The online review genie is out of the bottle for good.
Reputation management is a buzzword being thrown around a lot lately. Businesses intuitively know that they need to care about it, but what is it really?
In reality, it is nothing new. Successful businesses have been doing it all along. Successful businesses protect and build their reputation — they make their customers happy and build positive word-of-mouth.
The dramatic change is where and how they do it. Consumers now have—literally in the palm of their hands—a device that gives them both the ability to understand a business’ reputation and the ability to change that business’ reputation. Today, a business’ reputation is not what they say it is, but what their customers say it is.
This is a huge shift in power to the consumer, but even more concerning to businesses is the change in the rate of propagation. You might remember the 1990s movie Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman. A virus was facing mankind and the catchphrases in the movie were “How contagious is the virus?” and “Is it airborne?” Just like a virus, a business’ reputation today has gone from slow moving (simple word-of-mouth) to both “airborne” and “highly contagious” with the growth of web activity, especially social media, by consumers.
For many businesses this, is scary. They feel like they are being held hostage by their customers and blackmailed by review sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor. However, this is simply not true; businesses cannot put the ratings and review genie back in the bottle. The truth is that a great reputation can only be created by running a great business.
Before the advent of “internet everywhere,” businesses communicated with customers in private conversation in person or on the phone. Now, those conversations happen in public on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Yelp and a host of other places. It is incumbent for businesses to embrace the change and engage their customers where they are spending their time. If a customer walked into your store and said “hello,” you wouldn’t ignore them, yet that is exactly what many business are doing online.
As with anything new, it takes time to figure out how to use it. Maintaining your online reputation is going to take work, and it’s not always going to be fun. But, if you want the review genie to grant you a wish, it takes a little effort.
When you respond to a review or social post online, not only are you helping that customer, but, more importantly, you are speaking to every other potential consumer that will see that post. For sites like Yelp, that number can be extremely high. In fact, a recent Harvard Business School study found that a boosted Yelp rating of just one star can increase a company’s revenues anywhere from 5 to 9 percent.
Giving everyone a soapbox is not always a great idea, but that is just a cold-hard truth of the Internet. So, what do you do when someone writes a critical review? Ignoring them is not an option — lots of other people are going to see it and judge you by your response. A negative review is an opportunity for your business to shine and show everyone how you deal with unfortunate circumstances that every business faces from time-to-time.
My experience is that a bad review or customer experience can almost always be attributed to one of three scenarios: your business made a mistake, there was a misunderstanding between you and your customer, or the customer is a troll (online this is what an unreasonable customer is called). In all of these cases, you need to respond without being defensive. Try to empathize with your customer and offer a solution. If you made a mistake, apologize and invite your customer to call you and discuss it. If there was a misunderstanding, explain and apologize for the confusion. That customer, and more importantly the next customer, will understand that you care and are willing to help. In the last case, where the customer is a troll, there is not much more you can do than apologize and offer to take the dispute offline via a phone call. You can’t win an argument against a troll. It is like wrestling with a pig — you are both going to get dirty, and the pig is going to like it.
Lastly, while it might sound like a lot of work, there are many people that can relieve some of the daunting workload. Your local newspaper, yellow page company or advertising agency most likely sells a digital package that includes tools to help you monitor, manage and build your reputation. Hopefully one of them will be powered by VendAsta Technologies.
Brendan King is CEO of VendAsta Technologies, a Saskatoon-based company that is a pioneer in the online reputation management industry. Founded with venture capital funding, VendAsta has partnered with many of the largest media companies in the United States and has more than 190,000 small businesses using its products.