Love them or hate them, online customer reviews increasingly influence purchasing behavior and business success. 85% of consumers read online reviews about local businesses, up from 76% in 2012 (source: BrightLocal). What’s more, online reviews directly affect buying decisions: 90% of people are influenced by positive online reviews, and 86% are influenced by negative online reviews (source: Dimensional Research). 1 star difference in review rating can impact business revenue by 5-9% (source: Harvard Business Review).
In this social buying age, online reviews have become a major influencer to business success. And with Internet freedom alive and thriving, consumers are in the driver’s seat, leaving business owners with seemingly little control over what people say about their business.
Further fueling business owners’ frustrations is the difficulty in keeping track of online reviews. The proliferation of third-party review sites and social media have multiplied the number of conversations about consumer experiences with businesses. Remarkably, 75% of people talk about brands on social media (source: Mass Media), on major sites like Google, Yelp, Yahoo, LinkedIn, TripAdvisor, CitySearch and on industry specific vertical sites.
While business owners have limited control over what people say, they are hardly helpless when it comes to improving their reputations. For starters, businesses have the option of responding publicly to customer feedback, fixing legitimate product or service issues, and proactively encouraging users to post positive experiences. Effective reputation management tasks include:
- Identifying and monitoring the sites that are most popular to a specific business segment. Example: OpenTable for restaurants, TripAdvisor for hotels.
- Responding promptly to customer comments and providing recourse, if applicable. Example: Businesses should respond within 24 hours to customer posts — even the positive messages. Happy customers like to know that their voice has been heard and are more likely to amplify the positive feedback.
- Asking customers for feedback immediately after they purchase a product or service. Example: providing onsite review opportunities, or sending requests via email or text message to customers within 24 hours of purchase. Staying in touch with the customer is just as important as the transaction itself.
- Sharing positive reviews where people can see them. Example: automatically posting feedback on Facebook and Twitter.
Tracking and managing online reputation can be a time-consuming task. Fortunately, there are comprehensive services that can help small business owners. Businesses are realizing that someone is going to manage their reputation, which happens to be their #1 asset. The question is will they allow consumers to manage their reputation, or will they be proactive about it and take control. The smartest businesses are taking control.
Naveen Gupta is an expert in the field of online reputation and the CEO of Bazaarify, a company that enables business owners to automatically regain control of their business reputation and take a proactive role in customer conversations.