The 3 Reputation Management Tips Every Business Can’t Do Without

Deborah Sweeney Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @mycorporation.

So much of a small business’s success is dependent upon its reputation among customers. It has been said time and time again that word-of-mouth is the best marketing tool. The trick is to keep that word-of-mouth positive and contagious. So how do you keep your reputation in check?

Address negative comments online.

It’s bound to happen at least a couple of times for every business. When a customer leaves a negative comment on one of your public social profiles, don’t delete it as quickly as you can! I promise you, before you have the chance to delete it, someone saw it or took a screen shot of it, so don’t bother. Deleting the comment only makes your company look bad, and like you have something to hide. Instead, let the commenter know that your main priority is the customer’s happiness, and to please contact you right away so that you can address the issue. This will show your other online customers that your business calmly and efficiently deals with issues, rather than sweep them under the rug.

Hear the customer out.

Then there are some customers that go beyond simply leaving a negative comment. They want to be heard specifically by your company. If you have an unhappy customer that wants to “speak with a manager,” I recommend handling the correspondence personally, as the business owner. Obviously, we can’t tackle every little problem, but I make a point to take on the bigger issues. Simply calling the customer personally, or answering an email as the CEO, will show that the whole business, all the way to the top, really does care about the customer’s happiness. I’ve had plenty of previously unhappy customers tell me that they were surprised and pleased to deal directly with the CEO. Dealing with the bigger issues in this manner minimizes any negative word-of-mouth. A very unhappy customer can spread negative feedback like wild fire, but you can nip it in the bud by addressing the problem head on.

Keep up your social media.

Updating your social outlets on a regular basis shows your customers that you’re always present. If you go online and see a business’s Facebook page that hasn’t been updated in four months you think, “Are they still in business?” And if they are, then the immediate assumption is that they must not be very on top of things. You don’t need to consistently post throughout the day, but about once a day on all of your outlets is just enough to let your customers know that you’re there. Plus, if you’re following the golden rule of social media (providing interesting, engaging content that you yourself would read) your customers will be looking forward to your daily posts!

Posted in Reputation Management, Small Business Marketing, Social Media, Word-of-mouth | Leave a comment

Get Weird: One Simple Trick to Getting More Online Reviews

How do you get more of your happy customers to participate in online reviews? You’ve probably come across our sober and straightforward advice: ask, guide and remind customers to write reviews–that’s why our “review funnel” service exists, after all.

But what if you’re just not getting any traction? What if you work in a “boring” industry vertical (sorry, HVAC folks ;) ) and can’t motivate customers to share their pleasantly boring experiences with others? Or what if you simply want Yelp reviews but don’t want to so much as mention the words “Yelp” and “review” in the same sentence for fear of inciting Yelp’s wrath?

Well, then you have to start thinking creatively. You have to find a way to give your most vocal customers something remarkable to talk about–so remarkable that they’ll be compelled to share it.

The trick? Add something weird to your product or service offering, and offer it. That’s it. Why? Consider what Seth Godin calls the bacon/Yelp correlation: the phenomenon whereby a kooky, crazy or offbeat offering–such as a bacon-topped ice cream sundae–can spawn many times its share of Yelp reviews:

If you try to reverse engineer preferences from Yelp reviews, you’re likely to make a common error. It turns out that bacon-as-a-topping comes up often in Yelp, which might lead you to believe that adding bacon to the menu is a surefire crowdpleaser.

In fact, what it tells you is that bacon lovers are more likely to post Yelp reviews.

And since such reviews are typically rich with detail, they more easily pass muster with Yelp’s review filter and get published. At Grade.us, we did some research for a large restaurant chain that uncovered a veritable “fountain” of reviews for them. Can you guess what it was?

Do Something Weird to Get Your Customers Talking

Customers may use review-writing as an exercise in self-expression, or to project a certain image to their peers, or to get even with a business that “wronged” theme. But business owners can use these diverse motivations, too. Through experimentation, you can find the triggers that surprise and dazzle your customers to get more of them finding reason to talk about your business publicly. I guess adding bacon is a good place to start.

Posted in Customer Behavior, Customer Psychology, Customer Reviews, Remarkability, Yelp | Leave a comment

Why You Need to Establish a Review Strategy Today

Tyson-Downs Tyson Downs, the owner of Titan Web Agency and a Grade.us reseller, has years of experience working with small businesses and helping them meet their revenue goals through marketing and SEO.

Importance of a review funnel for a small business

Reviews can be one of the best sources of marketing a small business can get. But why exactly is that? Thanks to the internet, and a larger variety of information sources, consumers now spend much more time getting information before they buy. According to one study, on average, 10.4 information sources are checked before making a decision.

However, compared to many other sources, reviews are different because in the eyes of the consumer, they are more trustworthy. According to the Edelman trust barometer, opinions of “people like me”, was believed 62% of the time. This comes at a time when traditional mass media advertising is struggling and customer turn to digital sources like your website.

One of the largest challenges a small business in particular have is getting traction. This can be particularly challenging early, when there often are limited funds for advertising. Therefore, it can be really worthwhile to implement a review page for collecting good feedback, and from learning, and reacting, quickly from bad feedback. A review page such as the below is a great central place that you can send your customers to give you feedback on your service. Instead of them having to remember all your different social/review site links, just include your review link in your email and in customer follow up campaigns. A review page such as this can dramatically increase the number of reviews you get.

Below is an example of the review page created for Titan Web Agency:

titanweb-review-funnel

How to get good reviews

For a small business owner, with a million balls in the air, it can be hard to create a marketing system, on top of every other possible responsibility. You can find yourself in charge of doing everything, for everyone, hardly having the time to breathe between battles.

However, the good news is that getting good reviews is really not that hard. It does however require you to switch your thinking into considering more than just reviews, but also the type of service, or product you are selling, and learning from your customers feedback. Therefore, a way of getting reviews should also be a good model for effective learning.

Here is a step-by-step method that can be followed for getting good reviews:

  • Create a quality product or service. At the heart of receiving good feedback is the desire to want to go out of your way to please your customers. It might sound simple, however it is often an overlooked fact. Keep in mind that quality is defined by what your customers want, not your own personal definition of what they should want.
  • Interact with your customers. A common mistake many small business owners make is to assume a one-way conversation. Ideally, you want to continually learn what is happening in your market from your customers. Initially that interaction can really help you identify what you can adjust in your offering.
  • Identify natural places to get feedback. This can depend a lot on what your business does, however generally speaking the best places of generating feedback can be right after you have made your customers happy, and when they are visiting your website. With time you might notice that your customers can give you ideas for new places.
  • Create feedback funnels. A feedback funnel is basically a series of steps that has been created to generate opinions from customers. It´s primary function is to make good feedback social, and for making negative feedback private. A good service for setting up a feedback tunnel is through Grade.us. Here is an example.
  • Get customers into the funnel. Start by asking for feedback. You can do that on your website or business cards. Make it a habit to ask after you have delivered. Try to experiment with asking in different ways to find what works best, and even consider offering incentives for giving feedback. Like a discount or a free gift.
  • Guide them through the review process. For many customers it might be completely new experience so help them through your feedback funnel. With grade.us it is simply a matter of selecting a review site and then make it easy for the customer to leave feedback by directing their next action.
  • Monitor and respond. Ideally you want to monitor what is being written about your business on review places regularly. That way you can respond to good feedback by maybe offering another incentive. Alternatively, you can respond quickly, and privately, to negative feedback to reduce or eliminate its impact.

The main objectives of the above process are to increase word-of-mouth, and to help you create a simple, yet effective way to advertise your business. However, if you are really listening to the feedback your customers is giving, you might also find new ways to change and grow your business.

How to use reviews

Reviews can be used in a variety of ways. The most immediate way is to incorporate it in your advertising. One of the least expensive ways of doing that can be to have a review page on your website, that you frequently update with the latest testimonials. You can also take reviews offline by maybe incorporating it in your signage, menus, or other print material.

However, reviews can also serve a much more important function. From what your customers are saying, new ideas can come. For instance, you might notice that particular elements of your product or service offering are more popular than others. This can lead you to change what you are offering in a new direction you might not have thought of.

You can also use negative feedback to better understand what your target market is, and which details can really make a difference for gaining an outstanding perception. A hard reality can be that for every negative feedback you got, there might be several others that simply left, without saying a single word.

To keep tabs on these reviews, I recommend monitoring your reputation online.

What is your business doing to gather more reviews? What have you seen is the most effective strategy?

Posted in Customer Reviews, Review Monitoring, Small Business Marketing | Leave a comment

The Cost of Unhappy Customers

The good folks at Vision Critical have put together this eye-opening infographic showing the potential costs of letting your customers go unhappy, unserved, frustrated. Nobody wins!

unhappy-customer-infographic

Posted in Customer Service, Negative Reviews, Public Relations | Tagged , | Leave a comment

This Company Lost $300k Trying to Bully Customers Who Wrote Bad Reviews

The now infamous case of KlearGear.com’s corporate bullying tactics has been settled in a U.S. District Court in Utah, with Judge Dee Benson awarding John and Jen Palmer $306,750 ($102,250 in compensatory damages and $204,500 in punitive damages) against the online retailer.

The case dates to 2008 and involves KlearGear’s attempts to enforce its “non-disparagement clause,” a shrewd but completely arbitrary and indefensible bit of legal fine print still to be found (as of this writing) in the company’s terms of use. The clause, which KlearGear customers ostensibly agree to without reading, grants KlearGear immunity to any online criticism by its customers–it “prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com, its reputation, products, services, management or employees.”

And what’s KlearGear’s remedy if you don’t comply?

“Should you violate this clause, as determined by KlearGear.com in its sole discretion, you will be provided a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the content in question. If the content remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately be billed $3,500.00 USD for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation. Should these charges remain unpaid for 30 calendar days from the billing date, your unpaid invoice will be forwarded to our third party collection firm and will be reported to consumer credit reporting agencies until paid.”

After the Palmers published critical reviews of their experience with the company and refused to take them down, KlearGear went beyond “scare tactics” and effectively destroyed the couple’s credit. According to their attorneys,

“As a result of KlearGear.com’s actions, the Palmers lost credit opportunities; suffered anxiety, fear and humiliation; and spent weeks without heat in their home for themselves and their 3-year-old son when their furnace broke and they were unable to obtain a loan to replace it.”

KlearGear apparently never responded to the suit or showed up in court. As to whether the Palmers will ever collect their $300k, who knows. But the message from at least one judge in Utah is clear: as a business owner, you can’t silence critical customers by asserting absurd contract terms or bullying them–that’s bound to backfire. You’ve got to find a better way.

Posted in Customer Reviews, Negative Reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

Social Media Mobs Are Scary As Hell: You Won’t Believe What One Did to This Business Owner

Even when the mob is “right,” its behavior is scary. If the offending party is a business or business owner, a lapse in judgment can quickly cost them their reputation, customers, even the business itself and the livelihoods of those it employs.

Do you think mob behavior affects only those unsophisticated inhabitants of the world’s premodern backwaters? Think again.

This week saw another example of what’s becoming a common Internet phenomenon: an unrelenting, morally- or politically-charged online mob beatdown directed at a business or individual who posted something offensive on social media. (Remember #HasJustineLandedYet?)

Even when the mob is “right,” its behavior is scary. If the offending party is a business or business owner, a lapse in judgment can quickly cost them their reputation, customers, even the business itself and the livelihoods of those it employs. And as the sagacious Mike Blumenthal also points out in his post today, a company’s online reviews are increasingly used as a battleground in these wars of words.

Why? Presumably because bad reviews do a ton of real damage. At Grade.us, we refer to a disgruntled customer who skewers a company on Google+ or Yelp as exercising “the nuclear option.” In case it’s any wonder why, pull up a chair and let me tell you the story of this latest fiasco.

The Saga of One Block West Restaurant

This week, it was chef/owner Ed Matthews of One Block West in Winchester, Virginia, who made a misguided post to Facebook regarding an all-change tip left by a customer:

One Block West offensive post on June 4

Now, Matthews is no stranger to making colorful comments in his online dialogue with patrons of the restaurant. But this one struck a nerve. While some in the food industry might see Matthews as “protecting his own,” he made a brash and public complaint about a customer–described as “ladies,” perhaps as in “little old ladies”–who left an odd tip under unknown circumstances. From a customer’s point of view, Matthews just sounds like an arrogant, ungrateful, mean-spirited jerk. A prick, if you will. A bastard. A prick-bastard.

Are you with me? Yes? So let the punishment begin: Prior to this post, One Block West had a star rating on Facebook in the high 4s, and recent reviews were going swimmingly:

one-block-west-reviews-before

Then, on June 4, a few hours after Matthews’s ill-fated post, something happened. One Block West’s star rating plummeted into the 2s on Facebook. In a span of 2 hours and 15 minutes, 60 new reviews were posted, all of them 1-star ratings accompanied by a large dose of moral upbraiding or vitriol–and occasional mention of the restaurant’s food selection and service. Here’s what that particular kind of terror looks like on a spreadsheet:

One Block West reviews after offensive post

Now, it’s clear that this mob of “reviewers” largely believes that they are exacting some kind of proper justice for the “wrong” of Matthews’s post. They seem perfectly at ease with the idea that their reviews will do real damage–perhaps even destroy–the business, and that Matthews has committed “suicide by Facebook” with his errant post:

  • “How the mighty have fallen! Maybe you should have thought twice about making that pompous post… You have greatly injured your business, over a bag of change! Was it worth it, to try and humiliate patrons? Hope you have to close the doors.”
  • “Were you guys looking for a reason to go under? Well guess you have a reason to close your doors now. Pathetic excuse of a restaurant anyway. End of story.”
  • “I will never visit your establishment, and I think I can guarantee that anyone who has Facebook and have seen that post will never visit you. You’ve sealed your own fate allowing that on a huge social media site. Extremely irresponsible to all the families that depend on the jobs of your employees.”

The barrage continued for a little more than a day before One Block West successfully removed not just the offending post but the reviews widget from its Facebook page. Eventually, a small backlash of supporters arrived to post a handful of 5-star reviews, apparently in an effort to do damage control:

  • “Pathetic that people want to destroy this restaurant’s reputation and the livelihoods of both the owner AND his employees via social media because the owner stood up for one of his servers. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”

But the damage was done. It remains to be seen how well One Black West recovers. In the immortal words of Warren Buffet,

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

You can still find the whole One Block West episode played out here.

Posted in Customer Reviews, Negative Reviews, Public Relations, Review Bombing | Leave a comment

Why Yelp Is Testing Video, and How to Make a Killer Yelp Video Review

Last week, Yelp announced the imminent roll-out of video reviews from “Elite” Yelpers. Yelp’s mobile product manager Madhu Prabaker described the new feature, due in early June, as a way to provide “a reward for businesses that go to great lengths to achieve a certain ambiance.”

But Prabaker’s comments are almost certainly bullshit. First off, Yelp is not known for rewarding businesses at any level. Second, Yelp has a serious, life-or-death(-of-the-company) stake in publishing real and useful customer reviews amid a tide of fakes, and video is a perfect medium by which to weed out the spam. (You really don’t see much video spam, do you?) Prabaker is no doubt deflecting attention from this more serious justification for video reviews–just in case the feature fails.

But enough about Yelp’s survival or lack thereof. The really interesting question here is: what in the world will a Yelp video review look like? Will it just be Real Actors Read Yelp without the irony or the high production values? Or will reviewers actually produce some real value for fellow users of the service?

Here, without further ado, is an optimistic look at what a Yelp video review can be, brought to you by American food critic Big Daym with his review of Five Guys Burgers and Fries–though you’ll have to imagine it crunched down to 12 seconds. (At launch, Yelp video reviewers will be limited to 3 to 12 seconds, a Vinesque constraint that may prove too, er, constrained for Yelp’s ultimate vision, but a nice low bar to discover if Yelpers have the appetite to participate.) Enjoy!

Posted in Customer Reviews, Review Spam, Video Reviews, Yelp | Leave a comment

Reviews to Dominate Local Search: Yahoo Adds Yelp Content

Yahoo-Yelp Partnership

Customer reviews are gaining greater visibility online as the world’s largest search engines vie for consumer attention with ever more immediate, actionable intelligence about the companies they encounter in local search results.

Taking a page from Bing’s 2012 playbook, the world’s third-favorite search engine Yahoo is now integrating ratings, reviews and photos from popular review publisher Yelp directly into its search engine results pages. Yahoo announced the “five-star partnership” this week via the company’s blog saying that “we’re especially fired up to add trusted user content from Yelp, bringing more business listings, more photos, and more reviews to the recently-refreshed Local Search and Yahoo Maps experiences”

The format of Yahoo’s new results page bears striking similarity to Google’s, highlighting a rank order of relevant local businesses and their star ratings on Yelp, with a call-out on the right that shows details, photos and reviews:

Yahoo-Yelp Search Results

But don’t be fooled: Yahoo’s own customer reviews haven’t been supplanted, only supplemented. Yelp’s reviews now show up mingled with Yahoo’s, presumably in accordance with some internal logic or algorithm aimed at maximizing utility to the consumer–measured, of course, by clicks. While Yelp content certainly dominates in an industry vertical like food and dining, quick searches for local lawyers, chiropractors and home inspectors yielded results far more weighted with Yahoo’s own customer ratings and reviews:

Chiropractors in Yahoo Search Results Detail

Meanwhile, Google is upping the ante and providing even more customer opinion data in search ads, this from its consumer surveys product. No doubt these developments underscore the high value we place on the opinions of others in making decisions ourselves. Either the influence of customer reviews is real, or else we just like clicking on the little stars.

Posted in Customer Reviews, Local, Local Marketing, SEO, Yelp | Leave a comment

Forrester Analysts’ Facebook Hatchet Job Says Some Interesting Things, Too

Last week’s controversial Forrester Research report, Why Facebook Is Failing Marketers, no doubt has some holes. Its scolding, axe-grinding tone is unbefitting for a industry research paper. And its questionable methodology, sketchy data, and dubious conclusions probably scored the research firm some press only at the cost of some authority.

But still, there’s something to the report, no? Even with its lack of rigor, it does underscore some important perceptions marketers have about the business value of various digital channels and tactics. To wit:

“We asked 395 executives from the US, the UK, and Canada how satisfied they were with the business value they get from 13 different online marketing sites and tactics. You’d expect a site boasting the largest audience and the biggest collection of data to fare well. But we found that Facebook offered less value than anything else on our list.”

Why Facebook Is Failing Marketers

In Forrester’s rankings, “on-site ratings and reviews” topped the list of the (perceived) most valuable digital marketing channels and tactics with a 3.84 average on a scale of 1 (“very dissatisfied”) to 5 (“very satisfied”), coming in just above “Search marketing” at 3.83.

The spread here–Facebook at the bottom with 3.54–hardly suggests that marketers should drop Facebook “until it mends its ways,” as the analyst opines. But the relative rankings do ring true, at least among the marketers we work with at Grade.us. And when keeping to a constrained marketing budget, a marketer or business owner often needs to identify channels and tactics that give the most bang for their buck, while dropping others. All else aside, it’s at least interesting to see where a sizeable group of industry folks are finding that value.

Posted in Customer Reviews, Research, Small Business Marketing | Leave a comment

Why Respond to Bad Reviews? To Double Readers’ Purchase Intent, That’s Why

The latest volume of research from Bazaarvoice demonstrates the power that brands and business owners wield in responding to negative customer reviews online. Although based on Bazaarvoice’s own solution for product reviews in e-commerce, the company’s research identifies points of interest and best practices for local and service-based businesses as well.

Significantly:

  • Consumers in the survey reported an average 116% increase in purchase intent after reading company responses to reviews
  • 71% of consumers in the survey changed their perception of the company after seeing a company response to a review
  • Reviews with company responses are much more likely to be voted helpful by readers

Review Responses Drive Intent to Purchase

Plainly put, by responding helpfully to customer reviews–especially negative reviews–brands can boost both customer purchase intent and brand perception.

The Bazaarvoice study includes some useful intelligence on just how to respond to negative reviews, too. For example, responses that resolve the customer’s issue, rather than merely offering steps to resolve it or taking the conversation offline, inspire the greatest lift in purchase intent and brand perception, at 186% and 157% respectively.

So, if you’re not feeling frisky enough to try one of these crazy/creative responses to negative reviews, Bazaarvoice has some level-headed advice on how to maximize the positive impact of your review responses. Download the research here: Conversation Index Volume 6 (PDF)

Posted in Customer Reviews, Customer Service, Negative Reviews, Public Relations, Reputation Management | Leave a comment

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