Guest blog by Erin Schwartz
Marketing Coordinator at 123print.com
Any business owner doubting the importance of online customer reviews to their bottom line needs only to look at the battle currently being waged between Google and scrappy independent company Yelp. After Google offered CEO Jeremy Stoppelman $500 million for Yelp in 2010, the founder decided to double-down and stick to his independent guns (a decision, no doubt, made more difficult by Yahoo’s subsequent offer of $1 billion).
Google responded, in turn, by purchasing long-time restaurant review company Zagat, adapting their format into Google+ Local reviews, which now accompany search listings for everything from nail salons to auto mechanics. As Google sought to outcompete Yelp in the race to be online review king, Yelp answered by teaming up with Apple as the go-to review listing within Apple Maps on the latest iPhone operating system.
So, why does any of this matter to your company? Because a recent study by a Harvard University economist found that a one star increase (out of five) in a company’s Yelp ranking translated to a 5-9 percent increase in overall revenue.
In the good old days, a disgruntled customer might tell a few friends, but the trail of negativity stopped there. Now, one negative review can literally haunt a business for years.
That said, one bad review is nothing to worry about, provided you have plenty of positive ones to counterbalance it. Here’s how to make sure your business wins at Yelp, Google+ Local and any other review site.
1. Put Quality and Service First
This is the no-brainer tip, but it’s worth stating first. If your business plan involves a product you’re aware is inferior or lacking in some way, packaged in pretty wrapping and shiny marketing, you may be ultimately doomed. The new world of marketing will be governed by user reviews, and you can’t polish up a stinker to overcome the verdict of real customers and clients.
2. Seek In-Person Feedback
The best way to foster a positive review is to hear it in person and then encourage the customer to translate that to the Internet. Likewise, the best way to prevent a negative review is to hear it in person and respond politely and with an accommodating attitude. Oftentimes, a negative review is a way for a dissatisfied customer to vent. Allow them to do that in person, and the same person may end up leaving an extra star or two, even if they do still mention the bad part of their experience online.
3. Don’t Be Defensive
The quickest way to provoke a swarm of negative reviews is to fan the flames of a disgruntled reviewer. It’s often better to simply review bad reviews, but if the opportunity is there to acknowledge, apologize and make the situation right, take the high road. Potential customers reading your company’s reviews will see the feedback and be more likely to give you a chance rather than trusting the rant of one bad apple.
Along the same lines, don’t follow up a negative review with a string of positive reviews by your staff and friends. Although it can help your star ranking if you have limited reviews, both the major review sites and active users see right through this ploy, and it could ultimately damage your reputation.
4. Offer Motivation for Reviews
This tip can get a bit sticky. You certainly don’t want to bribe customers into leaving you positive feedback, so a “Leave a review, get a discount,” policy is unwise. What is OK is to encourage customers to leave a review when they get home, pairing the incentive to leave a review with a discount organically. For example, your business could hand out a business card or coupon that also directs customers to your social media pages or Yelp review page. This way, you’re offering a discount without directly connecting leaving the review with redeeming the coupon, but making sure Yelp and review sites stay on the tops of your customers’ minds.
5. Don’t Sweat It
You want customers to leave you reviews, and that means you take a risk of getting negative feedback. Remember that 50 reviews, 10 of which are somewhat negative, are still a whole lot more valuable than two positive reviews, one of which is by your mom. People want to see that you have an active clientele, and having a handful of negative reviews is par for the course. After all, the most active Yelp and Google+ Local users are also some of the most critical.
Do your company’s online reviews reflect an accurate picture of your business? What steps have you taken to foster positive reviews from your customers?
Erin Schwartz drives the marketing programs at 123Print.com, a leading provider of high-quality customizable items, such as business cards, address labels, banners, and more than 100 different products for small businesses and solo practitioners.