7 Strategies for Dealing With Online Reviews

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With more than two-thirds of buying decisions now informed by online reviews, merchants are being forced to take a closer look at how they should handle customer feedback when it’s posted online.

While nobody doubts that positive reviews can be good for a business, many merchants aren’t quite sure how to encourage their customers to post their opinions online and how to respond when they receive negative feedback in such a public forum. To find out how merchants should be dealing with these issues, we spoke to five experts in the field and asked what businesses should consider when managing their online reviews.

1. Use business profiles as an advertising tool. Most review sites encourage merchants to build their own profiles as a way to give customers accurate information about store hours, payment methods, and business telephone numbers. Business owner profiles can also be a great place for merchants to tell their stories in an interesting way, and to let potential customers know what they do and why they do it best. If possible, businesses should upload appealing photos to make their profile pages even more attractive to current and future customers. (Darnell Holloway, Yelp)

2. Solicit reviews with automated emails. The easier a business makes it for customers to write reviews, the more reviews a business is likely to receive. Businesses that send out automated ‘thank you’ emails after each appointment or transaction can include links in those emails to their websites or profiles on Yelp, Google Places, or Facebook, along with a sentence or two asking customers to please provide their feedback. Not only are businesses ensuring that every customer gets thanked, but they’re also increasing the chances that satisfied customers will leave positive reviews on the sites or directories they care about the most. (Bill Lange, Full Slate)

3. Collect on-the-spot reviews. Merchants who are interested in increasing the number of customers who leave reviews about their businesses should purchase iPads or mobile devices to display near their registers, in their lobbies, or in their waiting rooms. By keeping these devices open to review sites like Yelp, a business can silently encourage its clients to post their own reviews before they leave the establishment—while positive experiences or anecdotes are still fresh on their minds. (Steven Spaulding, SuperMedia)

4. Get employees in on the action. If building a great online reputation is an important goal for your business, then you need to let your employees know. Encourage employees to ask customers to leave online reviews, and help employees understand how their interactions can affect the company’s reputation. Merchants should ideally put together internal programs to recognize employees who have been mentioned by customers in positive online reviews. These programs help keep employees motivated and involved in helping to build the company’s reputation. (Tiffany Monhollon, ReachLocal)

5. Monitor your company’s online reputation. Merchants trying to manually track the reviews posted on local review sites have their work cut out for them. To make the process easier, merchants should use automated reputation-monitoring tools to keep track of what people are saying about their businesses online. These tools scan most popular social networks (like Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter) and ratings or review websites (like Yelp, Citysearch, and Bing) and alert merchants when new reviews have been posted about their companies online. (Steven Spaulding, SuperMedia)

6. Quickly address negative reviews. As difficult as it is to admit, no business is perfect. Negative comments can show up for even the best business. When they do, business owners should respond quickly and in a professional manner. Before responding in a public forum, merchants should read the review in its entirely and speak directly with any employees involved. In some cases, it might be helpful to look up the customer’s record to better understand what went wrong. Work to address the customer service issue without responding to the emotions of the review. Negative reviews can sometimes help identify problems that a merchant didn’t know existed, so take feedback seriously and use it as an opportunity to build a better business. (Tiffany Monhollon, ReachLocal)

7. Always be authentic. When engaging with customers online, it’s best to be open and candid. Apologize and admit a mistake when one occurs, and try to make the customer happy without being taken advantage of. Do you really want to lose a customer over something as trivial as whether he did or didn’t say “non-fat” when ordering a mocha? If the customer is being completely unreasonable, then use the online review site as a place to explain why and tell others what you’ve tried to do to rectify the situation. Readers will see that you did everything possible to help the unreasonable person, and they’re less likely to be persuaded by this person’s negative review. (Joe Beninato, Tello)

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.