail from you, create an email list for those clients you would like to continue to reach out to and send occasional email newsletters.
Your newsletters can include information about industry news, latest products, new services, tips & tricks and more and can include a link at the bottom that connect people to outlets where they can leave a review on your business. As with all email newsletters, it is important not to spam your clients, so be thoughtful as to how often your business email shows up in their Inbox!
The internet and digital marketing ecosphere is constantly evolving, and what is true today may not necessarily be so tomorrow. One thing, however, that will remain important in a business’ marketing strategy is reputation management. Along the ways of the old philosophical query: “If a person has a good opinion of your business, and no one is around to hear it, does it even matter?”