Business owners know that good old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing can be their best source of advertising. It was not too long ago that it was only practical for customers to share their experience with your business with friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.
Flash forward to today: most consumers now spend a tremendous amount of time researching products, services, and businesses online. In fact, a recent Google study shows that hyper-informed consumers consider as many as 18 online sources before making a purchase. Among these sources are review sites such as Yelp, Google Reviews, Facebook, etc. Your online reputation can make or break your business. These review sites can have a great deal of influence in gaining additional customers or leveraging your existing customer base to increase sales.
Due to the nature of the internet, some of these comments and reviews will be negative or even downright untrue. As a business owner, you need to figure out the best way to deal with these types of reviews. You definitely don’t want to hide your head in the sand when someone says something negative about your business on a review site. Most experts agree that responding to criticism head-on in an appropriate manner can minimize the damage to your reputation and may even help shed new, positive light on your business. For the most part, consumers will appreciate your candid response in addressing the situation. They will also get a sense of what it’s like to deal with your business and use your products or services. Below are a few strategies to help.
- Respond in a timely manner. Know that time is of the essence, but you need to first look into the matter. Many online reviews or complaints are valid, but some of them aren’t. You’ll need to investigate first to figure out where you stand. Knowing what really happened will help dictate your course of action. Did your customer have a bad experience with the product or staff? Who was in the wrong? Find out anything and everything you can about the situation before making any decisions.
- Be authentic, brief, and polite with your response. Your response to the unhappy customer should be sincere and not defensive. Is the complaint legitimate? Apologize. Is it bogus? Apologize anyway. Apologizing directly and publicly to those affected and thanking the customer for taking the time to share their issues can go a long way. Let them know what you’ve done about it. In the event the complaint isn’t a valid one, tell your side of the story and see what you can do to resolve the situation. Sincerity goes a long way here. You may not be able to correct something for one particular customer, but reaching out publicly shows you care and that you’re being proactive.
- Continue the conversation privately if possible. You never want to spark a back-and-forth argument online, especially with someone that is passionate about their point of view. A more effective approach is to drive the conversation offline and towards a personal phone call with yourself or another manager in the company. Include your name and direct phone line. Offer to listen to the complaint more in-depth and arrive at a resolution. This proves that you truly are looking to fix the problem and not just trying to save face online.
- Make customer satisfaction company policy. Always do what it takes to satisfy a complaint. Your best defense is making customer service your number 1 priority. Incorporate customer care and communication in your company policies. Remember, if a customer isn’t satisfied, he may tell ten people about his bad experience, but that may now reach ten thousand people with online review sites. Take care of your customers, and they can become your best advocates with positive reviews and word of mouth.
In our hyper-connected world, it’s so important to manage your online reputation. Don’t be afraid of bad reviews. Having a few doubters in the mix adds validity to all those glowing five-star reviews. You shouldn’t take bad reviews personally, but you do need a response plan. When you view criticism as an opportunity to correct problems, win over skeptics and demonstrate your commitment to customer service, you’ll start to see fewer bad reviews and many more positive ones.