Suppose a new restaurant opened in your neighbourhood, wouldn’t you look up reviews of their business online before trying it out? Nowadays, online reviews are an integral part of the customer journey. As consumers, our decision to try out a new restaurant, book a hotel, or purchase a product is often influenced by the opinion of others.
93% of consumers say online reviews impact their purchase decisions, and 97% of shoppers who read online reviews also read replies from business owners. From a small business owner’s perspective, it’s essential to have a strategy in place for managing customer reviews.
The Benefits of Managing Online Reviews
Let’s talk about the ”why” before discussing the ”how”. Here are some of the benefits of actively managing customer reviews online:
1. It Enhances Social Proof
If you’re an active social media user, you are likely aware of how significant social proof is in building credibility and trust. Instead of measuring success by a business’s wealth, social proof is determined by the number of followers and customers who endorse a brand. Surprisingly, 75% of businesses fail to respond to customer reviews. This represents an opportunity for business owners to differentiate themselves in the market and commit to cultivating social proof.
2. It Helps Identify Areas for Improvement
While running your small business, it’s easy to overlook what can be improved. Luckily, loyal and new customers can help you gain valuable insight into your business. Taking their feedback into consideration, and implementing changes, will demonstrate your ability to evolve as a business. In a sense, it’s like having free business consultants at your fingertips.
3. It Increases Sales
What do most small business owners strive for? The answer is usually more sales. Positive reviews can be powerful endorsements and influence potential customers to choose your business over another. Reviews carry significant weight, with 84% of customers trusting them as much as personal recommendations. That’s why positive reviews are often correlated with more sales.
Building a Strong Online Presence
Are you easy to find online? A solid online presence can help you monitor and respond to reviews quickly, effectively, and in real time. Consider using a variety of platforms to reach a broader audience and to provide customers with more options for feedback. In general, focus on platforms your customers are more likely to use. Here are some convenient options:
Google My Business
There’s no question that Google is the world’s most popular search engine, and your customers likely use it daily. In fact, 81% of consumers use Google to research local businesses. Best of all, the basic features of Google My Business are 100% free.
- Allows businesses to create a listing that appears in Google search results and on Google Maps with information such as business hours, phone number, website, and address.
- Consumers can leave a review, and businesses can respond accordingly.
- Businesses can add photos to their listing to showcase their products, services, and location.
- Provides data and analytics on how customers interact with your listing (i.e., listing views, clicks to your website, etc.)
Yelp has been around since 2004 and has more than 5 million businesses signed up. According to Podium, 59% of consumers have used Yelp in the past year before making a purchase decision.
- Helps consumers find and review businesses in their local area.
- Search results can be filtered by ratings, price or location. Users can also search for businesses by category, keyword, and location.
- Small business owners can claim their Yelp page free of charge, respond to reviews, and use Yelp’s business tools to connect with customers.
Everyone is on Facebook, and your small business should be too. A Facebook business page offers a variety of tools to make monitoring, responding and engaging with reviews a breeze.
- Business pages can include a description, photos and videos, business hours, contact information, and more.
- Users can add a public review or privately message you via Facebook’s Messenger platform.
- It’s integrable with Instagram and WhatsApp to provide a seamless customer experience across different platforms.
Industry-Specific Review Sites
Depending on your industry, there may be other review sites that you can use. For example, TripAdvisor is for travel-related businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and attractions. Small business owners in these industries can claim their free TripAdvisor page, respond to reviews, and use the site’s analytics to track their performance.
Best Practices to Manage Customer Reviews
1. Be Quick About it
When it comes to responding to reviews, the earlier the better. If left unresolved, negative reviews can adversely impact your small business. Responding quickly will mitigate that impact and prevent other potential customers from being deterred. Generally speaking, you should aim to respond within 24 hours. It will show that your business is responsive, professional, and committed to providing excellent service.
2. Make it Personal
A personal response to a customer’s review helps build meaningful relationships. Things like using their first name and addressing their specific concerns demonstrate empathy. Use every review as an opportunity to create a unique bond. This will likely encourage customers to continue supporting your business and to promote it to friends or family.
3. Respond Professionally
It’s essential to strike a balance between being personal and professional. While it’s important to show empathy, it’s equally crucial to maintain a professional tone and avoid mentioning anything irrelevant. Instead, focus on addressing their concerns and providing a solution or an apology, if necessary. In some cases, it may be appropriate to continue the conversation offline to ensure a private and more effective resolution of any issues.
4. Express Appreciation
Customers took the time to try out your business and provide feedback so that you could improve. Always begin and end your response with a thank you to demonstrate your appreciation for their time and effort.
5. Keep it Brief
A short and sincere response is often more impactful than a lengthy one. Customers value personalized replies but don’t need an essay in return. By keeping things concise, you can demonstrate that you value their time and are genuinely committed to addressing their concerns.
6. Encourage Feedback
Encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews by providing links to review sites or offering incentives like discounts. You will be amazed at how willing they are. Your customers are your biggest supporters – leverage them fully.
Responding to Negative Reviews
While negative reviews may seem daunting, ignoring them only makes matters worst. Before reading feedback, take a deep breath, and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Remind yourself that you’re dealing with another human on the other end. If the feedback is unclear, ask questions for clarity. And if the interaction goes smoothly, you can even ask if they would be willing to adjust their review (do this privately).
Example #1 – Jim’s Restaurant
Ellie Comments (3:45 PM – March 29th): I recently dined at your restaurant and was disappointed with the experience. The service was slow, and our server seemed uninterested in our table. When our food finally arrived, it was cold and did not taste fresh. I was looking forward to the meal, but unfortunately, it did not meet our expectations.
Jim’s Restaurant Replies (7:45 PM – March 29th): Dear Ellie,
Thank you for taking the time to provide us with your feedback regarding your recent dining experience at our restaurant. We’re sorry you were disappointed with the quality of our food and service during your visit.
We are investigating the issue and will take appropriate steps to ensure this does not happen again. We want to make things right, and we invite you to come back to our restaurant for a complimentary meal. Contact us directly at [insert contact information] to arrange this.
Thank you again for your feedback, and we hope to have the opportunity to provide you with a better experience in the future.
In this example, the restaurant owner does the following right:
- He’s timely in his response.
- He makes it personal by using her name and addressing her specific concerns.
- He apologizes for any inconvenience caused.
- He offers a complimentary meal as a way of making things right.
With such a response, Ellie may give the restaurant a second chance. Alternatively, if she chooses not to take him up on his offer, other customers will see how well the situation was treated and might not second-guess trying out his .
Responding to Positive Reviews
On the other hand, responding to positive reviews is much easier and can be a fun experience. Remain professional, but don’t be afraid to add some personality. Here’s an example of a common scenario:
Example #2 – Across the Street Coffee Shop
Martin’s Review: This is my favorite coffee shop in town! Their coffee beans are the best, and Jill always serves me with a smile. I’d recommend this spot to all coffee lovers.
Jill’s Reply: Dear Martin,
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your positive experience with us. We source our coffee beans only from the purest of suppliers!
We look forward to welcoming you back to Across the Street Coffee shop soon.
Coffees are best served with a smile,
Jill from Across the Street Coffee Shop
In this example, Jill emphasized the high-quality sourcing of their coffee beans and conveyed enthusiasm for welcoming him back to the shop. Her response was polite, friendly and showcased her unique personality. If you read this reply online, wouldn’t you want to try Across the Street Coffee Shop for yourself?
The Bottom Line
Managing customer reviews isn’t just about damage control. It’s an opportunity to showcase your strengths and address weaknesses. Remember, reviews are the voice of your customers. Listen closely and turn their feedback into action: The success of your brand’s reputation depends on it.