For local businesses, reputation is everything. This is what differentiates you from the competition and from those bigger, national brands who can offer bargain prices. It’s essential, therefore, that you manage your reputation online – even if it feels stressful.
In 2015, research from Nielsen about customers’ shopping habits found that over 40% of people in the UK have decided not to purchase from a company after finding out information about the way that company does business. This could be an ethical or moral issue – or it could just as easily be about how you treat customer complaints.
Customers are also much more likely to complain than praise a business online: Harvard Business Review found that nearly half of all customers who have a negative experience tell 10 people or more. That’s a lot of potential customers!
Without monitoring and managing your online reputation, there’s the chance that customers and other businesses may say things about you which seriously damage your opportunities of making more sales. Here are five tips on reputation management to help you protect your business online.
Firstly, as a business, you should be monitoring your reputation across different channels. If there’s a negative review on TripAdvisor or Yelp, you need to know about it. There are lots of ways you can do this, including setting up Google Alerts, and using Hootsuite to monitor Twitter and other social media channels. There are also a number of websites for customer reviews which are specific to certain businesses: for example, Rated People is an important website to know about if you’re a builder or tradesman.
Learn more about monitoring your online reputation using free tools here.
If there is a negative or unfavourable review online, respond promptly and politely. Good customer service is just as important online as it is in person. Always make sure you offer further help as well as an apology and an explanation.
Even if you feel the reviewer is wrong or has been unfairly critical, remember that you’re responding in front of potentially thousands of people – so everything you say should be thoughtful and polite. Doing this could potentially turn a bad review into a returning customer.
As well as monitoring what’s happening on other websites and social media, you could invite customers to leave testimonials on your own website. This gives you more control over what feedback is shown and what’s directly associated with your business than reviews on other sites. It also means you can respond quickly and easily to feedback, and satisfied customers will be able to show their appreciation instantly.
If you get great feedback in person or on social media, add this to your website in a prominent place so it’s showcased to other potential customers.
One of the barriers for local businesses in managing their online reputation is who will deal with the reviews, customer queries and other comments. Think about how much time you can realistically dedicate to responding to these sorts of issues, and make sure it’s included in the job description for one of your team. If you can, give this responsibility to just one person; no customer likes being passed round multiple members of staff to try and solve a simple problem.
If you’re a sole trader, set aside some time each week or day to manage the reviews and let your customers know what your response time will be. You can learn more about this, and using social media specifically for customer service, here.
If you’re a restaurant and you’ve had a power cut, or you’re a florist whose delivery of stock hasn’t arrived, don’t wait for customers to get frustrated and vent their feelings online. Instead, be proactive, genuine and transparent: they’re much more likely to be understanding. Keep them updated as you try and fix the problem; you’re less likely to lose repeat customers and your reputation will remain intact.
Managing your reputation online doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming. With forward planning and a genuine approach to developing better relationships with your customers, you can protect your reputation and start to use it as another tool to drive more sales.
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