We’re living in an increasingly digital world, and people are using computers and smartphones more often than ever before to shop for products and services and to evaluate their buying options.
As business owners, it’s an opportunity to expand our reach by creating an online presence – who wouldn’t like more customers? However, it’s also a responsibility, because we must be prepared for customer feedback from shoppers we’ve never met.
Whether or not we offer a feedback option on our websites, customers are reviewing our performance and commenting on our business online. It’s a given in today’s marketplace.
Consumers like to rave about products or establishments that serve them well, but they also have no compunction about complaining if their needs aren’t met. These customer reviews can work to our benefit; don’t underestimate their importance.
Reviews can be a boon to any business if they’re positive. Aside from recommendations from friends and family and advertising on company websites, online reviews are the third most trusted online advertising format.According to Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Survey:
Sixty-six per cent of respondents from 60 countries reported trusting consumer reviews online, compared to 70 per cent who are confident about owned online channels.
Reviews provide a number of benefits:
- Free advertising. When people rave about your product or service in a public, online forum, rejoice. It’s advertising that didn’t cost you any money and it can provide the mass exposure that you couldn’t afford through other channels, such as television or national publications.
- Improvement in search engine results. Some search engines, such as Google, consider the number of times your business name comes up in reviews and uses that information as part of their placement algorithm. You may appear higher in their search results.
- Peer influence. As noted above 66 per cent of respondents to the Nielsen worldwide survey trust online reviews, so they can affect a decision about a product or service.
- Customer connections. Reviews offer the opportunity to get to know your customers, people whose opinions you might never hear otherwise — they might have complained aloud to friends in the past. You also have the chance to respond to both positive and negative reviews, allowing you to offer explanations and to demonstrate that you care what customers think.
- Opportunity for improvement. Suggestions made by your customers may allow you to consider improvements to your procedures or service. Reviews are another source for business ideas.
Now that you’ve learned more about the benefits of reviews, how can you go about getting them? The most important strategy? Ask for them.
- Familiarize yourself with platforms. Search for your business online to see which customers are using to post reviews of your work/product. Focus your attention on those your customers are using. Learn the rules that each of these key platforms applies to reviews so that you know whether incentives are allowed. Amazon, Yelp! And Google+ are common general platforms, while there are specialty platforms for certain industries, such as Trip Advisor for the travel industry.
- Tell customers directly. When you finish your job or sale, make it clear to your customers that online feedback is welcome. You can do this with a reminder included along with the invoice – it will depend on the type of business you run. However, be direct in asking for input. e.g., “If you like us, let people know by posting a comment on Google+.” You may wish to offer an incentive for reviewing performance, but it’s not required.
- Timing matters. Don’t wait months to ask for reviews, and be patient in acquiring them. Over time, a body of reviews will accumulate, but it may not happen instantly. Set up a system that prompts people to submit a review as soon as possible.
- Visual reminders. Find ways to remind customers about reviews: signs posted near the cash registers saying, “We’d love your feedback,” are an option; a selection of reviews on your website or in your newsletter is another idea. Be creative in your approach.
- Incentivize check-ins. Encourage people to check-in online at your location with an incentive. Once they do so, capture their co-ordinates and remind them to review their experience.
Responding to Reviews
We’ve already established that reviews are important, and research done by Professor Michael Luca at Harvard University shows how they can impact the bottom line: a one-star increase in Yelp! ratings led restaurants in his study to realize between five and nine per cent in increased profit. Keeping the ratings up is worth the effort.
However, not all reviews are good ones. Remember the old saying, “Take the bitter with the better”? It’s certainly true when it comes to online reviews. You may receive oceans of praise, but you’ll undoubtedly get criticism, too. As another old saying notes, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” Don’t expect perfection, although you can certainly strive for it.
If you receive negative reviews, it’s important not to ignore them. Think of all the people who visit your website. Do you want a negative impression to be the one that stays in their minds?
When preparing to respond to negative comments, do so graciously and sincerely. Remember that these people are passionate about your business or they wouldn’t have taken the time to write. Use this as an opportunity to show that they matter to you and to turn their negative feelings around.
- Take a deep breath. Don’t respond in anger. You may feel better if you vent your frustrations, but doing so online will only alienate your customers. They expect you to be above such petty behaviour. A moment of relief can lead to a loss of profits.
- Cordiality, not defensiveness. This is a public relations exercise designed to smooth the waters. It will be read by thousands of people over time. Demonstrate that you are professional and maintain a friendly tone.
- Don’t get personal. Even if your business is your baby, remember that the customer is expressing genuine feelings – we’re all entitled to them. It is likely to be an argument you won’t win, and it’s best to avoid burning bridges. If the reviews are inappropriate – using curses, etc. – take advantage of the platform’s reporting and removal protocol.
- Thank reviewers. Negative or positive, they’ve taken time to express their feelings. It’s input that you might not get otherwise and it might point to a problem you didn’t know existed. Thank them for their business and their feedback. If you have taken any steps to make a change or address the issue, explain those.
- Apologize for their disappointment. Focus your apologies on their negative feelings, since that is what prompted them to write in the first place.
- Reach out privately. In addition to your public response, you may want to contact the customer privately to explain what happened. Own up to a mistake if there was one and tell them about the steps you are taking to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Be honest and open.
- There may not be a good answer. Sometimes, you and the customer won’t see eye-to-eye. It’s okay to agree to disagree, as long as you do so politely.
- Thank them. You value input and love to hear that people are pleased with your business, so tell them so succinctly. No long missives needed here!
- Don’t incentivize. As happy as you are about hearing good news, thanking a customer with incentives may seem like bribery. Instead, share some information about your business that they may not know.
Positive reviews are a pleasure to behold and responding to them isn’t as challenging, but a response is always nice to receive.