Regardless of what kind of business you own, the recommendations of satisfied customers are a commodity more valuable than gold. Whether you prepare taxes or take photographs, whether you sell food or handicrafts, getting the good word out about your business must be one of your top priorities. Of all the ways to make this happen, online reviews may be one of the most powerful.
The Changing Face of Marketing
Not so long ago, businesses of all kinds primarily used local print and media advertisements to inform potential customers about what they had to offer. However, the omnipresence of the internet has changed the business landscape dramatically.
Like it or not, most entrepreneurs have come to terms with the fact that they must establish themselves online through a website and via social media. Taking time to design and maintain a slick, information-packed website is hugely important, but these days you really cannot succeed without paying an equal amount of attention to your online social media identity. Fortunately, you don’t need to do this all by yourself.
The Great Equalizer
Not so long ago, consumers had no choice but to rely on the opinions of self-appointed experts when it came to impressions of the products they were looking to buy. Today, the internet has changed that. It is just as easy for an everyday person to send out a tweet, snap a photo for Instagram or review a product or service on Facebook as it is for an industry expert to do so.
Often, it is the everyday experiences and impressions of ordinary consumers that other people respect the most. Considering that researchers estimate that 88 percent of consumers trust the reviews they see online, you can definitely harness this tool in your favor for your business.
The Power of Positive Reviews
You could scarcely argue that positive online reviews would be anything but excellent for your business. Obviously, potential customers could come upon such a review on Yelp or your local Google directory, become interested because of the affirmative slant of the reviewer’s message, and find themselves clicking on your website or driving to your physical storefront. If they also fall in love with your business, chances are good that they will let their opinion about your store be known to their social network and the greater cyber community.
This desirable possibility is even more likely if you encourage all of your customers to write reviews of your business on their favorite sites. While you cannot control what they say, you can use these sites as sources of valuable feedback that you can use to grow and improve.
The Power of Negative Feedback
Believe it or not, even the most scathing of customer reviews can become vital tools as you work to expand and improve your business. Imagine, for instance, that you own a restaurant. One of your customers writes a withering indictment of one of his meals as well as the service provided by your wait staff. Your first impulse upon reading this review may be to call the customer and give him a piece of your mind.
Upon reflection, however, you will recognize that his words have a certain redeeming value. Slowly and painstakingly, you separate the customer’s emotions from the objective facts of the evening that he had a bad experience: the food took 45 minutes to come out, the steak was overcooked and your staff member greeted the customer’s request for a better prepared entrée with a huge sigh and eye roll.
In response to this admittedly upsetting review, you implement positive changes around the workplace, including coming up with ways to increase efficiency in the kitchen. After a talk with your wait staff in which you role-play a more constructive way to deal with a disgruntled customer, you feel satisfied that a future diner faced with the same situation will not be treated the same way.
Finally, you respond to the customer in two ways. Publicly, you express your regret at his negative experience, inviting him to come back for a free meal. Privately, you obtain his contact information from your customer database and call him to apologize in person. The majority of customers will respond positively to your sincere efforts to remedy the situation.
Provide Incentives to Your Customers to Post Online Reviews
While there are some people who regularly take the time to share their experiences with others, many of us need an extra push. Certainly, you cannot dictate the content or tone of the reviews that your customers write. However, you can definitely come up with creative ways to engage them. Here are just a few ideas:
- Sponsor a photo contest, requiring that your business must figure into both the picture and the caption. Let customers know where they need to upload their submissions, and offer a gift card to the winner.
- Set up multiple profiles on several review sites such as Google Local, LinkedIn, TripAdvisor, Yelp and CitySearch.
- Make it as simple as possible for your customers to leave reviews. Include direct links to your review profiles on your newsletter, on your website and with every email blast you send.
- Encourage your employees to get reviews from their satisfied customers. You could even run a monthly contest in which the top review-getter wins a monetary reward.
- Publicly thank all customers who review your business regardless of whether the feedback was glowing or mediocre.
When you are thinking of ways to build your business, many possibilities come to mind: deliver innovative products and services that meet a need; find a venue that matches the mood and scope of your fledgling business; choose a merchant account provider that can make your payment transactions and point-of-sale systems as inexpensive and seamless as possible; and finally, cultivate and grow your customer base via an innovative marketing plan that includes social media and other online tools.
In today’s online social environment, you don’t have to be a rugged individualist trying to carve out a path for your business through the wilderness. With online reviews, you can leverage your loyal customers to help grow the business you are working so hard to build.