Every business owner knows that a good reputation can go a long way in creating and maintaining customer relationships that are mutually beneficial and long lasting provided it’s based on a history of good work and reliable service. Likewise, a bad reputation can quickly make a negative impact on sales and new business leads thanks to disgruntled customers who have an unsatisfying experience and then spread the word to anyone who will listen. Years ago, word of mouth among friends, family members and neighbors was the primary method for sharing business recommendations about anything from what company to hire and which restaurant to visit to where to stay when traveling.
While many still put a high value on suggestions from trusted personal contacts, it’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of Americans now turn to the Internet for insight before making a purchase or signing a contract for service. In fact, a 2014 survey found that 88 percent of consumers read online customer reviews to determine whether a local business is a good business. With that in mind, businesses large and small must take a thorough look at their online presence to determine the best ways to impact their online reputation, and in turn, their sales. The key to making the most of this increasing reliance on social media and review sites is the development of an active and engaging online presence — here are a few tips on how to best manage your reputation online:
Build a Strong Foundation
Although you’ll never have total control over the results that appear when a prospective or current customer types your company’s name into a search engine, you can be sure that the content you do control is a good representation of your business. From your website and Facebook page to your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts — take advantage of this real estate and develop content that will ensure a cohesive and consistent image rooted in your company values. Consider each of those tools a chance to tell your company story and share information about your service offerings in a different way.
Your website, especially, should serve as a comprehensive destination that educates customers on every aspect of your business. From the essentials, such as contact information and directions, to the more detailed content such as your company history and staff expertise – your website is your main portal through which to share this information with the general public. It’s also a great place to get creative through additional multimedia content that feels relevant to your industry and the services you provide. A blog or “News” section can be a useful vehicle for sharing brief, yet insightful, posts that educate your audience and reinforce your commitment to being a valuable and trustworthy resource. It can also be a great place to share links to media placements regarding your company and the field in which you operate.
Once your website is packed with well-thought out content, take the time necessary to establish a social media presence to accompany it. An emphasis on social is essential in an effective online reputation management strategy because such a huge number of people are using it on a daily basis as a tool for product and service recommendations. Neglecting to create your own social profile means customers will be able to talk about your business without you having a chance to get in on the conversation. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook rank high in search results and an active presence is a great opportunity to engage with your audience in a positive way.
Most importantly, be sure you are providing a blend of useful and informative content across the board that positions your business as a trusted partner and can serve as both an affirmation of positive online reviews and a rebuttal to negative ones.
Monitor, Engage, Repeat
After you’ve built a foundation and have a strategy to maintain and improve upon it, put a plan into place that will enable you to respond and address both negative and positive customer feedback across the web. First, conduct an audit of social media and review sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Better Business Bureau and ConsumerAffairs.com to determine where your business stands in terms of ratings and reviews. Next, evaluate the reviews with the goal of finding a common theme or reappearing complaint or piece of positive feedback that you can learn from. Are many customers complaining about difficulty getting in touch to make an appointment? Perhaps it’s time to expand your call center or reconfigure your current appointment making software to better accommodate your clients. Has more than one reviewer mentioned how impressed they were with your technician’s positive demeanor? Take this opportunity to think about what you can do to reward and encourage this type of behavior in your employees. Is a common theme the fact that your pricing seems to be higher than your competitors? Understand why this is the case and determine whether there is anything you should be doing to communicate about it.
After you have a better sense of what people are saying, it’s time to take action. Most customers turn to review sites and social media to vent when they feel they’ve experienced poor service – but many are also hoping to hear back from the company to rectify the situation. Depending on the situation, it is usually best to respond to each situation as quickly as possible with a request to take the conversation offline — and out of the public forum. Take the time to craft thoughtful, professional responses that are unique to each situation to show you value and respect each customer’s experience. Avoid the temptation to delete negative comments from your Facebook page, as doing so will most likely cause further discussion on personal pages where you have no opportunity to respond or quell the situation. Resist the urge to engage in a heated exchange or tell the customer why you disagree with their point of view, and instead remain calm and professional.
If a disgruntled customer tags your business in a Facebook post in which they complain about an unpleasant interaction with your technician, a prompt response from your business could briefly apologize that the customer is unhappy and suggest he/she sends your page a direct message with a contact number so you can follow up via phone to handle the matter personally. That way, the rest of your audience will see that your business is taking the matter seriously and addressing it without being privy to every detail of what exactly transpired.
Establish a best practice policy such as the one above for responding to online complaints and communicate that policy to everyone on your staff. Designate one person to serve as the voice of the company and be sure that representative is frequently monitoring for feedback to ensure it is being addressed in a prompt manner. Consider setting up Google Alerts or using other tools to help keep track of online conversations involving your business to help avoid missing any potential firestorms. Just as you would never let a negative review go by without comment, take the time to respond to positive feedback from happy and satisfied customers, too. Thank them for their business and kind words and if you feel so inclined, consider offering a discount on a future service.
The challenge in creating a positive online reputation is that the online world is shifting and evolving every single day. Constant vigilance is required in a world where customers are able to air their grievances for the world to see at anytime. By implementing a strategy for creating good content to outweigh the bad and a proactive policy for handling customer feedback, you can make a big impact on your company’s online presence and potentially, your bottom line.