For businesses large and small, word of mouth from satisfied customers has long been a vital source for generating new business leads. But those passing conversations have now evolved into permanent fixtures in the online space.
It’s a trend that was first popularised by service sector sites like Trip Advisor and TopTable, which allow customers to review hotels, bars and restaurants online.
But experiences are now being shared with a much wider audience, and customer reviews are now an intrinsic part of our online experience – something that’s become embedded into our everyday spending habits.
The statistics back up the anecdotal evidence.
In a recent report, 53 per cent of consumers revealed that they had decided against making a purchase based on an online recommendation.”
The power of online reviews is clear, and as their influence over people’s spending habits continues to grow, small businesses simply cannot afford to ignore the phenomenon any longer.
How can you manage your online presence and make the most of the opportunities that reviews present?
Maximise your presence
Most review sites offer free tools that allow you to upload rich content about your business.
So sharpen up your writing skills and put up an engaging business description; take a few compelling photos that best showcase your business; and create as much relevant content as you can.
Remember that more content means more exposure, traffic and eventually, more customers.
Get customers involved
Your customers are the best advocates of your business, so encourage them to leave reviews if they’ve had a good experience.
Include links to selected review sites on your website, Facebook and Twitter pages to make it as easy as possible for customers to get involved. Or why not incentivise them with offers and discounts if they share their positive experience of your business with others?
Monitor reputation and engage reviewers
There are simple ways to monitor your reputation online.
First and foremost, check your reviews regularly. It’s important to engage consistently and not only if a negative review has been posted. A sincere “thank you” to a good review is a great way to show appreciation.
Take the rough with the smooth
Responding to negative reviews is harder, and it can be difficult to keep emotion out of the equation.
But it’s also a great opportunity to demonstrate the quality of your customer service, which will not only counter negative feedback, but also help to win over potential customers.
The key is to establish a dialogue in order to find out more about the reviewer’s experience. Be gracious, apologetic and try to turn the situation around.
Best foot forward
It’s crucial to remember that any conversation conducted on a review site will be visible to all visitors. So carefully consider your response and utilise the opportunity to demonstrate the quality of customer service and after-sales care your business provides.
Avoid posting reviews about your own business, competitors or businesses you haven’t used.
This is a sure-fire way of damaging your online reputation. Consumers are savvy and value a variety of opinions. Gushing, officious or even overtly negative reviews may seem suspicious.
Above all, make sure that you get involved now, before it’s too late.
Customer reviews and ratings are not the next big thing, they’re already here. Businesses that fail to take advantage of them will soon fall behind their competitors.
Alinna Chung is head of communities at Yell.
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