October 23, 2014

Top 10 Ways to Save Your Online Reputation

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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.

5. Track what’s being said about your business online. Set up Google Alerts on your business name and RSS feeds on your company name on Twitter using search.Twitter.com.

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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Janet Meiners thaelerAbout 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.

51 Comments ▼

Janet Meiners Thaeler


Janet Meiners Thaeler 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.

51 Reactions

  1. I think this is a big opportunity that most people miss:

    “9. Blog posts with your company name in the title can show up high in search results. Ask happy customers for a post.”

    It’s like asking for testimonials — except you ask the customer to put the testimonial on his or her own blog. Simple enough — few do it. :(

  2. Janet Meiners Thaeler,

    I have installed a feedback tab on my blog page. It is powered by Get Satisfaction. Have you heard about them?

  3. I think your 2nd point about responding quickly is sometimes overlooked.

    To overcome potential problems keeping in touch after they have bought your product can stop the problem from growing. It is surprising the number of companies that do not do this and wonder why there are no repeat sales.

  4. 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.

    This is a good point: How we respond to negative customer experience normally works to regain the customer’s trust, or infuriate them further.

  5. Definitely the best marketing is referral or review-based marketing. Advertising is paid for and thus one-sided. Referrals, reviews, and comments are real (well, some are still paid), and have a human side to it.

    I even encourage allowing and showing negative reviews of one’s products or services. It not only sparks more interest and for would-be consumers to read on and research more, but if your product or service is truly of good quality, the bad comments will point to good ones.

    This is the only way I make purchases – reading good AND bad reviews. Small businesses, including mine, would be unwise to not offer avenues for their customers to review and comment.

  6. Mark,I strongly agree to your proposition. Our customers should always have the place to share their reviews on our products and services. Nothing really beats an honest, wonderful review of your product or service.

  7. Janet-
    A very timely post. I too like #9. Sometimes customers are shy, and don’t want to post or even comment on a blog. One approach that has worked is to ask for feedback (via email), and then reply asking if you can quote them. Then, with their permission, you can put it on a blog or wherever you wish online or offline.

  8. Online Reputation Management is not only applicable to businesses that have experienced negative customer reviews. With more and more customers using search engines to research their purchasing decisions, a proactive approach to Online Reputation Management is becoming increasingly necessary for any business.

  9. Anita,
    Here’s my problem: it’s easy to get mad customers to leave feedback (or blog about you). I wonder how to inspire happy ones to. It seems like you have to be remarkable – and ask. Amazon and eBay always ask for feedback…but I rarely make the time to do it unless the experience was exceptional.
    People who’ve lost money are motivated. I wonder what ideas there are to motivate the rest.
    -Janet

  10. A very timely post, indeed. I think your suggestion in #8 is very important. “Radio silence” doesn’t do anybody any good and just reflects negatively. Disgruntled customers should be taken very seriously in this day and age and not ignored or overlooked. (i.e. the blogger and the security company mentioned here :-)

    And #5 is an absolute MUST if you want to stay on top of things. Great suggestions, Janet.

  11. @Martin-
    I have heard of Get Satisfaction but haven’t seen the toolbar. I went to your site to see. It looks like you’re getting a good response. You have obviously community on your blog. Thanks for sharing – others should steal this idea.
    – Janet

  12. @Mark – You bring up a good point – it’s ok to get negative reviews. A mix of opinions seems more authentic. There are some services that are more subjective than others. In my friend’s case, it’s an industry that has a service that people need but often hate.

    The thing that made my friend’s review so powerful, is that it’s a narrative. Unfortunately there are no positive stories so it makes people leery of doing business with the company.

    @Travis – I like your suggestion to ask people to email about their experience. Usually easier and less intimidating.

    -Janet

  13. Janet,

    Thanks for your visiting my blog. The black feedback tab is placed on the right side of the page. The text “feedback” is written in a vertical manner, so it could be hard to see it at the first sight, but I think that Get Satisfaction has used this layout to minimize the interference to the look.

    For more information:

    http://getsatisfaction.com/people/lyceum

    Could you explain what you are working with as an Evangalist at OrangeSoda?

    Cheers! :)

    P.S. Could you tell me how you got your sketched image / photograph? It looks like the Wall Street Journal style.

  14. Feedback misuse is a big issue for any online marketplace. Some sites – like Guru.com – are now taking steps to protect reputable users from harm. In December, Guru.com announced that users will be granted the ability to block some negative Feedback from public disclosure – but the the ability to do so is limited by prior performance. If you consistently “build good customer service as a way of doing business”, your chances of avoiding harmful Feedback improve while your ability to block unjustified comments on the site goes up. We hope the idea sets a new standard for how websites approach Feedback problems.

  15. Martin,
    You’ve inspired me to put up a profile. I usually have happy customers but once in a while I feel like they weren’t completely happy and I’d like to know why.

    Do you mean what feedback mechanisms are we using? We monitor blog comments and Twitter.
    Some clients want reputation management. We help promote the positive pages and bury the negative as well as diversify results. Social media sites are excellent for that. I create profiles on various social sites and incorporate keywords to help them show up higher in search results.

    You asked about the Wall Street Journal drawing of me on my blog. It was done by Kevin Sprouls. He originated the style.

    -Janet

  16. Responding quickly to complaints is so very important. The longer someone has to wait for a response, the madder they get. Make sure you’re checking your email inbox often.

  17. Janet,

    Good to hear! With Get Satisfaction you could gather ideas, comments, feedback, etc in one place. It is totally transparent and I think it will foster a constructive conversation between the seller and buyer.

    Thanks for the giving me details regarding your work.

    It would be nice to get a personal hedcut by Kevin Sprouls sometime in the future. I am thinking of placing an order with John Cox (painter, cartoonist, and illustrator) again. He created the header banner for my EGO blog. You could read about and see the process in my post, Heads up for EGO blog. (Click on “Martin Lindeskog” Says:) How about illustrating my blog with a caricature of EGO editor?! ;)

  18. Good to hear! With Get Satisfaction you could gather ideas, comments, feedback, etc in one place. It is totally transparent and I think it will foster a constructive conversation between the seller and buyer.

    Thanks for the giving me details regarding your work.

    It would be nice to get a personal hedcut by Kevin Sprouls sometime in the future. I am thinking of placing an order with John Cox (painter, cartoonist, and illustrator) again. He created the header banner for my blog. You could read about and see the process in my post, Heads up for EGO blog. (Click on “Martin Lindeskog” Says:) How about illustrating my blog with a caricature of the editor?! ;)

  19. Janet,

    My “comment is awaiting moderation” on this blog, so I sent you a message regarding GS feedback service, your work, illustration, etc, via your site.

  20. Point 5 is a very valuable resource and simple to set up ..would you have any trends for how many business monitor buzz about their firms

  21. I think loyalty is also a good way to establish and protect reputation. Small businesses should pay attention to how they are building loyalty and rewards programs since they go a long way in shaping ongoing perceptions of a company and brand.

  22. Janet I loved you post and thoroughly agree with your opinions. In fact we have been building a reputation management product that we have just released to beta. We would really appreciate your opinion (and those of any reader here) on it. We have worked very hard to provide super relevant results, including results from media not usually monitored: twitter, flickr, de.lic.ous, etc. it is a super easy way to monitor your online reputation. We have a lot of improvements coming in the next few months. Please feel free to give it a try (p.s. it is free) http://steprep.myfrontsteps.com

  23. It seems to be human nature to complain (and to share that complaint with others). Many people don’t think about praising or thanking as something they need to share also. So I’m somewhat shameless – I ask customers for feedback (positive and negative) and get them to post it.

  24. Janet,

    Thank you for the recommendations, its always helpful to see additional ways of approaching a topic that can often be too sensitive in the moment to handle objectively.

    One thing we’ve done to help us with our customer service, similar to what you mention in #6, is to make sure we have a customer advocate involved in our customer response process. A person who is supposed to put themselves in the customer’s position to help us review and improve our communication before we respond. It helps to make sure we’re really considering the customer viewpoint in advance.

    Thanks again for the advice.

  25. Too right! I use a tool called Brosix to keep in touch with my clients, and I find that it has been a great boon to service quality. In time and real time responses to problems. Thats a good way to keep your customers happy.

  26. Hi,
    Great article! I just stumbled here from Stumbleupon, which is funny because I was just trying to deal with this problem this morning.

    Any suggestions on what to do when you suspect (about 99% sure) that several negative reviews being posted are being written by a competitor and not a customer? From the details and specifics described in the reviews and various other reasons I can tell they don’t add up and are not real , but from a potential customers view they could appear legit. The supposed reviewer even lists contact information for the competitor.

    The reviews are on CitySearch so I can’t reply directly or even delete them. Thankfully, some of our past clients have come across them and posted glowing reviews in response, but I don’t know that its enough to counter the false reviews.

    Additionally it also seems the competitor is bloating their own reviews. Some of the posts and jargon read more like a brochure than an actual customers experience.

    I consider myself an ethical person/company and will not stoop to their tactics and post fake reviews about them. I don’t even feel comfortable with the idea of posting fake reviews about my own business.

    I plan on encouraging some past customers to go give us an honest review. Any other recommendations?

    Thanks

  27. I gave this advice at the Small Biz Summit with you (Anita) this past week – Collect data using a web form (in 10 minutes). Thought it might be helpful to link to my follow up instructions on how to get that done.
    It’s here:
    http://jrsays.com/2009/02/small-business-web-tip-collect-data.html

  28. Thanks for the advice. I think I will try some of these techniques to run my Chicago photography business online.

  29. This is a great article, very useful. Businesses are getting harder in this year. I have to try my best, I’ll following your guide. Thanks and wait for your more further article.

  30. Based on a recent kerfufle in the China expat consultancy area (checkout #CDE on twitter), here’s some DON’Ts to go along with those DOs:

    1) DON’T try to hassle critics using government connections.

    2) DON’T try to astroturf websites doing reviews of your company using the same IP address and obviously fabricated monikers.

    3) DON’T publish demonstrably false qualifications on your website and then try to use them to claim expert knowledge.

    4) DON’T threaten legal action against people who are telling the truth about your company.

    5) DON’T publish false interviews with officials as an attempt to show of your government connections.

    6) DON’T threaten commenters on Twitter – this is the purest way of getting bad publicity on that website that is possible. Those threatened simply re-tweet the threats, which are then re-tweeted by all the contacts of those threatened. This will simply mobilise people against you.

    7) DON’T be gung-ho about using SEO. Search engine wars become obvious when you know what to look for, and can also generate negative comments which then also need to be dealt with.

    8) DON’T issue false denials. Lies on the internet stay there for ever, if you deny that something you have said is a lie, often the denial makes you look worse than the original denial did.

  31. Blogs are a must these days. I didn’t even know what a blog was 6 months ago! I have one that’s really starting to build up a following. Great information.
    Free Traffic Tips

  32. I agree with Mark. Mark – it’s ok to get negative reviews. On my site you can leave a positive and negative feedback as well: http://www.haringphotography.com A mix of opinions seems more authentic. There are some services that are more subjective than others. In my friend’s case, it’s an industry that has a service that people need but often hate.

  33. ‘give a care’ comes to mind for me…… hmmmmm ;)

  34. Just thought i would comment and say neat design, did you code it yourself? Looks great.

  35. You might consider trying Fix Your Search Results at http://www.fixyoursearchresults.com. For less than $200 they got rid of bad personal information that showed up with Google and Bing searches on my name.

  36. This was helpful and informative. Reputation management is definitely very important and should not be taken lightly.

  37. Great article, so many things have changed over time as far as business is concerned and reputation and Integrity are the most important.

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