With a reported 92% of customers now checking online reviews, reputation management is a big issue for small businesses. It’s often the deciding factor when choosing between service providers. How can small businesses encourage their customers to leave stellar marks?
Provide exceptional service
This should be a no-brainer.
You cannot reasonably expect to cultivate a mass of 5-star reviews if your service is lackluster. Customers now demand that you not only meet their expectations, but exceed them. So take a hard look in the mirror. What could you be doing better?
Start with setting clear expectations for your clients, both verbally and with the content on your website. Include a frequently asked questions page in your marketing materials to quell any common concerns before they become an issue. Be very clear during your client on-boarding process and do everything you can to deliver a greater result than the one that you originally promised. Customers usually don’t mind inconveniences, but they hate unwanted surprises. Maintaining clear communication is fundamental to keeping a happy client base.
Pro Tip: Continue to improve and refine your services with ongoing employee evaluations, secret shoppers, and customer survey questionnaires. This will allow you to quickly identify any shortcomings that you may have and address them accordingly.
Know what platforms impact you the most
Not all online review sites are created equal.
There are 2 behemoths that you should focus the majority of your attention on: Google and Yelp. These 2 platforms stand out from the crowd because of their integration into the top 2 search engines on the web. Google uses reviews cultivated from a company’s Google MyBusiness profile, showing a 1 to 5 star rating next to local search results. Bing takes reviews posted on Yelp and shows the same 1 to 5 ratings below their local search results. This gives customers an instant visual quality comparison between local providers.
Claim your Yelp and Google MyBusiness profiles then fill them out completely. Add pictures, service areas, hours of operation, and product/service offerings. You will have a much more difficult time building quality reviews on an empty or half-complete profile, so add as much quality information as you can. It is not necessary to participate in any paid advertising offerings from Google or Yelp to effectively manage your online reputation; no matter what a telemarketer may tell you.
Pro Tip: Take some time and research your competitor’s profiles. What categories are they under? What pictures are they using? What do they choose to promote? You can get some great insight on what to do, and what not to do, just by taking a look at the competitive landscape.
Ask your clients for reviews
Your customers are not (usually) mind readers.
Providing great service and hoping that awesome reviews come pouring in will not yield the best results. You need to actually ask your clients for reviews! Nobody likes fishing for compliments. It may feel awkward for you to ask your clients for a review, but it is an absolutely essential part of reputation management.
There are some simple tricks that can help you complete this task without making it too uncomfortable. First, set expectations from the beginning and let your clients know that customer feedback is very important to you as you continually strive to improve your business. While you are not asking for the review just yet, you are setting an expectation that you can come back to when the project is complete. Second, send a customer feedback survey with the final bill and offer a small incentive for the time it may take them to fill it out. A $10-$25 gift card usually works well here. You can create custom surveys that are easily linked into emails and webpages with programs like SurveyMonkey, GravityForms, and TypeForm. If the customer submits a survey with negative feedback, address their concerns as soon as possible. If the survey is returned with positive feedback, follow up and ask them if they would mind sharing that feedback on Google or Yelp. If you have provided great service and a gift card for their time, most customers are happy to write a few sentences on Google or Yelp to help you out.
Pro Tip: Make it as easy as possible for your clients to leave a review. Send them the link directly to your profile rather than to the platform’s homepage, give them multiple platforms to choose from, and send them a reminder email 2 to 7 days after your initial review request.
Respond & combat negative reviews
Negative reviews aren’t as bad as you may think.
While no one wants to be sitting in the search results with a 1-star rating, negative reviews can be an opportunity to showcase your stellar customer service skills. Make sure you reply quickly and concisely to criticism and be very aware that future consumers will be reading your responses (or lack there of) very closely. In addition, 95% of consumers suspect censorship, or faked reviews, if they see no bad reviews at all. Today’s consumer knows that you can’t please everyone all the time and look to see how you respond to disgruntled clientele.
Pro Tip: Know the rules of the game. All major review sites have policies about what reviewers can include in their remarks. Some of the most common violations include mentioning employee names, using profanity, and promoting another vendor. Use these policies to help sculpt your online reputation by reporting violations on negative reviews in order to get them taken down.
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