Do online reviews really make a difference? Let's skip right to the punch line here, with an emphatic yes.
Consumers absolutely use reviews as part of their online research efforts -- and the quality of the reviews materially impacts businesses.
- 89% of consumers viewed online sources of product and service reviews as trustworthy -- and another 80% have changed their minds about a purchase based solely on the negative reviews they read.
- In 2011, 85% of those surveyed said they'd be more likely to purchase if they could find additional recommendations online.
- A one-star difference in a restaurant rating impacts revenue between 5% and 9%.
For some businesses, online interaction is the last in a long list of pressing items. For others, reviews are like heading to the dentist for a root canal: You're filled with dread when you think of them. Whatever the reason, what you don't know will kill you, so start with a quick, do-it-yourself audit. First, ask yourself where you would search if you were looking for your product. Check the usual search engines, blogs, online review and industry-specific sites. Remember: Losing revenue, customers, or even your business is much worse than the pain of reading negative commentary.
So how can you evaluate what's being said about you? Online reviews can generally be categorized in several ways:
Trumpeting: Positive reviews clearly herald just what your business is getting right on the mark. For consumers in research mode, standout reviews are a collective green light that says, "What are you waiting for? Pick this business!"
The canary in the coalmine: Lukewarm reviews are gentle indicators that something -- your strategy, customer service, quality assurance, even your product -- is off. Like miners in the dark, it's imperative to pay attention to these online chirps -- and course-correct before it's too late.
Stop sign: Large volume of negative reviews? When many consumers think something is wrong with your business, there is. Period. And if you're not responding, respectfully and effectively, online and offline, then these "Negative Nellies" will turn into your company's death knell faster than you can say "one star."
It's also important to remember that fake reviews -- of all three types -- exist in abundance. Competitors may pose like a disgruntled customer. A business might try to plant glowing reviews. This is why more has to be done to help consumers get smart about assessing online reviews -- and why you, as a business owner, have to pay close attention to what's going on Web-wise and the actions you need to take.
It's likely that every business will, at some point, get a few negative reviews -- in fact, a couple of these in a large sea of good ones is often convincing evidence that on the whole, your review rating can be trusted. People generally understand that everyone makes missteps from time to time -- and they are forgiving. Maybe your front-office person had a bad day. A shipment is late. Quality assurance missed something. But just like real life, it's all in how quickly, sincerely, and effectively you work to resolve the issue.
Simple steps will help you bulletproof your business from online attacks:
1. Make sure you have a website. It sounds elementary but this helps search engines point people in the right direction and it gives you a platform to establish who you are, what you offer, and even your point of view.
2. Ask customers to review you online and suggest specific sites. If you've been in business for more than a couple of years, you're clearly doing something right. Simply request some straightforward feedback so others can learn about your business.
3. Don't purchase fake reviews. Ever. It's poor form and eventually you'll be outed. There's very little you can do to rebuild trust once that happens
4. Watch the reviews and respond appropriately. Don't apologize on the review site itself, but do acknowledge ("I understand that your experience with us wasn't what you wanted it to be"). Then take it offline to provide a resolution. ("Here's how you can reach me directly. I'd like to understand your perspective more and work to resolve this to your satisfaction"). Thank people who leave a positive review and say you appreciate their time and business.
Whether online or offline, you will get customer feedback -- and hopefully, you also want it, because you know it's an opportunity to strengthen your business. Just keep in mind that when someone comes into your store to complain, there might be a handful of other customers present. But online, consumers have an endless platform for airing grievances and a steady stream of people who will draw their own conclusions.
So engage early and often. You'll help balance the scales in the eyes of potential customers, rectify situations, whether perceived or real, and keep your finger on the pulse of customer satisfaction.
The original "How Online Reviews Make (or Break) Your Business" article can be seen here.