If you work in any kind of customer service industry, you’ve been there before: dealing with a customer who is unhappy with the quote they’ve been given or can’t understand why their outrageous expectations can’t be met. Customer service is the most fickle aspect of owning a business and yet, it’s also the most important. It doesn’t take much to realize that a few bad rumors or reviews circulating town or, even worse, the internet, can do a whole lot of damage when it comes to the public image of your business. Recent studies show that more than 61% of people research a product or business online before making any kind of investment. Online reviews are the most sought after form of research. Consumers are 12 times more likely to trust a fellow customer’s review than your own guarantee of quality service. That makes shaping your business’s online reputation very important. Here are a few ideas for how to prevent bad reviews from being left and how to combat bad reviews that have already been given. As with anything else, there is no exact science to avoiding them, but with consistency and integrity, you can be on your way to a better company image in no time at all.
Keep the Customer Happy
As with any company that deals with customer service, you always want to ensure that your customers are being well cared for and feel that their best interest is being kept in mind. The most significant way you can ensure this is to first make sure that you and your staff members are on the same page when it comes to dealing with customers. When you’re a small business owner, it’s easy to forget that training your employees is up to you. There is no company curriculum that’s required for hiring. So have some typed up material to give to every employee that details how to deal with common situations involving customers. Instruct your employees on how they are to behave and hold regular staff meetings to ensure that you’re all working toward a common goal. Staff meetings are also a good time to receive feedback from your employees to see if they have any ideas that may be valuable to the overall wellbeing of the company. When directing employees on how to deal with customers make sure they are attentive, respectful, professional, and honest. Being honest with the customer is very important. Always give good service and cater to the customer but never promise something you can’t deliver.
Build a Relationship
Know your customer personally. This isn’t to say that you disregard professionalism or allow customers to talk your ear off every time you see them. However, remembering just a few small details about a customer can do a world of good when it comes to making your customer feel special and cared for. When your customer senses your concern for them, they will be more inclined to give a good review of your company when asked. With technology where it stands today, maintaining a positive image online is just as important as having a good word of mouth reputation. Building a relationship with a customer will make it easier to ask for them to leave a positive review of your business on online review websites.
Let the Customer Know They are Heard
One of the number one reasons that customers will go online and leave bad reviews is because they didn’t feel heard by the business or its employees. It is imperative to keep communication open between you/ your employees and your customers. If someone, even a long time customer, has a complaint, they are less likely to give a bad review if you or an employee deal with their concerns immediately. This will keep any complaints or negative impressions of your company in house and will further boost your public image. Let the customer know that if there is anything they’re not satisfied with that you want to know about it. Encourage them to dialogue with you and your employees about any concerns they may have. Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your customer will make it easier to ask for a good review. However, before asking a customer to review the service they’ve received, you need to find out where your company stands online.
Do Your Research
If you haven’t branched into promoting your business online, now would be the time to do so. Online websites are quickly becoming the most popular source for finding reviews of local businesses. Since most review websites focus entirely on the location of the searcher, it is even more imperative that your online presence and reputation be a flawless one. In an article from the Harvard Business Review, studies showed that having positive feedback on a product or service upped sales from 32% to 52%. That’s a considerable increase. If you’ve never explored your business’s presence online (outside of your own website or social media pages), do so immediately. Yelp!, Angie’s List, Google “Local” Reviews, Yahoo! Local Listings, Insider Pages, Trip Advisor, City Search, and Four Square are all popular sites when it comes to researching small businesses locally. People will look up a company before doing business with them in order to see what others have said about them and the kind of experience they had.
In a world that relies so heavily on the feedback and opinions of others, it’s no wonder that making sure your company is well reviewed can be the first step towards success. Go to a few of these websites and look up your business. Most business review websites, such as Yelp! will have a directory for you to search for local businesses. However, it is important to note that you do not have to enter your business into a directory in order for it to be on there. Any person, competitor, or customer, can “Add a Business” to a directory such as Yelp!’s. What this means is that just because you yourself haven’t gone online and sought out reviews from customers, doesn’t mean they haven’t been leaving them.
That’s why doing your research to see where your business already stands is so important. This will reveal one of four things:
1. you are a business that is unknown and needs to make your presence known within the community (this means you aren’t showing up in any online directory)
2. you are a business that is well-loved and has an active clientele that is leaving positive reviews without being asked (lucky you!)
3. you are one of the unfortunate ones that has had the only 3 unhappy customers in your business’s history go online and leave negative reviews (these are people who have come into your business and had an experience that was unsatisfactory)
4. you are doing great at what you do, thereby earning the attention of competitors that are low enough to leave you negative reviews online simply to tank your rating (these would mean false reviews are being left in order to hurt your business’s reputation)
If you fall into categories 1, 2, or 4 then it would be wise to do some damage control. Here is some advice from the Yelp! webpage that gives some good insight into how to deal with these kinds of situations:
If someone writes a negative review-
“…While it’s important to look for patterns in your reviews (e.g., people keep mentioning that the bread is stale or that a particular employee is rude), you shouldn’t read too much into any one review. Most Yelp users are looking for a consensus among all of the reviews they read rather than accepting the gospel of any one review, so you should do the same. Of course, you can always contact the reviewer or post a public response, but be forewarned that responding to criticism with criticism of your own will almost always work against you.”
If someone writes an untrue review-
“We don’t arbitrate disputes, so your best bet is to contact the reviewer or post a public response in order to clear up any misunderstandings. If it is clear on the face of the review that it violates our Content Guidelines (e.g., the reviewer admittedly describes a second-hand experience or uses a racial slur), you can flag the review to bring it to our attention [to have it removed].”
Add the Personal Touch
As with any online site, you need to learn the in’s and out’s of how it works and what makes it promote certain reviews over others. Do your research and figure out which review websites seem to cater most to your type of business. Focus on those sites and make an effort to encourage customers to share about their experiences. If you’ve had trouble with satisfied customers not leaving feedback and have had only a few negative reviews, it can be easy for your business’s ratings to tank your business’s reputation quickly. If this is the case, try contacting past customers that you know were pleased with the service they received. Ask them if they’d be willing to leave a review on the desired website. Encourage them to write about the overall experience they had, rather than just jotting down 2-3 sentences about how wonderful it was. Detailed reviews receive high ratings on most review websites as they give a more complete look at who a business is and what they do. Before asking a customer to leave a review however, be sure you make it easy for them. Figure out in advance what link they should visit and know the process of leaving feedback so that if the customer has any questions along the way, you can answer them. Having a frustrating reviewing process will only make the customer hesitant if ever asked to leave a review in the future.
If All Else Fails, Offer an Incentive
If your personal requests still aren’t producing any reviews (or enough to combat the negative ones), try offering an incentive. Perhaps there is a service you can offer a percentage off of to customers who leave reviews. Or maybe you can give a certain number of free consultations to these customers. If you’re in retail, you could enter customers who leave feedback by a certain date into a drawing of some kind. No matter how you choose to approach it, remember that customer service is always first, that no business will ever receive 100% feedback all the time, and that consistency combined with integrity will always bring success.