Somewhere out there, a person is talking about you. Your business. Your brand. Of course, you’ll want to listen and join the conversation. You have to, right?
The Internet, though, is a pretty big place. If before, the reviews and comments of your customers only came in literally by word of mouth – well, today that’s no longer the case. A bad review on a site like Yelp or Google Places, a nasty blog entry by a vindictive, loud-mouthed critic, an unflattering picture of your establishment posted online, or even just a single unfavorable tweet: it can undo your life’s work. It can offset all the great things that you, your employees, your brand managers, your publicist, and your ad agency have been doing. And it can keep tons of potential customers from walking through your door. (One study even says that a single bad review can cost you 30 customers!)
No matter how big the Internet is – and how fast everything on it seems to spread – you always have the choice to control, manage, and respond to what’s being said about you, your business, or your brand.
In this blog post, we focus on one specific area of online reputation management: customer reviews. If you come across many good ones, that’s awesome. At the same time, we understand that you can’t please everybody. Someone somewhere will want to say something negative. So we came up with this guide, and if you would like to know what to do before, when, and after a bad review shows up on the Web, read on.
Monitor the Web regularly
You won’t hear what’s being said if you don’t put yourself in a position to listen. That’s why it’s important to monitor various review sites, local business listings, directories, blogs, and social networks across the Web – and know immediately if and when someone mentions your business name or brand.
We’ve already posted a list of online tools for monitoring Web updates and content changes, but if you’re looking specifically for reviews, we recommend trying out something like Review Trackers. It’s a cool new Web app that tracks reviews from sites like Google Places, Yahoo! Local, Angie’s List, Yelp, Foursquare, Citysearch, UrbanSpoon, Gowalla, TripAdvisor, and other niche- or industry-specific review sites; the app then notifies you by E-mail as soon as a new review comes in.
Of course, be sure to create your own set of Google Alerts so you can also monitor news sites, blogs, Web videos, and online discussions. Meanwhile, if you want to keep a tab on people mentioning your brand across various social networks, a tool like Social Mention, Wildfire, or Hootsuite may be just what you’re looking for.
Secure and protect your brand
Be a guardian of your brand. Secure your brand profiles on various sites and social networks across the Web before someone else pretending to be you does it. (A terrific solution that we recommend, and are also using, is KnowEm.) Believe us: there are many freaks out there on the Internet! You’re just as likely to get misrepresented as you are to receive a bad review.
By planting your flag on as many spots as possible, you’re creating a brand identity that’s set to flourish, be it in search engines or in social media. And not only does this move protect your trademarks and intellectual property rights and whatever; it also gives you – and not some bitter blogger or critic – greater control over what’s being posted and published on the Web.
Know your review sites
Google Places and Yelp are both huge and extremely popular, but don’t stop there. Make sure you also keep an eye on sites like Facebook, Foursquare, Angie’s List, Citysearch, Yahoo! Local, SuperPages, and Consumer Reports.org. And spend time researching which sites your customers go to whenever they want to talk about your brand or give a review.
If your business involves automotives, make sure you cover niche sites like DealerRater. If you’re in the restaurant / food and beverage industry, keep an eye on OpenTable, UrbanSpoon, Restaurantica (for Canada), and other similar guides. Travel and tourism pros will have to monitor Expedia, TripAdvisor, and Agoda, among many others; while legal and medical professionals should add Lawyers.com, Avvo, RateMDs.com, Vitals, and similar others to the list of sites being tracked.
Foster positive customer relationships
It sounds totally cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less important: treat your customers like VIPs. Because they are VIPs. Anyone who walks through your door has the potential to be the best (accidental) sales representative or brand ambassador you’ll ever have. On the other hand, if you don’t care at all about giving them an extraordinary experience, if you act like you just want their money, chances are that they’ll write, rant, tweet, blog, and post a painful review about you.
Respond with respect
There are times when you’re giving it your all yet the customers still don’t care. You thought you gave them the best possible experience – the VIP experience – and then a few days later, you see them on the Web expressing their disappointment and posting bad reviews. Well, in these cases, don’t get too worked up. Nothing good can ever come from arguing yourself silly – especially on the Internet.
The best way to handle these situations is respond with respect. If you made an honest mistake, say sorry. (Then offer a token or freebie or coupon.) If the customer is lying, or if there simply had been a misunderstanding, explain your side of the story and show everyone that your brand is a brand that cares about people.