Online Reviews: Love them or hate them, they’re here to stay for businesses
Source: geralt at pixabay.com
Today’s topic: online reviews.
If you own a business, you’ve probably been impacted by online reviews within the past few years. Doctor’s offices, Dentists, Restaurants, Plumbers – you name it. If you interface with the public, you’ve probably got good and bad reviews out there somewhere.
According to a recent survey by a company in the industry, 92 percent of consumers now read online reviews (vs. 88 percent in 2014) and 40 percent of consumers say they form an opinion by reading just 1-3 reviews (vs. 29 percent in 2014).
The big gorilla in online reviews of course is Yelp. They were the first – and remain the largest – online review portal. They first made their mark with restaurants and quickly expanded to various industries and businesses. The company makes money by offering special advertising packages to businesses. They try to entice companies by featuring their listings on the top of a category – and also by blocking competitors from appearing on a page. They also allow businesses to upload additional photos and provide more information than those who simply “claim” their business page for free.
Yelp insists that there is a “Chinese wall” that separates the reviews section from advertising and that buying an ad package provides no guarantees of more positive reviews on the site.
If you are a business who has had multiple reviews on Yelp, you’ve likely had to deal with “hidden” reviews that don’t appear in the main section. Often (too often, some businesses would say), these are positive reviews that Yelp has decided shouldn’t be included with other reviews. Yelp says it uses automated software to help it filter reviews. According to a Forbes article, a Yelp spokesperson claims “reviews are excluded for a variety of reasons. For example, it monitors IP addresses to make sure several reviews are not coming from the same user. It also screens out what it sees as biased reviews, “written by a competitor, a disgruntled employee, or solicited by a business owner from friends, family members or favorite customers, and unhelpful rants or raves.” According to Yelp, 25 percent of all reviews are filtered out.
One of the problems we see with Yelp is that there is no “opt-out” option for businesses that don’t want to have customers leave reviews on the site. Yelp will list your business (it uses public databases to list/update businesses) whether you like it or not. Once you’re listed, customers (or employees) are free to leave reviews – good and bad. Unless there is a successful legal challenge by a business to be omitted from the site, Yelp won’t be going anywhere.
So what can and should you do to help your online reputation on Yelp (and similar sites)? There are a few steps you can take that will help put you in control – rather than feeling like you’re constantly in reactive mode.
- Make sure you “claim” your business on Yelp, Google and other online review sites. In most cases you can do this for free – and this allows you to make sure all information is updated/correct. Here is how you can claim your business on Yelp.
- Stay on top of online reviews and respond to reviews (good and bad). Now this is more PR/customer service advice than legal (your lawyer and/or insurance company may get nervous about you responding to factual claims online) but we like this advice from com: “responding to complaints increases customer advocacy, and ignoring them decreases customer advocacy. So take a deep breath and respond to every negative comment.”
- Monitor your online reviews – without doing any work. Yes, it’s true! You can keep tabs of all new online reviews and have them delivered to your in-box (or text message if you prefer). How? Using online reputation management programs or software. As soon as someone leaves a review on Yelp, Facebook or dozens of other online review sites, you’ll be instantly notified.
- Make sure your happy customers (or patients) have their voices heard – not just those with complaints. The nature of online reviews naturally skews towards the negative. People are more likely to take the time to go to an online review site if they are upset with the service/product than if they were satisfied. So make it easy for ALL customers to provide feedback. Follow up with them via email or text messages and ask for their honest feedback.
We use a system that allows clients to be notified if the review is 1-3 stars. If the review is 4 or 5 stars, they get to post it to the online platform of their choice. This provides a “speed bump” of sorts and provides businesses with an opportunity to address issues/concerns privately.
- Finally, accept that ALL online information and feedback is extremely valuable. Many customers/patients are afraid to offer criticism in person, and chances are one person’s opinion is also probably held by others (who were just afraid to speak up). Many times these are easily solved customer service or office-related concerns that do not relate to your actual product or business. Use what these customers/patients say to improve your business.As a business, we always improve and are at our best when lines of communication are open between our customers/patients and us. This level of customer service and interaction has been a big benefit from social media as well (which we’ll address in a future column).
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(This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in My Edmonds News)