October 23, 2014

Take the Time to Manage Customer Reviews

Not so long ago, Yelp received quite a bit of attention when they began allowing business owners to respond to reviews left on the site. It was something SMB owners and others had been salivating for. And for good reason. Review sites and local search have changed the way your customers are discovering you and helping them make important purchasing decisions. If your company is who your customers say it is, then these online reviews play a pretty crucial part in giving them that voice.  And you need to be listening.

Let me share a quick story.

A good friend of mine was recently researching movers as she’ll be moving into a new home this weekend. Just like your own customers are prone to do, she started off by performing a local search in Google. That search presented her with a Google 10-pack, listing the names of ten moving companies, their phone numbers, URLs and links to existing customer reviews. She started from the top, clicking on the review for the moving company listed first in the search. The listing had one review — it was negative, citing several customer service complaints. It was the only review on the page and the company in question never bothered to respond. That company immediately lost the sale.

Online reviews often act as immediate, in-the-moment customer testimonials for your company when someone is trying to make a decision. They can help with search engine rankings and work to establish trust and brand recognition. You need to be monitoring your online reviews so that you can be proactive about managing them.

Know where your customers are leaving reviews

Your first step to managing online reviews is to know where people are leaving them. For most small businesses, this simply means covering the basics. You want to focus the bulk of your attention on the bigger name sites, as this is where most of your customers will naturally be hanging out and it will help you avoid spending too many hours trolling around the Internet.

I’d recommend monitoring these sites for online reviews:

Reviews on these sites are also the ones most often aggregated by other search engines. By addressing them head on, you’ll get double the benefit and visibility.

You should also check for any large niche review sites by doing a search for [industry name + review]. You may find that your industry has its own, very active niche sites. [For example, if you're in the travel industry, you'll want to check sites like Trip Advisor.] It’s very important that you monitor the sites most important to your industry as these sites will often have the most credibility for your niche.

Once you know where people are leaving reviews, make it easy to continually track new brand mentions by automating the process as much as possible. If you’re on Yelp, use the option to subscribe to the page via RSS so that you’re alerted each time it’s updated. Set up Google Alerts to watch your name. Most sites make it really easy to get updates via RSS or email. You want to take advantage of this to help keep yourself in the loop.

What to do when you find a bad one

  1. Breathe: Every company is going to generate a bad review from time to time. You can’t please everyone and some people simply enjoy spending their day kicking things. This is okay. Don’t freak out.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the site’s TOS: Before you leave a comment, make sure the site is open to businesses responding to their own rules. Most won’t say anything that prohibits it, but it’s always in your best interest to know the guidelines. You don’t want to accidentally offend and have to apologize later. You want to make sure your response fits inside their rules.
  3. Address the complaint. Calmly: Apologize for their bad experience, invite them back for another go and restate your commitment to making things right. It will very often appease the angry reviewer, but more than that, it shows anyone else who stumbles upon that review that you care. When my friend searched for that moving company, there was no response from the movers. Had they taken the time to offer some type of apology, a promise to do better, or reached out in any way, she very likely would have chosen them. It shows they’re listening.
  4. Always take the high road: Never ever attack or respond defensively. You’ll do nothing but hurt your company and make the situation worse.

If you need some help, I recently detailed an extensive plan for how companies should respond to negative reviews. You may want to check that post out for a more extensive plan.

As social media continues to take off and the search engines are using reviews as a factor in their local algorithms, it’s really important that small businesses take the time to monitor what’s out there and help manage any negative reviews that may develop. As my friend helped show, it means nothing if your site shows up first for a query if a negative review is there to scare people away. And because many small businesses won’t see too many reviews, it only takes one or two bad ones to send wary customers flying in the other direction.

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Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

35 Reactions

  1. Great Post
    Managing customer reviews can be a time consuming activity, especially without some kind of automation, not only should Customer Retention be your 1st priority in any Business, it is also important to pay attention to the reviews left by your customers and watch for any complaints that can be turned into Constructive criticism then find solutions to improve upon it.

  2. Customer reviews….very touchy subject. In many industries, competitors/friends of competitors write negative reviews quite often. Or, they write incredible reviews about themselves under false usernames. Very bad business practice! Very unfortunate. I think the reviews are a great idea if there was anyway to control the loads of false ones being created.

  3. Very important topic. As a consumer, I take reviews under consideration. Yes, a negative review is bad but if it’s accompanied by a few positive ones I still give the company some consideration. We as consumers need to realize that not all negative reviews may be 100% truth. It’s important to consider the pros and cons of a business and make the decision using the knowledge and our gut feeling. And just because a business has all positive reviews does not mean that something could not go wrong. Don’t take anything as written in stone and foolproof, just let the reviews guide you.

  4. The important things is how the company will treat YOU at the instance you are doing business. It is sad that you have users linked to competitors that writes bad review as Justin is talking about, but I think that will hurt the reviewer / fake users in the long run, sooner or later it will catch up with bad mouthing people. It is great to see that sites like Yelp could help us to navigate through the noise and filter out stuff so you get the real deal.

    What do you think about Bing’s decision engine by Microsoft?

  5. I know it isn’t discussed here, but often times a rebuttal only lends credibility to the negative review. Sometimes taking the high road involves just letting the bad review slip into oblivion (because you should be able to generate enough positive reviews to drown it out).

  6. Hey Lisa
    Have you found a surge in “community manager” type jobs and contracts that ask you to manage the feedback, manage the social media aspect of small businesses’ presence? I have to think that more and more companies will be hiring or contracting for major help in this arena. If they just follow Lisa Barone’s advice, they need at least a full time person!! That’s a good thing as I know how doing these things can help your business. This review post alone is worth its weight in gold. Not very many get the opportunity here — it is a green field or blue ocean, pick your metaphor. I try to point out to local merchants that i know that they are missing the boat.
    T

  7. TJ:

    Thanks for your comment. I has given me the key for a conversation I am having with an entrepreneur regarding assistance of a company’s new social media presence and endeavor for a new market.

    Cindy King (.biz) in France told that the title “community manager” as a person responsible for the online and offline community with customers, business evangelists, members of the new media, etc., is not the common known in Europe.

    Do you have more information on this topic?

    “Have you found a surge in “community manager” type jobs and contracts that ask you to manage the feedback, manage the social media aspect of small businesses’ presence?”

  8. Hey Martin
    Take a look at ReadWriteWeb.com and Forrester and Jeremiah Owyang. They have been writing and publishing about this specific title and its growth. I don’t have all the links handy with me right now, but email me and I’ll try to dig them out. q 4 s a l e s (no spaces in previous word) at gmail dot you know what. :-) Spammers be stuck…

  9. TJ,

    Thanks for the tips. I have sent you an email. By the way: I see you are updating your web site. You have picked Chris Garrett’s favorite WordPress template, Thesis.

  10. “it means nothing if your site shows up first for a query if a negative review is there to scare people away. And because many small businesses won’t see too many reviews, it only takes one or two bad ones to send wary customers flying in the other direction.” — very true Lisa. It’s a bit frustrating that we can not control this not to happen but at least we can respond. Thanks for the tips.

  11. Good Advice! It doesn’t take a bad review to put a business down. There are many ways to counter this for a good business may benefit from them. One thing is that they will get the exposure whether good or bad. It can make their services or products reach a wider range of consumers. Establishments are always open to scrutiny and it is hard to please everyone!

  12. Monitoring online reviews is a time consuming activity indeed but in today’s global financial downfall, businesses should strive to keep hold of every customer, no matter how much money or time they spend.

  13. Like always, a very interesting and intelligent post! Thanks for the great blog!

  14. Great post Lisa! You have some great reminders in there, with my favorite “tip” being: remember to breath! That can’t be overstated–deal with it calmly by sleeping on it if necessary.

    That said, Jay Bean, CEO of OrangeSoda was interviewed for Small Business Trends Radio, speaking about “Fending Off Competitor Smear Campaigns” (http://www.smbtrendwire.com/2009/05/26/fending-off-competitor-smear-campaigns/). He offered some good advice that goes along with your article.

    Full disclosure, I do PR for OrangeSoda (www.OrangeSoda.com).

  15. You’re right Franchise Opportunities. The moment we launched our business, we accept the fact that it is open for public scrutiny and we can not please everyone. However, bad exposure from not genuine reviews and customers are what hurts most. It would be alright if these negative reviews are coming from genuine customers who really have tried your product and service but then having a bad exposure from these fake people — “Oh just so grrr”!

  16. Thanks Lisa. Good insight to a serious communication concern – handling negative feedback (world wide). I’ve worked with some clients who want to ignore the importance, and impact, of customer feedback – and lost business. It’s even more important in today’s marketplace where a few voices can be heard loudly around the globe.

  17. As you say, responding to negative reviews can be tricky. Unless the review is off the wall, it might be best to leave it alone, and focus on generating high search engine rank for positive reviews. This can be done by identifying positive comments and spreading them widely. You can repost positive reviews on your own site or blog, and bookmark them to sites like Delicious. You can also tweet them. The more exposure you give to positive reviews, the higher they will rank in Google. Users understand that there may be a mix of positive and negative results when they search Google, but they assume Google somehow knows which ones are more important (read true) so the key is to get the positives to show up higher than the negatives in search results. I call this technique reputation optimization, and I’ve written about it a lot on my blog. This post might be useful to your readers.

    http://www.alertrank.com/mrgooglealerts/2009/05/03/google-owns-your-reputation/

  18. Later, Mayweather docks the shuttlepod and Trip goes aboard. ,

  19. Love Love Love this post! I have seen so many businesses choose to not respond to negative reviews or they argue back with someone… horrible idea! I loved your steps… breathing is definitely a great first step. If you don’t take a few seconds to breathe, you’re probably not going to take the high road and you’re going to make things much worse.
    I’m moving this weekend & when my boyfriend and I were looking for places to live, we LOVED one apartment complex, but I found some negative reviews of them online & the management responded with a serious attitude. They definitely lost some great potential tenants because of that!

  20. We just started what can be considered an online complaint service. Allowing customers to write a review and rate businesses at the point of sale. Businesses can decide to either keep the input to themselves or publish it. This lets the company learn where they may need to improve and gives customers the option to complain directly to the business, rather than going to the internet where the business will probably never see the complaint. I’m not sure i can post a link here but it’s worth a try http://reviewcap.com/ ReviewCap.com is a service that effects change. If customers are unhappy about the service, product or treatment then what needs to happen is change and posting on facebook or poor mouthing on review sites about the business in question will not do anything to rectify the situation. People should get what the pay for and companies need to be help responsible when this doesn’t happen, but they also need to know about it. A business should not lose 10% because the housekeeper forgot to leave anew bar of soap, or because the master chef was out sick. Online reviews sites are great and give consumers great power but with great power, you know the rest.

  21. Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Without them, everything else crumbles. That is the main reason why their voice matters. Great post

  22. Though this article is very old…review forums are still super relevant!

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