Focusing on your business’s online reviews is a major component of a healthy reputation management strategy. A handful of glowing, positive reviews is essential to build trust in your community and is often the tipping point on why a potential customer will choose to do business with you over your competitors. According to a 2019 Survey from BrightLocal, 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses (including 95% of people aged 18-34). Of those, almost half wouldn’t even consider doing business with a company with less than four stars. I’ll go over the best ways to get new reviews, how to respond to negative ones, and some common actions you want to steer clear of when it comes to handling your business’s online review strategy.
Discover the reviews you have now
The first step is to seek out all of the online reviews your business has now. Checking your Google Map listing, Facebook page, Yelp listing and industry-specific directories (Homeadvisor, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, etc.) is a great way to start. The most important sites to check can be dependent on your industry so a little research online will go a long way.
Start by simply searching for your business name, address and phone number on Google as well as any branded products or services you may offer. There are some services online (such as MozLocal) that can help in showing you where your business is listed across the web. Once you have a complete picture of what people are saying, you will be better equipped to know what your next steps should be.
Respond to reviews – good and bad
Consumers like knowing that a business is on top of things and responsive to their customers. Responding to all reviews quickly and professionally is a must and can often be the ultimate reason your business is chosen over the list of options a customer has in front of them.
Remember to be personal but respect their privacy. It’s okay to allude to their specific experience but don’t give out any details that have a chance of making them uncomfortable. Thank them for leaving the review and mention “next time” or “in the future” to let them know they are welcome back anytime!
The infamous negative review
It’s very easy to get upset or take it personally when your business gets a bad review. Maybe the customer was just having a bad day or maybe your business wasn’t as efficient as it should have been that time. Either way, any business acquiring a number of reviews online is bound to have a negative or two (or more) thrown in. But how your business responds to that negative review will have far more impact than the review itself.
Responding to a negative review takes discipline, humility and quite possibly a great deal of self-control. I’ve seen too many businesses handle this opposite of the way they should have. From denying they ever did business with the customer, name-calling and even deleting their listing altogether, this is needless to say, far from ideal. Consumers reading a negative review will very often start off believing the customer that left the review. Ignoring the review entirely or ending up pointing fingers is the best way to lose any credibility you had with people reading it.
Always respond to negative reviews professionally and respectfully. Remember, you are responding not only for that specific customer but for every single person reading that review from this point forward. Let the customer know that you will use their comments to make positive changes in the future. Welcome them back and express that you are dedicated to earning a better review next time. People know that some customers are difficult and will leave a bad review no matter what. If the customer is misleading or lying about a situation outright to make their experience sound more dramatic (many do, unfortunately), politely correct them and express your point of view. Your goal is to position the person reading the review from the customer’s shoes to yours.
If you focus on providing a great experience, acquiring great reviews, and mastering the art of properly responding to negative comments, you will no longer fear a bad review.
What about neutral reviews?
It’s my opinion that there is no such thing as a “neutral” review. There are reviews helpful to your business and reviews that are not helpful. Consumers see a five-star scale and rank accordingly, which is good. That’s exactly what we’re supposed to do as someone who has experience with a business. But from a business owner perspective, any less-than-great comments or ratings should be handled with the same professionalism and care as I went over above for negative reviews.
What do I do if I get a fake review?
Unfortunately, fake reviews are becoming more prevalent online. This is where another business owner or a competitor leaves a bad review (or string of bad reviews) for your business to make your reputation look worse than it is. There are several ways to handle this. My advice is to report the fake review to the website or platform that the review is on. Since this devalues the services that these websites offer, many take aggressive steps to stop it. Some even offer a way to “flag” a review as fake or inappropriate.
Responding to fake reviews
Sometimes it can be difficult to be absolutely certain that the review came from a competitor. Even if you are, it may not be the best strategy to boldly call them out in your response. Even if you are able to prove it thus making the other business look really bad, remember that this is on your listing. People are here because they are considering doing business with you. A better alternative may be to offer a clear and direct response that you have no record of doing business with them but are open to working with them if they contact you directly. Many consumers will recognize this and get the idea of what’s going on pretty quickly.
An example response to a fake review:
Thank you for your review, however, we are unable to identify your information or experience from the details you provided. We aim to provide excellent service and take negative feedback seriously. If you are willing to contact us (insert contact info), we will be more than happy to clear up this issue quickly.
Word of encouragement
At the end of the day, don’t stress out too much over fake reviews from your competitors. While you’re working on providing a great experience for your customers, they’re too focused on trying to come up with deceitful plots to steal business away from families who own small businesses. They probably won’t be in business long with those kinds of priorities.
Generating New Reviews
There are several things you can do to boost your online reputation. Among those, getting more positive reviews is possibly the most effective. Your goal should be to get reviews on a wide variety of sites including major sites like Google and Facebook as well as niche sites specific to your industry.
No matter where you are in the process of starting a review strategy, there is no better time to focus on it than now. Don’t wait until you find out about some negative reviews before you take action. Like many things in business and life, it’s better to be proactive than reactive.
Here are some effective and creative ideas that you might find useful when creating your review strategy.
Reach out to past or current customers
Find out how happy your customers are with their experience and ask for feedback based on their response. If they’re happy, direct them to a review site of your choosing. Let them know that it would greatly help your business and let other customers know about their experience. If they’re less than happy, ask them for their advice and recommendations privately and thank them for their business.
If you’re in an industry where it’s not feasible to acquire your customer’s contact information, ask them right away or consider making a change to where you ask for their email address when you interact with them. The best way to approach this is dependent on your specific business and how you interact with your customers. Be creative!
Ask for reviews or testimonials on your website
Include a page or a form on your website that is dedicated to asking customers what they think about their experience. This is not only a great way to generate reviews, but also collect testimonials for display on your site.
Review “comment cards” with a link
One of the most creative ways I’ve helped my clients get reviews in the past was by using review comment cards. This is a simple, professional card displayed at checkout, in a hotel room or at a booth that includes a link and QR code that leads the customer to any review site of your choice. If you want to go the extra mile, have the link lead them to a page on your website where they can choose what site they want to leave a review on.
Let employees know to ask for reviews
Let your employees know about your review strategy and what your goal is going forward. Simply asking for reviews at the right time can make a big difference and it’s always a good idea to keep everyone at your place of business on the same page.
What are your competitors doing right?
Like any form of online marketing, I will always recommend researching your competitors. Sometimes they can teach you more about what you’re doing wrong (or right) than you might think. This can also give you invaluable information on what you should be focusing on when generating more reviews for your business.
What not to do
Some people, myself included, see an objective and start thinking of the most efficient way to tackle it. Though this can be effective for many things in business, it’s not when it comes to getting online reviews. Look out for these common mistakes when implementing your review strategy.
Never pay for reviews
Never pay for or offer anything in return for positive reviews online. This is against most website and directory guidelines and will result in your reviews, or worse your listing, be removed or suspended.
Never post reviews for yourself
This may seem obvious but too many people try it. It’s never a good idea to attempt to “trick” the system and have people at your company or direct family members leave a review without actually having any genuine experience as a consumer with your business. Google is Google for a reason. They’re not easy to trick.
Don’t set up a review station at your place of business
I’ve seen some businesses, and even some services online, offer to set up a review station in their place of business. A kiosk that simply asks customers to leave a review on Yelp or their Google page on their way out. This is not a good idea as that device has an IP address and too many reviews from a single IP address will be flagged and taken down right away.
Don’t leave negative reviews for your competitors
We went over fake reviews above so the premise should be obvious. But even if you did have a genuine, bad experience at a direct competitor of yours, don’t leave them a bad review. Anyone with young children knows why without me having to explain.
Don’t get too many reviews at once
Don’t decide to tackle getting a lot of good reviews quickly thinking you can forget about it after that. New reviews (less than two weeks) have a much higher impact on consumers than old reviews. Not to mention, a lot of reviews in a short period of time can look suspicious to customers and review sites resulting in your reviews being removed.
I have a lot of good reviews, now what?
A review strategy should be steady, consistent, and part of your ongoing marketing efforts. Success isn’t getting a lot of reviews and checking it off your list. Your goal should be to continually receive positive reviews from customers going forward.
Keep in mind that your reviews can be used on your website, email signature, and other marketing materials. If a customer ends up on your website, be sure they know what others are saying on sites like Google and Facebook. Your website is the one piece of property you own and have full control of online. Make the most out of it!