In 2011, a Harvard business review paper concluded that a one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue.
The topic of online reputation management tends to polarize business owners and managers. Some say Yelp’s algorithm favors negative reviews, and others say review sites generally only inspire haters to publish their complaints.
The unfortunate reality is that it doesn’t matter if these things are true. Because all that online chatter about your business is affecting your bottom line – and ignoring it or complaining about the system won’t change that.
The good news is that you can take control of your online reputation. If it’s already positive, you can keep it that way. And if you have some negativity out there, you can fix it. That’s the good news, but there’s some bad too. Fixing a reputation problem takes time and commitment. I am not going to give you 10 easy tips to fix a bad reputation. Nope – it’s more like the long and hard road to reputation clean-up. If you’re still here with me, then you’re up for the challenge.
Reputation Management Handbook
Because reputation clean-up is a long-term effort, you’ll need some documentation. Documentation keeps people organized and accountable. We’ll call this documentation your reputation management handbook, and it will include the items below. To get you started, we created a reputation management handbook template, which you can download now.
- How you train your staff
- A list of the reputation review sites applicable to your business
- The location of the login credentials for those sites
- A process for creating and documenting new logins when reviews pop up on new sites
- How you monitor reviews
- How you handle new reviews
- How you benchmark and track your reputation ratings over time
Train your staff
One misconception about reputation management is that you can appoint a reputation manager to fix all of your problems. A reputation manager might streamline the process for you, but it takes organization-wide support to effect real change in your online reputation. Each and every staff member needs to be committed to:
- Providing excellent customer service
- Listening and responding to face-to-face customer feedback
- Letting customers know about your review sites (“hey, you can find us on Yelp and we love the feedback”)
- Taking online reviews seriously
Reputation review sites
You probably already know which sites are applicable to your business. Yelp, Google+, Facebook, Superpages, Citysearch and InsiderPages cover most industries. If you’re a car dealer, you’d add DealerRater, Cars.com and Edmunds.com to this list. If you’re a restaurant, UrbanSpoon should be on your radar.
Find more review sites by searching “[your business name] reviews” in Google. Gather the links to all of your reputation pages and store them in your reputation management handbook. While you’re on the reputation sites, verify that your business information is exactly correct on each of your reputation profiles. This is important for SEO and for customer experience. You can note this on “Info” sheet of the download.
Login credentials for your review sites
Next, compile a list of login credentials for your review sites. The first rule of passwords is not to share them or write them down. So I’ll leave to you how you best want to manage these passwords.
The only thing I ask here is that you do not leave them stored in the memory of an employee. Too many times, I’ve seen businesses locked out of their own reputation sites because the person with the passwords doesn’t work there anymore. Get login credentials for all of the reputation sites and then find a safe way to store them. Put someone reliable in charge of keeping the credentials current.
Creating and documenting new logins
A reliable employee will also be responsible for creating and documenting new logins as needed. As much as you try to be organized, it happens that you’ll get a bad review on Yelp and then realize you never claimed your page. You’ll have to move quickly when this happens, because you don’t want that bad review to sit there without a response for too long.
How are you going to monitor your reviews? These are the options.
- Monitor reviews manually: have an intern visit all review sites once weekly (or more often if possible) to look for new reviews.
- Use free monitoring tools: set up Google Alerts or use IFTTT to set up automated alerts.
- Use a paid monitoring service: the simplest solution is to subscribe to a service that sends you a daily alert if you get a new review.
Whatever solution you use, document it in your workbook.
How you handle new reviews
Handling new reviews effectively is the tricky part. Remember that you need to have a process for both positive and negative reviews. The flowchart included in our download addresses both. You’ll likely build your own with the specifics of your business. The basics here are:
- Positive reviews can be publicized; Twitter is a great channel for this.
- Negative reviews should be responded to and addressed as quickly as possible.
When you respond to a negative review, remember these best practices:
- Acknowledge the customer’s problem
- Apologize for the situation
- Invite further conversation (as in, “I’d like to learn more about what happened. Can you call me directly?”)
It doesn’t matter if you agree with this reviewer or not. You still need to listen and show that you care, for the benefit of everyone else who might read this review. Always invite further conversation with the reviewer. This means you’ll have to designate someone calm and professional to take these calls.
You will also have to give that calm, professional employee the authority to do something nice for these unhappy customers. You might offer a gift card or a do-over of the service you originally provided. Obviously you’ll need to set up the guidelines for how this works.
The ultimate goal of this follow-up conversation is to ask for a retraction. But you won’t get a retraction unless you take some action to mend the bad feelings. Lastly, your designated reputation manager will need to report back to the management team on any lessons learned. Negative reviews can provide valuable feedback. Use that feedback to understand your customers better and to improve your business.
How you benchmark your ratings over time
Tracking your ratings over time tells you how effective this process is for you. Ideally, as you get your staff on board with this process, the velocity of your reviews will increase and your ratings will rise. If that doesn’t happen, something’s wrong. A simple spreadsheet works well to document the history of your reputation reviews.
See the “Review Ratings” sheet in our download. It’s sufficient to document your ratings monthly or every other month. If you use our spreadsheet, the process is simple. Go to the front sheet and copy the list of review sites. Paste that into the first column of the “Review Ratings” sheet. Put the current date in the second column and then add the rest of the information.
Over time, you’ll have a running list of review metrics. You can run pivot tables off this data to see how your reviews are trending over time.
When Reputation Efforts Don’t Work
So you do all this and nothing changes. Then what? The typical problem is that not everyone is on board and committed to generating a positive reputation. You’ll have to find a way to motivate and hold your staff accountable. Incentives work well for sales people, for example.
But if you’re always fighting an uphill battle to get support for your reputation efforts, look at your hiring processes. Maybe you are bringing on the wrong people.
Here’s the bottom line. When you commit to a positive online reputation, you’re actually committing to great customer service. And that’s no small task. But there is a financial gain to be had, if you’re willing to go after it.