No one likes getting bad reviews. They can be especially damaging for small-business owners, who may find that online perception of their businesses can be shaped by online reviewers on social media platforms like Yelp, Google, Facebook and more.
As such, business owners focused on increasing their customer service and marketing efforts this holiday season may want to make room for online review management as well.
"With commerce becoming mobile-first and social-everything, customer service is going to become very local focused," says Chris Campbell, CEO of Review Trackers, an enterprise-level review monitoring and reputation management software platform. "Online reviews are local and relevant to a community. Brands of any size [that] are out of tune with their community will feel the effects of negative customer feedback, so it is of utmost importance for businesses to stay ahead of the curve." (It's true—mobile search has outpaced desktop searches, according to Google.)
Online reviews can be a powerful tool for or against your business. Often, your company's online review page will appear before or on the same search page as your company's own website, giving past customers the opportunity to create your potential customers' first impressions for you. And what they read can affect their purchasing decisions: According to a survey conducted by SEO service provider Bright Local, 91 percent of North American consumers surveyed "regulary or occassionally" read online reviews, and 68 percent form an opinion of a business after reading one to six reviews. And the number of stars your business has on these reviews can be the deal maker or breaker for whether they choose to use your services.
"User-generated reviews are powerful because of the transparency of the message," Campbell says. "With access to all information, the online audience will trust a testimonial over a marketing message."
Take Control of Your Reviews
What can small-business owners do to stay ahead of negative online reviews that can damage their brand reputation this holiday season and beyond?
"Businesses can—and should—take control of their reviews by getting notified of, and responding to, their reviews as soon as they are able," Campbell says. "Once an action is taken and the customer is engaged, you can work to encourage new reviewers to leave their own feedback. By leveraging a stop-gap surveying method such as Net Promoter Score, businesses can ensure their new reviews are of significant quality and helpfulness to the rest of the online audience."
—Chris Campbell, CEO of Review Trackers
You may also want to think of online reviews as an arm of your customer service outreach.
"[Small businesses] can use online reviews as a customer service tool by following up with all customer feedback and ensuring it is responded to, proving the importance of customer success to the online audience," Campbell explains. "Then, the feedback should be noted and passed along to the appropriate individuals, helping to improve the business and achieve a better understanding of the customer. Lastly, user-generated reviews should function as a sounding-board for the business, keeping it aware of any customer issues with the brand, as they arise."
By tapping into the power of online reviews, you may be able to position your business to stay ahead during the holiday rush.
Read more articles on customer feedback.
A version of this article was originally published on December 2, 2015.