By Alex Gladu, Independent We Stand
When customers search for your business online – and there’s no doubt that they do – do you know what they find? Hopefully, they’re seeing your website, your social media profiles and any positive media coverage you’ve garnered. Chances are, these potential customers are also seeing online reviews about your business – and these reviews could make or break their decision to visit your brick-and-mortar location.
Research undeniably shows that customers look at and make decisions based on online reviews from other customers. According to a 2014 study by BrightLocal, 88 percent of consumers look at reviews “occasionally” or “regularly.” What’s more, 72 percent of consumers said that reading a positive online review makes them trust a business more, up from 55 percent in 2011. Another study, this one from Zendesk, has reported that nearly 90 percent of consumers have been influenced by an online review when making a buying decision.
If a potential customer sees a negative online review about your business, he or she may question whether or not to support you. If there are too many negative reviews about your business on popular sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, you could be losing out on sales in a big way – but that’s not the only potential consequence. Negative reviews can also bring down your search ranking. Search algorithms like those used by Google and Bing change often, but a 2014 study by Moz shows that reviews do play a substantial role in determining where your business appears in a list of search results. Plus, even if they’re not bringing down your ranking, they may be bringing down consumers’ opinions. Reviews tend to be prominently featured in search results, often as an averaged number of stars. Those stars could make or break your conversion of potential customers into sales.
So what can you do to mitigate the risk of negative online reviews? In the age of online, user-generated content, much of the power remains solely in your customers’ hands. Sure, there are sometimes ways to submit fake reviews on your profiles or delete the reviews you don’t like, but these actions can harm your customers’ trust in you at least as much as – if not more than – legitimate negative reviews. It seems that the one place you have the best opportunity to fend against negative reviews is in the store. There, you have the most control over the customer’s experience, and the way you are able to serve each customer – even if your inventory doesn’t match his or her needs – could inspire a good review. At the very least, it shouldn’t inspire a bad review. Providing stellar customer service can earn you the power of good word-of-mouth both around the community and online.
If you’ve already received some negative reviews, the need for customer service still applies. Nowadays, it’s incredibly easy for consumers to take to their social media profiles to complain about a company, whether in a tweet, a Facebook post or an Instagram photo. These posts may not always be formal customer reviews, but they still represent online conversation where your brand was mentioned – and other social media users may very well see those posts when researching your business.
As a result, online reviews and social media mentions should be taken seriously. Legitimate, negative complaints warrant a response from the business, even if it’s just a courteous apology. If you choose to go beyond the apology, there are many ways to show these naysayers the impeccable customer service you provide. For instance, if a customer was unhappy with the way her meal was prepared at your restaurant, you could make amends by offering a free appetizer or dessert if she gives you another chance. Similarly, if a customer is unsatisfied with his new product from your store, you could offer him a refund and a discount on future purchases, even if he has waited longer than your return policy allows such arrangements to be made.
Ultimately, customer reviews can, in fact, have a noticeable impact on your small business. For instance, Michael Luca, a professor at Harvard Business School, found that a one-star increase in Yelp ratings could generate a revenue increase of nearly 10 percent. It’s important first and foremost to know what people are saying about your business in online reviews and ratings, so that you’re aware of any and all weaknesses or threats. Once you know what they’re saying, take their comments to heart both in the store and online. When it comes to responding online, offer the same stellar service via the Internet that you would in the store. If that sounds at all like a golden rule to you, then you’re on the right track.
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