Small Business Smarts: 3 Challenges and Ways to Deal with Online Reviews and Vocal Customers

When you look for a new service or product, where do you go? Most likely you search online to read customer reviews. These testimonials and honest opinions — for better or worse — inform many consumer's decisions. In fact, a BrightLocal local consumer survey found that, “97% of consumers looked online for local businesses," and that “85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations." Those are staggering statistics and speak to how people find 'trusted' resources in today's marketplace.

Customer commentary can build — or damage — positive brand awareness and needs to be cultivated. For small businesses, actively managing their online reputation is imperative to staying relevant and trustworthy.

So how do you go about establishing an authentic brand through online reviews and customer sentiments? We've identified three common challenges small businesses face and how you can take control of your brand online for free.

1. Handling negative reviews

    Negative reviews are inevitable, but it never makes anyone feel good to see one written about their business. It can be easier to ignore (or worse, delete) unfavorable reviews, but in order to create an authentic reputation, you need to handle these messages head on. While it can be uncomfortable addressing an oversight or mistake by your company, responding in a courteous and thoughtful way can do wonders for your brand. Taking ownership of a mistake, addressing it on a public forum, such as Yelp, or your social media accounts, shows you have integrity and want to do right by your customers. Acknowledge your part in the problem and offer a solution to negative reviews. You'll find the upset customer will likely respond positively and potential customers will take your prompt and professional customer service into account when making their buying decision.

    2. Responding to positive reviews

    Don't let your positive reviews go unanswered! This is a simple way to make happy customers feel heard, and to show prospective customers how responsive and connected you are to your clientele. Designate 15 minutes each day for replying to positive reviews. Start with liking every review and then start writing individual responses to each person. Use their names (if available) and make each message different so that your brand comes across as human instead of an auto-reply robot. By building this into your daily routine, your business will see an immediate uptick in customer engagement and positive brand association.

    3. Tracking customer sentiments

    It's easy to check your social media accounts or Yelp and Google pages for reviews, but many small businesses miss a major portion of their customer sentiments because their business is not tagged in consumer posts. To combat negative remarks and react to positive comments, try searching for your business name on social media channels —you'll be surprised by what you find that didn't show up in your notifications tab! Respond to each comment and play an active role in creating your brand identity. Customers love real-time conversations with brands they admire, and this is a tried-and-true way to foster genuine interactions with them.

    Tracking customer sentiments also informs your overall understanding of your reputation and how customers are talking about you and your product or service — think of it as getting free marketing data. Plus, by proactively monitoring your online reputation, you can make adjustments to better suit your customers's needs.

    If you consistently monitor reviews and you implement these three tips, you'll be well on your way to increased brand awareness and gain new business. All it takes to manage your online reputation is a little bit of time. It's the most direct — and cheapest — way to influence buying decisions and convert prospects into customers!

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    Tuesday, September 4, 2018