Todd William, CEO of Reputation Rhino (@reputationrhino), likes to compare online review sites to a doctor's appointment.
"Businesses need a regular checkup," he says. "If you are trying to diagnose what is right (or wrong) with your business, listening to your clients or customers is the best way to take its temperature."
William also says that just like going to the doctor, looking at your online reviews can be daunting. The number of sites and the potential damage they can do to your business’s reputation is enough to intimidate even the bravest small-business owners. But ignoring them isn't an option.
Let's explore how you can use online review sites to your business's advantage.
Know Which Types of Online Review Sites Are Available
Most consumers know about Yelp, but that's not the only review site out there. William says any place a customer is able to post feedback counts. That feedback can come in various forms, too. William identifies three in particular:
Each type can be a powerful tool for small businesses, says Angela Stairs, a content marketing and PR specialist for seoplus+ (@seopluscanada).
"Consumers trust the reviews from a review site much more than an advertisement," says Stairs. "Encouraging positive reviews from your customers / clients and routinely monitoring review sites for comments should be a priority for your business."
Pro tip: To learn more about how online reviews can attract or repel future customers, read "Make a Better Impression on 88% of Your Potential Clients."
Encourage Customers to Leave Good Reviews
As William points out, good or bad reviews show you how you're doing. He says they give you an opportunity to thank loyal customers or convert those who've had a negative experience. Moreover, he says businesses that are proactive on review sites may find they drive traffic, leads, and sales.
To take advantage of review sites, Stairs recommends that you…
- Set up a branded company account or claim your listing. That alone increases your online presence, while also giving you an easier way to monitor and respond to reviews.
- Encourage customers to review your business. Stair suggests you offer review cards at checkout or with billing that "provide clear information on where and how to leave reviews, and express your gratitude for their continued business."
Pro tip: Chris Scully, owner of Total Biz 360 (@TotalBiz360), offers one caveat about encouraging customers to post positive reviews.
"Don't incentivize reviews," he says. "This violates the terms of service of most review sites. You can ask for reviews, but don't offer discounts or other incentives in exchange for them."
Stop Bad Reviews from Hurting Your Small Business
According to Scully, negative reviews may not be as bad as you think.
"If you have 100 reviews and five are bad, you still have 95 good ones," he notes. "How much will that five affect you? Not much."
But again, negative reviews are an opportunity to show your dedication to your customers. Scully offers these tips for handling bad reviews:
- Take the review seriously. View it as an opportunity to make your business better.
- Find out what happened with the customer. Gather any files, interview staff members, and get all the facts.
- Determine how the situation could have been handled better. Figure out what you would have wanted to happen.
- Contact the customer privately. Once you've brainstormed solutions, try to make things right with your client.
- Post a response to the negative review. Announce that the issue has been corrected to the customer's satisfaction.
- Make policy changes to prevent similar situations in the future. Be sure to train your staff members in any new procedures.
Pro tip: William doesn’t think small-business owners are obligated to respond to every review – especially if they are threatening or profane. However, if you do decide to respond, he recommends taking the conversation offline. Remember, whatever you say online can be used against you and your business.
Bad reviews are frustrating, but defamatory ones can make you see red. Check out "Can a John Doe Lawsuit Help You Fix a Bad Yelp Review" for tips on how to stop a libelous post.
About the Contributors
Chris Scully is the owner of Total Biz 360, a business consulting firm. Total Biz 360 provides coaching and consulting services to assist companies to achieve their business goals by putting the exact tools and technology they need to succeed in their hands.
Angela Stairs is a content marketing & PR specialist with SEO & digital marketing agency seoplus+. Angela is a skilled writer and content creator with a background in journalism, communications, and marketing. She is an expert in the realm of digital communication, harnessing the power of social media, strategic PR and link building, content optimization, and online publishing tools to gain traction for brands within target audiences.
Todd William is the founder and CEO of Reputation Rhino and has over 15 years of experience providing a wide range of legal and strategic advisory services to Fortune-500 companies and small and midsize businesses. Todd advises individuals and companies on online reputation management, public relations, and digital marketing strategies.