Catherine Palmer
Catherine Palmer 26 September 2018

Responding to Online Reviews of Your Small Business

Online reviews are an integral part of the buying process nowadays and they impact consumer's purchase decision significantly.

There’s no denying it – online reviews have simply become an integral part of the buying process. They are at the very center of the plentiful research modern-day customers conduct when deciding who they’ll do business with.

Some statistics point to as much as 93% of consumers confirming that online reviews impact their purchase decisions. And when it comes to small businesses fighting to build a reputable name for themselves, they’re especially important. More than being a deciding factor in making a sale or winning over a client in a particular instance, online reputation management presents a long-term strategy which is essential to marketing in the digital era.

That being said, you simply can’t afford to ignore this kind of digital word-of-mouth. The first step aside is to start tracking mentions of your company across the Internet via Google Alerts. That’s when the work starts. You’ll get good reviews, bad ones, or perhaps none at all – and you need to have a strategy to respond to each situation.

Responding to positive reviews

Positive reviews are a great opportunity to genuinely interact with customers and show the values you uphold as a company. Don’t just stop at a “Thanks!” and an eventual smiley face emoticon. Respond with authenticity and sincere gratitude. Let them know how much their kind words mean to you, that you’re pleased to hear how they’re satisfied with a particular product because you’ve put so much effort into creating it, and tell them you’re looking forward to doing business with them again. Remember, you’re responding to a compliment here; speak to the customer directly and don’t hesitate to include their name.

When you approach positive reviews this way, you’re giving your brand a real human face. Because it’s crucial to establishing trust and promoting customer loyalty, this is a valuable asset that large companies work hard to obtain. Being a small business, you’re inherently at an advantage regarding this aspect, and it’s up to you to leverage it at every opportunity – including this one.

Responding to negative reviews

Negative reviews seriously hurt your business, with research showing that as little as three negative reviews about your company could cost you 59% of potential customers. Moreover, some estimates show that it takes a single negative review to drive away about 22% of your potential customers. That makes it all the more important that you respond accordingly to every single one. No matter what, you need to take part in the dialogue so that you can influence the narrative being constructed around your company.

Negative reviews should be seen as an opportunity – an opportunity to right a wrong, discover what you can improve, and demonstrate your professionalism both to the person who wrote the review and those who are reading it. Here are the key points of dealing with them correctly so you can re-establish trust and protect your reputation:

  • Thank them for taking the time to write the review.

  • Take responsibility and apologize sincerely – even if the bad experience isn’t directly your fault. An apology can go a long way, and you want to show empathy, demonstrating to your customers that each and every one matters to you.

  • Offer to resolve the issue. Whether it’s a product replacement or giving them the contact details of your customer support, if you’ve made a mistake, you need to own up to it and try to correct it. This will show the people reading reviews that you’re not just all words.

  • Be personal and authentic. Just as you would be when replying to positive reviews, you want to speak to the person directly and address them by their name. Personalizing your responses as much as possible will demonstrate to others that you don’t just copy and paste a standard response for everyone.

  • If you can’t fix it, acknowledge it as an opportunity for improvement. Some complaints you won’t be able to fix – at least not immediately. If you can’t offer a replacement or some other kind of compensation, write a sincere and authentic message letting them know you appreciate their input and you’re always looking to improve. And don’t just stop at the words either – truly reflect on customer reviews to find your weakest points.

  • Maintain a consistent company voice. There needs to be an underlying professional tone that’s representative of your business, so keep that in mind if you have more than one person responding to reviews.

  • Be positive. Sometimes you might have a chance to show a sense of humor and lighten the situation. This will reflect positively on everyone and show that you know how to take criticism. Stay professional, though – you don’t want to give off an impression that you’re just laughing it off. Otherwise, don’t hesitate to reaffirm your company’s values when addressing complaints.

  • Keep your cool. Always – especially when you’re dealing with a troll or excessive vitriol. Never adopt the quarreling tone they obviously want to trigger in you and don’t get immersed in an unreasonable conversation.

What should you do if you have no reviews?

No reviews can be worse than negative ones – they give you no chance to show your voice and they put you off the radar. You want to encourage customers to leave reviews so you can build your reputation, and in doing this, you want to ask for feedback from everyone – not just your happiest customers. That might sound counterintuitive, but a bad review here and there will make for a much more authentic online presence and be representative of the actual experiences (otherwise, unrealistic expectations derived from exclusively positive reviews can just set off a cycle of negative reviews).

In ordered to encourage feedback, you want to make leaving reviews easy for customers. Streamline the process and instead of creating microsites on which they’ll have to make accounts to leave a review, point them in the direction of the most popular sites they probably already use, such as Google and Facebook.  Collect your feedback from various sources.

Make your requests for reviews as personal as possible; preferably, have the invitation to review come from the employee that the customer had interacted with. It also helps to send review requests after the interaction, when the experience is still fresh. Altogether, these tactics are much more encouraging then sending out review requests in bulk at certain intervals.

Lastly, you want to encourage authentic and convincing reviews, so don’t hesitate to ask for specific feedback. For example, you might ask for feedback on the interaction with the employee or any other specific element of the experience. This will give valuable insight both to you and to the people reading them. In other words, you want to facilitate a conversation, which you can’t really do when you get an “All good, no complaints!”

Managing your online reputation takes time and a huge portion of that time is going to be dedicated to reviews. Just keep in mind the fundamental rule – not replying is never an option. Whether on social media or one of the major review platforms, always track, encourage, respond politely, and address issues. In the long run, this is one of your best tools for building trust.   

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