The Importance of Online Review Management for SMBs

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Operators of small- and medium-sized businesses can get by ignoring many of the tech innovations that large companies adopt. Managing online reviews is not one of them.

Like it or not, the widespread usage of review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and even Google and Facebook have changed the landscape of how local businesses attract and retain customers. Left ignored or handled the wrong way, a business’s negative online reviews can be a deterrent to potential new customers. Managed the right way, however, those same review sites can be a valuable marketing and customer service tool that leads to improved revenue.

Consumers Overwhelmingly Rely on Online Reviews Before Visiting a Business for the First Time

A survey by BrightLocal indicates that 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses. That number is even higher for people aged 18 to 34 at a staggering 95%. Yelp alone has 142 million users every month. TripAdvisor has over 340 million unique monthly visitors. Add in Google and Facebook reviews, and there’s simply no getting around the impact that reviews have on a business.

What customers do after reading online reviews depends largely on what they see. According to the same BrightLocal survey, 57% of people who read reviews will only visit a business if it has four or more stars. A separate Google survey reveals more of the same: As few as three negative reviews can result in a 59% reduction in potential customers from online searches. 

It’s not all bad, though. The BrightLocal survey indicates that 89% of consumers also read businesses’ responses to customer reviews, meaning business operators have an opportunity to mitigate negative reviews. Furthermore, the findings of a Harvard Business School study show that businesses can see a 5 to 9% increase in revenue when they manage to increase their overall Yelp rating by one star. 

How to Capitalize on the Prevalence of Online Reviews

Managing a business’s online reputation can be a chore, but with a clear strategy in place, it can be both manageable and time well spent. The first step is to claim the business’s profile pages on various review sites. This allows the business owner or operator to control the branding and messaging that consumers first see when they find the business on the review site. It also gives the business the ability to officially respond to customer reviews.

The next step is to actively encourage customers to leave reviews. This can be done by word-of-mouth, by posting signage, and by adding convenient website links and email receipt links to the business’s review profile pages. According to the BrightLocal survey, 70% of consumers will leave a review when asked to, and this can lead to a steady increase in positive reviews and a higher overall rating.

The last step, another ongoing process, is to monitor new reviews and respond when appropriate. Review monitoring software can be used to streamline this process by aggregating reviews from all the major sites into one dashboard and providing real-time alerts when new reviews are posted. As a general rule-of-thumb, consumers who leave positive reviews should simply be thanked. 

Meanwhile, negative reviews typically require a public response that follows the best practice of “Acknowledging, Apologizing, and Making it Right.” This is largely for the “bystanders” who come across the negative review, and will hopefully prevent them from being scared off. However, this practice can also turn the unhappy customer into a happy one. Past research suggests that 95% of unhappy customers will come back if the problem is resolved quickly and painlessly. Meanwhile, a Social Habit research study shows that 42% of consumers who complain on social media and review sites expect a response within an hour of posting their complaint.

In short, responding to reviews should be treated like any other customer service issue—with care and consideration, not only for the upset customer, but also to prevent or minimize the public damage that the upset customer can otherwise cause. Done correctly, these strategies can turn online reviews from being a liability into being a valuable asset that attracts more new customers and improves customer retention.

RJ Horsley is the President of SpotOn Transact, LLC, a cutting-edge payments and software company redefining the merchant services industry by integrating multi-channel payment capabilities with software solutions for companies to better run and grow their business. Under Horsley’s leadership, SpotOn is rapidly growing their team, which includes a national outside sales force along with internal employees at SpotOn’s San Francisco headquarters and offices in Chicago and Detroit. By creating a dynamic workplace that effectively engages employees, SpotOn has fostered an environment that encourages innovation and flexibility while offering unparalleled support to their business clients.