Welcome to part six of our seven-part series, “The (Small) Business Owner’s Guide to Local Marketing.” Today’s focus will be on helping small business owners with reputation management. More specifically, on how to handle positive and negative reviews. 

In its entirety, our series aims to provide business owners, particularly small business owners, with fast, actionable strategies to win and keep more customers. 

The seven parts of this series break down as follows:

The last post in our series, “Driving Engagement: Winning Customers’ Trust and Busines,” dealt with strategies to get people to react and convert from your content. Today, we discuss reputation management. 

Let’s jump in!

Reputation Management: Keeping Customers’ Loyalty

According to multiple surveys, large majorities of consumers now trust online reviews as much as recommendations from a friend. And according to an Invesp study, customers are likely to spend 31% more money at a business with “excellent” reviews. According to Uberall’s 2019 benchmark report on reputation management, locations that move from just a 3.5- to 3.7-star rating will experience a jump in conversions (i.e., calls, requests for directions, visits to websites) of 120%.

What does it all mean? As much as many business owners dislike them, reviews matter. A lot.

The three places you’re most likely to be seeing reviews are on review sites (Yelp, TripAdvisor), directories (Google) and social media pages (Facebook). According to recent Uberall research, consumers often turn to online reviews of brick-and-mortar stores from customers when researching where to shop. 

Here’s where they look:

1. Google Maps & Reviews (51%)

2. Yelp (36%)

3. Facebook (35%)

4. Better Business Bureau (22%)

5. TripAdvisor (15%)

Instagram, Angie’s List, and Yahoo Local Listings all tied for 6th place with 13% each. Yellowpages (10%) was in 7th place, followed by Foursquare (3%) and Manta (1%).

Many owner-operators feel helpless when it comes to review sites, feeling like it’s impossible to win when people can post negatively about their business. But reviews have a plus side, too. They can be instrumental in four ways.  

  • Reviews will increase your position in search results
  • Good reviews will encourage people to trust your business faster
  • How you reply to poor reviews can also promote trust in your business
  • You can use the information from reviews (good or bad) to improve your business  
Encouraging Positive Reviews

Positive reviews on any primary review site (but particularly in the ones listed above) are vital for your business to move up in search results. That’s because highly rated companies are weighted more heavily in Google’s algorithm than businesses with poor reviews. In addition, while people are usually self-motivated to write reviews based on very good or bad experiences, research shows that when you ask all your customers to write reviews, the majority will be positive.

Dealing with Negative Reviews 

Bad reviews can feel like a shot to the heart of a business owner. They are deeply personal. But they also give you valuable feedback on what issues you may need to address—that you may not get elsewhere. They also add credibility to your positive reviews, as readers may view a profile with only five-star ratings with skepticism. As importantly, instead of having an unhappy customer out there bad-mouthing you with no idea or recourse, with a review, you have the opportunity to make it right—and have others seeing you acting in good faith. 

Responding to Reviews 

According to a recent Uberall study, 65% of consumers believe that businesses should respond to every customer review, whether positive or negative. Therefore, it’s essential to take the time to read, reflect on, and respond to reviews, whether they are positive or negative. However, in that same Uberall survey, when asked if the store responded to their review, two-thirds of survey takers said the store did not respond, and 34% of customers said they hadn’t shopped there since.

Here’s some general advice as you respond to reviews:

  • Respond quickly. 

    According to a SOCi survey, 89% of consumers are open to changing a negative review if the business owner addresses their issue within 24 hours. If you’re not already using reputation management software—which can flag reviews in real-time and let you quickly respond—consider getting one as part of your location management solution.

  • Be ethical and businesslike. 

    Never pay anyone for a review. Don’t coerce, threaten, or try to unduly influence someone to write, delete or change a review. Never be abusive or threatening in response to a review or break terms of services. 

  • Be succinct. 

    Long responses that drag on for paragraphs, or — worse — are even longer than the actual review, will seem like you are being defensive and argumentative. Be short and sweet. 

  • Take it to private messages? 

    If you don’t see a pressing need to respond in public, you have other options. Yelp, Facebook, and many other social media and review sites allow the possibility of direct or private responses. However, remember that public responses DO let other potential customers see your responsiveness in action, so don’t be too covert. On the other hand, a bad review handled quietly may look to observers as if you ignore the complaint, which you don’t want. 

  • Think twice. Post once. 

    Get a second set of eyes on your response before hitting “send .”You’ll thank us later. 

  • Apologize and empathize. 

    In the case of a negative review, reaffirm that you heard what was said by repeating it back, and then apologize for the negative experience.  

  • Be calm, neutral, and de-escalate. 

    As Yelp suggests: “But please be very careful here: if your reviewer perceives that you are being rude, condescending, or disingenuous, there’s a chance he or she could get angry and make the situation even worse.” 

  • Make it right.

    If you can offer a fix, do so. But be wary. Some bad actors will create reviews hoping to be offered something for free. A way to avoid this is to invite the customer to contact you directly so that you can try to make things right for them.

The (Small) Business Owner’s Guide to Local Marketing

Thank you for reading part five of our series titled “The (Small) Business Owner’s Guide to Local Marketing.” Next up in our series is our final post, “Ready To Do This?