Like it or not, review sites are here to stay, much to the chagrin of a lot of business owners. Instead of focusing on the damage that a bad review can do, I would encourage you to turn the mixed blessing that is a review site into a positive that can work to actually build your business and its influence within your community.
Using review sites to your advantage is an art form, so you really need to know a few tricks of the trade. Curious? Keep reading for more details.
Reviews DO Matter
We’ve all read the review from the occasional disgruntled ex-employee or isolated person who has had a bad experience with a particular business or product. Just as you probably take these extreme reviews with a grain of salt, most other consumers will as well.
Where most businesses start to run into problems is when there are a series of bad or mediocre reviews, because that is when they start to wonder if problems are the norm rather than the exception.
The power of the review is the fact that most people see it as a sort of behind-the-scenes, inside look at what can be expected from a particular business, service, or product.
We don’t want to hear the company line about how great you are; we want to know what your regular customers have to say about you. The trick is to get the right person or people saying the right things when it comes to what you’re all about.
The Problem with Reviews
Think for a moment about the last time you went to a restaurant and received really poor service. Did you complain? Ask for a refund? If you aren’t afraid to speak up, chances are good that you did something about it.
Now, think back to the last time you ate out and received truly excellent service. While you may have raved about it to whomever was with you, you probably did not say anything to the manager of the establishment. This is exactly the problem with reviews: people are much more likely to speak up or write a review when things go wrong.
We may frequent a good restaurant or other business and recommend it to our friends, but we probably will not sit down and write a review. In order to make review sites a positive for your business, you need to find a way to change this phenomenon around when it comes to your patrons.
Begin with an Audit
To get things moving in the right direction, you need to begin by auditing review sites to see where your business stands. This can be a little intimidating, but you really must just grit your teeth and see what is out there.
Start with the big guns, like Yelp, Google, and Yahoo, but don’t forget the smaller, more industry-specific sites as you search. Also, check with paid sites like Angie’s List – access is free for businesses, and this review site is increasingly becoming one of the standards when it comes to trusted consumer reviews.
As you visit each review site, print off the reviews related to your company. Make careful notes of any negative trends that you see, as these may be areas that you need to improve.
Also pay careful attention to the good things that people say – if they made enough of an impression that someone wrote them down, then clearly these are areas where you are doing something right.
Interact with Your Customers Online
Luckily, more and more review sites are offering ways for companies to respond to reviews, both positive and negative. This can really work for you, as it offers you a way to turn a bad review into a good thing.
How, you ask? If, for example, a customer complains about a rude salesperson in your business, you can take that opportunity to apologize for the incident, ask for more details, and attempt to make things right. This accomplishes several things. For one, it shows your customers (and review readers) that you care enough about them and your company to try to atone for mistakes.
Additionally, reading and responding to negative reviews keeps you informed about things in your businesses that you may not otherwise be aware of and do something about it so that it does not happen again.
If you receive a really negative, ridiculously inaccurate review, you can still take the time to respond and leave the upset customer with a more favorable view of what you are all about. They still may not be happy in the end, but at least those who read the review will see that you took the high road.
Solicit New Reviews
We’ve talked about dealing with bad reviews. The next step is to garner new reviews that are likely to be positive. Almost every business has a few (or many) regular, devoted customers who would be more than happy to write a review for you if you ask them politely.
It is even more of a plus if these people are well spoken and/or respected members of the community. If you are having trouble getting reviewers, you can also do a bit of shameless promotion, offering a discount or freebie for those who take the time to review your business online.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so, as long as you are not telling them what to write or how to write it.
Don’t Fake it
One thing you absolutely must avoid is the planted or fake review. Your customers will be able to spot a fraudulent review a mile away, and no matter how “positive” this review is, it makes you look bad – plain and simple.
Fake review writers make several predictable mistakes, most notably being too positive and over the top (“Such-and-such company makes the BEST products in the ENTIRE WORLD”) or directly and very predictably contradicting other negative reviews (“I don’t know why the last reviewer said the office staff was rude. The office staff is the nicest I have ever encountered”).
Your best bet is to just say no to faking it, either by writing these reviews yourself or paying someone else to do it for you. If you have to create contrived reviews to try to make yourself look good, clearly you have bigger problems going on within your business.
Remember that staying on top of review sites is vital to your company’s reputation, and it is not a one-time thing. You must check and recheck these websites frequently – at least once a month – so you know what is being said and can deal with it in a timely manner.
If you don’t read a review until a year after it was posted, you have let an opportunity for growth pass you by. If you see the occasional negative review, don’t panic, either.
Nobody’s perfect, and people who read and value online reviews are well aware that not all experiences will be ideal, and they won’t hold this against you. So stay alert, interact, and ask for feedback. This will build your reputation, keep you in the know, and draw in new customers for your business.