“Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!”
~ Lady MacBeth
Your online reputation can feel like a murky hell, and one that’s as uncontrollable as Lady MacBeth’s guilt. But ignoring those bad reviews online isn’t going to make them go away. In truth, if you turn your back on your online reputation, you’re missing out on a giant opportunity to beat your competitors.
Why online reviews are good for your business
First, let’s talk about the advantages of online reviews. The existence of Yelp, Google+, Facebook and Angie’s List is good for you and your business. It levels the playing field. Thanks to online reviews, you can compete with other companies based on the customer experience you provide. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago. Back then, small businesses often lived or died by the size of their ad budgets. And the big guys with big budgets didn’t have to provide the best service – because their customers had no way to publish their experiences. Word of mouth just didn’t have the same reach that Word of Yelp can achieve.
Takeaway: Online reviews level the playing field by allowing businesses to compete on customer experience rather than ad budgets.
How to address bad reviews
Bad reviews are a problem for any business, but this is definitely a “glass half full” situation. Think of it this way: there are real business gains to be had by addressing a bad reputation. If you do nothing else but work to improve customer service, your business will benefit. So let’s get to it. Follow these four steps to start scrubbing your spotty online reputation.
#1 Establish your own customer feedback system
You need to establish your own direct line of communication with customers and prospects. This can be as simple as an online survey page that you promote via email and a link on your website. You want people to tell you – not Yelp – what you’re doing wrong. To get this program running right, remember these pointers:
Promote the survey to everyone, even those who did not transact with you. Often, the bad reviews come from people who walked out of your office or store without buying. If you only send the feedback request to actual customers, you’re not getting the full story on service.
Let your survey respondents know that you may publish parts of their review along with their first name.
Be prepared to react to the feedback. Everyone on your staff should know that customer service is a priority. Assign someone the job of reviewing and addressing all survey feedback. Negative reviewers should be contacted directly if possible, to get further details on the situation. Your review manager should be empowered to coach staff members on service issues that come to light from survey responses.
#2 Publish positive content online
Develop a communications plan to push out positive and useful information about your company. Your goal is to offset the negative information online with positive information. Ideally, you want to use the positive stuff to push the negative stuff down in rankings so it’s less prevalent. Here are your tips for success:
Search your company name and your company name followed by the word “reviews” in Google and take note of the negative information that shows up on the first page of results.
Create an official “reviews” page on your own site. Populate it with actual feedback you received from your survey, assuming you have permission. These reviews should reflect positively on your business, but keep it real. Do not make up fake reviews and do not exclude all negative reviews.
Write and distribute press releases about your business. The key here is to have actual news to cover in your releases. Can you cover your community involvement activities? Local event sponsorships? If you aren’t involved in the community, now’s a good time to start. Pick a charity or cause and donate. Or, give your employees a half-day off to volunteer. Do both and you have content for two new press releases.
#3 Be proactive
If you can reach out to customers who’ve complained about you online, do so. Take a sincere interest in the complaint and make it right. Do something nice for that person and then ask for a retraction.
#4 Listen and learn
Learn from what your customers are telling you about your service. If you do make a change in your processes or product, let your customers know. Include a blurb in your next email blast, thanking them for the feedback and communicating the changes you’ve made. Domino’s Pizza did this very publicly, and the effort was enormously successful. Watch Domino’s reputation video and get inspired to make positive change in your business.
Lady MacBeth couldn’t get the blood off her hands because she wasn’t addressing the real problem. In the same way, it’s a mistake to write off bad online reviews as meaningless ramblings of complainers. Treat your reviews as real feedback from real people. Let your customers tell you what’s wrong, and then fix it. Make that your competitive advantage and you’ll see real business improvements as a result.