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  • Writer's pictureChris Bowler

Revisit your approach to online reputation management

These 5 tactics are critical to success

Online reputation management is not new, but it has become more challenging with the explosion of new social platforms and the number of tools available to manage them. But its importance remains for any business: you must pay attention and address what customers say about your business.

This area is vital to any business, but especially for small to medium sized orgs that may live or die by customer reviews and ratings. A recent study found that 67% of customers are influenced by online reviews. If you're still not convinced, G2 Crowd, has a comprehensive summary of over 50 stats on the impact of customer ratings and reviews.

As a former restaurant owner, online reputation management was the priority given the dominance of the big three ratings platforms - Yelp, Google, and Tripadvisor.

Over the course of several years managing a restaurant's online reputation, and by extension, customer care and loyalty, we established five key tactics which are critical to online reputation success.

1. Monitor aggressively

It may seem basic, but online reputation management starts with actively monitoring what customers are saying about you. If you don't know what, who, and where, you are simply lost. Set up Google Alerts around keywords, such as your business name, to instantly notify of new content posted online. This won't work for all platforms, which you may need to monitor specifically, such as a new review on Yelp or Facebook, but at least Google Alerts will give you a heads up before the new content might hit the Google search results page for your business.

There are numerous monitoring services that you may need to pay for, but it's worth it versus constantly checking individual platforms. Check out this list of 10 top tools, by Search Engine Journal, which gives you lots of options.

2. Respond quickly

Of course, monitoring aggressively implies that you can respond quickly. The reality today is that customers expect a response within 24 hours, so certainly cases where customers have a question requires this response. But even when it is an after-the-fact review, a customer will appreciate the business reaching out and acknowledging the review - whether it was positive or negative. It just demonstrates that the business in listening. And realize that most platforms, such as Yelp or Facebook, will send an alert to the customer that the business has replied to the review.

3. Ignore nothing

This may be the most important commandment. Every customer and every review require a response. You might assume that only the negative reviews need to be addressed, but you would be missing an opportunity to thank the customer for taking the time to leave a positive review.

And while responding to each review is a demonstration in one-to-one communication, that's not really the case. The important thing to realize is that the audience is also the dozens or hundreds (or thousands) of viewers of that review. That audience will read the initial review, and with luck, your response as well. Simply put, responding to everyone demonstrates that the business cares - that you care, literally.

4. Interact authentically

With the larger viewing audience in mind, what you say is super important as it reflects your business (and your brand). As a former restaurant owner, it was important to communicate casually and sincerely to the reviewer, just like you were talking to them while they are physically dining with you. Avoid 'corporate speak' where you come off as a formal customer service agent (ie a bad robot). In essence, be human.

For positive reviews, a standard go-to response would be something like 'Thanks for the shout out!' or 'Glad you enjoyed your visit. Come back soon.'

Of course, for negative reviews, it's important to acknowledge the problem and the seriousness of the complaint. Never be flippant or dismissive. If the customer was on the bad side of a preventable experience, make sure you let them know, and hope they will give you a second chance. In fact, asking them to 'give us a try another time' shows your open to fixing the problem and are eager to win them back.

There are many times where the reviewer is overly harsh, has misconstrued the facts, or, in a few cases I've seen, just plain wrong. Your response provides a way to state your case (remember, your audience is not just the customer but others who will read the review). Being firm, but factual is important. Responding by saying, 'I've personally discussed the incident with the server/associate/agent and it appears there was a misunderstanding' is one way to lay out your side of the story. It's ok to respectfully ask the reviewer whether a 1-star for a few infractions is fair, and in some cases, the reviewer will retract or update their review.

A very common response to a negative review involved pointing out to the customer that the problem would have been rectified on the spot if only the customer would have alerted the manager to the problem. This addresses a typical issue where the customer fails to communicate a problem and flames the establishment later when your business has no way of fixing it in the moment. Of course, inviting the customer back for a discount or freebie (ask for the manager), is a great way of regaining their patronage. All these techniques communicate the can-do / make-it-right approach to your customers, that the wider viewing audience will see.

In the rare times when the reviewer posts a blatantly false review, it is in your purview to respond with the facts in a straight forward way. For example, when a customer behaved inappropriately in the restaurant, and then left a negative review, our response was to address the review by stating our policy, which was labeled 'To our customers - we will not tolerate inappropriate behavior' (in this case, the customer was being very loud disturbing the environment for other customers, and when informed that there was a problem, they threatened to post a negative review). Again, your response reflects your business to the wider audience, which in this case, reinforces the image that the business takes care of every customer.

5. Learn and adjust

Finally, reputation management is an opportunity to learn and adjust based on valuable feedback. You may think that reviews are painful to hear - and they can be - but think of customer feedback as a necessary line of communication back to your business. When our restaurant first opened, we were inundated with complaints that we lacked vegan options on the menu. The owners and chef were more meat-and-potatoes, so this was a valid point. We quickly adjusted and added these options within a few weeks. And, fortunately, these customers responded favorably and gave us a second chance.

It's a good idea to do a deep dive, at least every six months, by analyzing and categorizing the feedback in a formal way. Rank the top 10 things that customers most liked about their experience with your business, and the top 10 complaints. This is invaluable feedback to share with your management team, that grounds them in the customer experience. This technique also allows you to actively solicit feedback from customers who are experiencing the positives, which will help solidify their loyalty as they are reminded of what they most like.

No doubt you already leverage some, if not all, of these tactics. But take a step back and revisit your current approach against this checklist. In fact, it's a good idea to put a documented process to guide the resources tasked with online reputation management so nothing slips through the cracks. Developing a comprehensive, but easy-to-follow response playbook may be a necessary step.

So, whether you are a small shop, a large corporation, a brick and mortar retailer, or an ecommerce business, these 5 tactics can be universally applied to ensure online reputation success. Have I missed anything? Feel free to leave a comment.

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