Have you ever thought about how your customer service can affect search results for your business?
Before the Internet you could make a customer really mad and they couldn’t do much about it. They could tell everyone they know not to go to that business, but eventually their anger would pass and they would move on. Their ability to hurt your business was limited by how many people they told and who passed on the information. That was before the Internet. Today a bad review left online can show up high in search results for years – long after the issue is resolved.
Years ago my car broke down near a local repair shop. I called the shop, told them my car was not running. They told me to bring it in. Once I got there, they said, “we don’t work on cars that won’t run.” I was mad because they not only said it was OK but they saw me pushing the car and directed me to where to leave it. It was a lot of time and work getting it there only to learn I should’ve called a tow truck. I asked to speak to the manager. He was defensive and rude, starting out our conversation yelling and swearing at me. I took my car elsewhere, and for the next several months I cursed their name.
Today I could’ve gone to my blog, written it with a title that included their business name. Biggest Jerks: XYZ Car Repair in Salem, Oregon.
Next I could go to review sites and leave negative reviews.
That’s exactly what another blogger did when he had a run in with a security alarm company. Even though it was written over a year ago, that negative blog post has been in the top 5 results on Google for their company name almost a year. It has over a hundred comments and keeps getting new ones. He had to move the post to another server because it was taking all the bandwidth. It still gets hundreds of visitors a day. The company has tried everything to convince him to take it down. The CEO got involved. Eventually the situation was resolved, but my friend still thinks people should be warned about the company so he refuses to take it down.
Today one angry customer can tarnish a company’s reputation for years. From what I’ve seen Google favors negative reviews slightly. Review sites like Rip Off Report do very well in search results. It’s very difficult to get a negative review removed.
As a business owner you have to be proactive. After the fact, you can contact everyone who leaves a negative review and try to resolve the issue. You can ask for feedback so hopefully they’ll complain to you first. You can hire an online reputation company and spend hundreds trying to bury the negative results. But it’s better to be proactive by building good customer service as a way of doing business. There really isn’t a way to fake that.
The best online companies have clear return policies (Zappos is famous for great customer service and their no-hassle, no money returns – a quick look at their search results shows it). They communicate well through the entire buying process so you know they get your order, and when they ship it, and how to return items. They also follow up after the sale to get feedback.
Alas, here’s my top 10 ways to save your online reputation in 2009:
1. Make it easy for customers to contact you. Every page should have your contact information, including at a minimum, your phone number. Here’s an example of a dentist in Houston, Texas who does this well.
2. Respond quickly to potential problems or customers concerns to keep them from growing.
3. If your company has contracts, make sure the process of cancelling the contract is clearly spelled out. This is a common area where customers get upset. For instance, my company doesn’t have a long term contract but sometimes clients stop contact with us but don’t cancel. We don’t hear about it until they see the charges on their credit card. Then they get angry and often blame us when we have no record of them canceling.
4. Clearly explain return or cancellation policies. If you’ve ever tried to cancel a Match.com account, you’ll know what I mean. Long after you’re happily married you’ll be unhappy trying to get it closed.
6. Decide who will respond to negative reviews and how they will be handled. Give whoever generates the responses the authority to make quick decisions.
7. Look for ways to turn negative feedback into positive. It may help to engage a PR consultant or agency for crisis situations should they arise.
8. You might want to leave and respond to negative comments left on your blog. If ignored it can just fuel the anger and a disgruntled customer may go to many other sites. It’s better to be the first to see and respond to the complaint rather than take that risk.
9. Blog posts with your company name in the title can show up high in search results. Ask happy customers for a post.
10. Make it easy for your customers to leave positive feedback online. It’s not as motivating for a happy customer to take the time to do this as it is for someone who is angry. You could include links to review sites in emails to your customers and ask them to leave a review online. Just be aware that you cannot reward people for leaving a review.
Positive reviews can actually help search engine optimization because it’s unique content about your business. Rather than just your own web site, it’s from diverse sources. Frank Panaro a Miami Florida wedding photographer has a huge mix of search results, including reviews. If he got one blogger to post about their experience with his name in the title, it would probably show up highly and be another positive search result for his business.
Has a bad online review hurt your business – and what did you do about it? What ways have you encouraged your customers to leave positive feedback for you online?
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About the Author: Janet Meiners Thaeler is an Evangelist for OrangeSoda Inc. and the principal blogger for their corporate blog and Twitter account. She regularly advises clients on blogging and social media strategies. Her own blog is Newspapergrl.com (and Twitter account @newspapergrl). She is passionate about online marketing and is always looking for new insights, resources and trends to help her clients.