When you are considering a new product or service, what is your first stop? For 82% of us, it’s an online review site.
Businesses know how important reviews are for their customers and typically have a process for regularly monitoring their own reviews. But responding to those reviews can be just as critical as the quality of the write-ups themselves. Increasingly, consumers aren’t just looking at the number of five-star reviews, but are also evaluating how the business treats its customers. In fact, among those who read online reviews, an astonishing 97% also check out the businesses’ responses.
And there’s another reason responding to online reviews is crucial for a small business: It can improve your search ranking, too.
Consider these three steps for creating and overseeing a program of monitoring and responding to reviews that gets results.
1. Encourage Customers to Review Your Company
Getting just a few stellar online reviews isn’t enough anymore: the average consumer reads 10 posts before believing a business is trustworthy. And while you may worry that requesting commentary might invite criticism, remember that every company receives at least some negative comments, and in many cases, they can even bolster your credibility.
The keys to getting customers to post: simply ask them, and make it easy. Some strategies include:
- Develop an automated system that emails customers a link and prompts them to write a quick comment. Set the system to ping them 24 hours after a transaction or visit, while the experience is still fresh in their mind. Then, follow up a few days later with a reminder.
- Promote links to general review sites, such as My Google reviews and Yelp, on your social channels, website and in-store. Depending on your industry, you may also want to point customers to specialty sites like TripAdvisor for hospitality companies, Angie’s List for home-related contractor and repair services, or OpenTable for restaurants.
- Send direct links to customers in follow-up emails and also include them in newsletters and other email communication. You can also provide your social media handles and ask them to tag you in a post.
- “Google my business” reviews are extremely important for search engine optimization (SEO), but they can be a little tricky since users have to be signed-in to a Google account to access the page. One way to specifically boost participation is to offer your customers some tips on how to leave reviews, such as this official guide from Google.
2. Regularly Monitor Online Reviews
For your own image, you want to be aware of what posters are saying, whether it’s positive or negative. But customers who take the time to leave comments also expect you to respond quickly, so it’s important to stay on top of your reviews in near real-time.
A smart first step is to set up a Google alert for your company name. Make sure to include alternate spellings in case customers use a common misspelling or, for example, spell out a number rather than using a numeral.
On social channels, set up alerts for posts to your social media pages or customers’ personal pages where you’ve been tagged. Most sites will also send you a notification when your business is mentioned, so make sure you have opted in to receive those.
However, don’t rely solely on automation; augment those announcements by regularly visiting review sites and social media for a quick scan of anything new.
Finally, keep a log that tracks details of posts, including your response, to make sure you’ve acknowledged each one. Set an alert if you want to check back to see if there are any updates, particularly if the comments were negative. You might also use these records to keep track of specific comments so you can identify any patterns or areas you should be addressing.
3. Respond to All Reviews
While many businesses realize it’s important to respond to negative reviews to set the record straight, the Harvard Business Review study found that responding to positive reviews had the same benefits for SEO. That’s why you should make a point to respond to all commenters.
Here are some best practices for responding to negative reviews:
- Make sure you understand the situation they are complaining about; it’s fine to ask for additional details if you need to.
- Your first step should be to empathize with the poster—express your regret at their experience and assure them it’s not typical. (You may find that this can spark glowing commentary from customers coming to your rescue by sharing their own stellar experience!) Then, be sure to finish your remark with an apology; often, people just want to be listened to and recognized.
- When possible, strive to make the situation right. Offer a refund or invite them to come back at a discount—whatever is appropriate.
- Take the conversation offline if they remain dissatisfied, as you don’t want to get into an extended back-and-forth publicly. The comments that you have left are sufficient to demonstrate to future readers that you were trying your best to mitigate the situation.
- Don’t worry that a negative review will ruin your reputation; often, it can make the positive ones look more authentic. No company does everything right all the time.
Take negative feedback to heart, especially if the same issues are mentioned frequently. It might be a cue you need to make some changes.
While positive posts can be easier to overlook, it’s still important to respond to those as well, as a way to thank the customer and show that you are listening to them. Keep a few best practices in mind:
- The longer and more detailed the post, the longer your response should be, but even shorter ones deserve a “thank you.”
- In your response, use the customer’s name and reiterate any positive details they highlight.
- Add more value by offering a tip on how to use a product they bought or mention a complementary service you offer. (“If you loved our x, you should try our y!”)
- Use some personality rather than making it look canned. You want the response to be friendly, and you also want to make sure that all responses aren’t the same, since readers often scroll through multiple posts.
- Wrap-up the comment by thanking them again for their feedback and patronage.
Garnering online reviews can be a potent marketing tool as prospects find out more about the experiences others have had with your company. Your responses will validate the fact that you care about your customers and invite others to seek you out.