Reputation Management 101: How to Respond to Online Customer Reviews

Something that has stuck with me about reputation management is that your reputation is what others say about you. Your character is who you really are. Responding to customer reviews is an important step to protecting both your business online reputation and your character.

In a recent study titled 'How Online Reviews Influence Sales' by the Speigel Research Centre, they found that 95 per cent of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase. Although online reviews have a significant and quantifiable impact on purchase decisions, the degree of that impact depends on a number of factors, such as star ratings, the nature of the review content, the number of reviews, the price of the item, and the source of the review.

 To give your business the best chance of maintaining the greatest online reputation it deserves, we have included below some suggestions to take a more active and strategic approach to manage your online reputation and customer reviews.

Be Quick, Kind and Courteous in Your Response

Always address customers by name when responding to reviews. Whether a customer leaves a review on Facebook, Google Maps, Yelp, TripAdvisor or any other review platform, you should be able to see his or her name. When structuring a response, use a personalised greeting with the customer's first name as it's displayed on the review platform, such as "Hello Brian" or "Greetings Jessica." It's a small touch, but addressing customers by name helps to humanise your response. Speed is also of the essence and the manner in which you respond can demonstrate to potential customers that you take customer satisfaction seriously, and allows them to hear how you handle the matter. Address the specific issues raised and highlight the positives (you can even use this as a time to mention related services or planned improvement).

Thank Customers for Leaving a Review

Whether they left a positive or negative review, always thank customers for taking the time to leave a review. Each review offers insight into how customers perceive your business and what they value most. Positive reviews reveal your business's strengths, and negative reviews reveal your business's weaknesses. Opening with a brief line such as, "Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us" shows customers that your business appreciates and values their reviews, which can strengthen your business's reputation. Remember no response is also a response and it's a powerful one. By taking a 'respond to all' approach you are showing a commitment to excellence in service and continuous improvement.

Research Before Responding to Negative Reviews

Before responding to a negative review, do some research to gain a better understanding of what caused the customer's unsatisfactory experience. If you run a restaurant and a customer wrote a negative review citing poor service, for example, talk to your staff to see if they remember the customer. Your waiters, hosts, and hostesses can provide you with more information about the incident or overall experience that triggered the negative review.

You may even discover that a customer who left a negative review didn't actually visit your business. If there's no record of the customer, mention this in your response. After opening with the customer's name and thanking him or her for their review, explain that you've evaluated your business's records but don't see any sales transaction involving his or her name. Some customers leave reviews for the wrong business, believing it's for a different business. Using this type of response, you can bring it to the customer's attention so that they can delete or correct their negative review.

Offer a Resolution for Negative Reviews

According to a study conducted by HubSpot, 96 per cent of customers who've posted a negative review for business will continue purchasing from that business if it resolves their complaint. The first step to resolving a complaint, however, is to offer a resolution. Don't just apologise for the customer's problem or unsatisfactory experience. Instead, offering a solution and how the feedback will be used to improve your customer experience will go along way to help give your future clients/guests peace of mind they have chosen the right business and service.

Include Your Contact Information

Conclude your responses by asking customers to contact you directly, on the phone or by email, to further discuss their experience. Most review platforms allow customers to contact businesses directly via a private messaging system, but including your contact information in responses shows customers that you are eager to resolve their problem. It is like a virtual equivalent of sharing your door is always open.

Respond Quickly

Try to respond to all negative customer reviews within 24 hours of them being posted. The longer you wait to respond, the more difficult it will be to resolve customers' problems.

When you respond to a customer's review, the review platform should send him or her an email notifying them of your response. Because of this, customers closely monitor their inbox after posting a review. If you wait several days or weeks to respond to a customer's review, he or she may stop looking for your response, allowing it to go unnoticed.

Proofread Before Posting Responses

Your responses are representative of your business's brand, so proofread them for errors before posting. Misspelling a customer's name or including other typos in your responses sends the message that your business doesn't care about quality or attention to detail. To create effective responses that strengthen your business's reputation, use perfect spelling and grammar. If writing isn't your strong suit, run your response through a grammar-checking tool like Grammarly or ask a coworker to read it before posting.

Mention Your Business's Name

Responding to an online customer review is the perfect opportunity to reinforce your business's brand name. When writing responses, mention your business's brand name at least twice. This helps customers recognise your response as being an official response by your business, and it also presents your business's name to prospective customers who are reading the reviews.

Don't Sweat Over a Few Negative Reviews

Negative reviews are nearly impossible to avoid. You can reduce the number of negative reviews customers leave by improving the quality of your product or service, and you can compel some customers to change their negative review to a positive review by offering a timely resolution. However, your business will inevitably attract negative reviews if it processes any significant number of transactions.

A few negative reviews in a sea of positive reviews can actually have a positive effect by instilling trust in prospective customers who read them. If your business has hundreds or thousands of positive reviews and not a single negative reviews, prospective customers may assume that they are fake. You should still strive to resolve customer problems, but a few negative reviews won't hurt your business's reputation.

Data-Driven Strategies to Leverage the Power of Online Reviews

Based on Spiegel’s extensive research into how online reviews influence purchase decisions, we recommend that all business  follow these six principles when developing an online review strategy:

  1. Display reviews and ratings on your product website: Retailers that choose not to feature ratings and reviews risk losing customers to a site that does.
  2. Embrace negative reviews: While it may seem counterintuitive, negative reviews can have a positive impact because they establish credibility and authenticity.
  3. Prioritize generating reviews for products with a low volume of reviews: Retailers should focus their efforts on making sure all products have at least a handful of reviews.
  4. Further, prioritise generating reviews for higher-price and higher-consideration products: Retailers can help consumers overcome the risk of buying expensive or unfamiliar items by sharing additional reviews for these products.
  5. Overcome selection bias to improve the value of reviews: A larger pool of reviewers is not always more representative, particularly if it includes a large number of anonymous reviews.
  6. Identify reviews from “verified buyers”: Identifying purchasers with “verified buyer badges” enhances the credibility of a review and improves the odds of purchase by 15%.

Customers are going to leave reviews for your business regardless of whether you respond. Don't let these reviews go unnoticed. By responding to reviews, you'll build a stronger reputation for your business that attracts new customers while also retaining existing customers.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. Think about that and you will do things differently” Warren Buffett

Despina is a passionate digital marketer, social media maestro and tourism professional. With over 15 years working and growing small businesses she started her own boutique training business, Institute of Excellence with the intention to ignite excellence in business and people. As a Certified Victorian Tourism eKit Trainer, business coach, author and digital marketing professional, Despina is a passionate advocate for growing small business through shared experiences because every business has a very special gift, YOU!

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