Online Reviews: They Wrote What?

Dealing with bad online reviews

While negative online reviews can sometimes be completely unsubstantiated, pond industry businesses must face a hard truth: the Internet never forgets.

Without a detailed strategy in place for dealing with negative reviews, a thumbs down from a customer — or a series of customers — can stay on the Web forever … and consequently, erode profits forever.

According to a 2011 study by Dr. Michael Luca, a professor at Harvard Business School, a simple one-star increase in the Yelp ratings of Seattle restaurants caused a 5-9% increase in their revenues. Moreover, another study by Cone, a public relations and marketing agency, found that 80% of people will change their decision to purchase an item or service based on a bad online review.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Of course, the easiest way to head off a badmouthing from customers about your pond industry business is to solve the problem before it happens. Generally, consumers often contact a business with a grievance before resorting to a flaming rant online.

One of the easiest ways to put out an antenna for this kind of customer is to send an auto-generated email after each purchase or service, asking the customer how the business did and volunteering to solve any misunderstandings or mishaps. Solve the problem at this juncture, experts say, and you’ll be dealing with someone who does not yet feel he is past the point of resolution — and is not eyeing his keyboard with thoughts of vengeance.

Handling Negative Reviews

Of course, even with this tactic, some bad reviews will still slip through, threatening to permanently damage your online reputation. At this point, experts recommend the following best practices:

Claim Free Accounts to Manage Your Reputation on the Web:

Most of the major online review services, including Yelp, offer free accounts to businesses, which they can use to monitor positive and negative reviews that appear on the review services and respond to reviews accordingly.

Keep Cool:

While it’s tempting to lambast a negative reviewer — especially if the review is unsubstantiated — resist the temptation and work to restore your reputation only after your emotions are in check. “Give yourself a cooling down period,” said Luther Lowe, director of public policy at Yelp. “When someone is using a public forum like Yelp to attack something you’re pouring your heart and soul into, a very natural response is to get emotional. Don’t. The last thing you want to do is overreact to someone online.”

Stay Completely Positive, If Possible:

Generally, the best solution is a private, offline response to a consumer that offers a concrete solution to their complaint and essentially turns a negative customer into a positive one. And if your business is in the wrong, own it and make authentic amends.

The Perfect Response

“On Yelp, a business owner can respond privately or publicly,” Lowe said. “We recommend starting with a private, diplomatic response.”

Specifically, Lowe recommends using this script:

  • Introduce yourself. (“Hi, It’s Bruce, the owner of …”)
  • Thank them for the review. (“Thank you for sharing your feedback …”)
  • Apologize. (“I’m deeply sorry you didn’t have a five-star experience …”)
  • Acknowledge their complaint, and explain what you’ve done to address the problem.
  • Don’t be too defensive. As tempting as it is to try to convince reviewers to see things from your vantage point, it’s easy to come off as dismissive of their accounts.
  • Invite them to return. (“We hope you’ll consider joining us again. Here’s my direct contact information if you do …”)

“Remember, it is vital to be professional and ingratiating,” added a wry David Tucker, co-founder of RightNow Communications, a search engine optimization marketing firm. Or, put another way: Embrace that time tested mantra, “The customer is always right.”

Go Public If You Must

Inevitably, there will some complaints that are unresolvable via back channels, and you’ll have to go public with a response. Take care in these instances to come off as a consummate professional who is truly looking to satisfy customers.

“You shouldn’t view the public comment feature as an opportunity to nitpick at slight inaccuracies within a review,” Lowe said. “Instead, it’s a chance to demonstrate to would-be customers that you’re on top of your customer service.”

Lowe also advises against getting defensive. “Getting your side of the story out isn’t as important as demonstrating you can keep your cool when problems arise and that you care about customer feedback,” he said.

Counterbalance the Negative with the Positive

Given there will probably be instances when you’ll deal with a belligerent customer who cannot be pleased not matter what you do, the next best thing is to maintain your own online reviews domain on your website. There are a number of service providers with turnkey solutions that will enable you to do this, including Zuberance (www.zuberance.com).

You can also secure positive reviews from happy customers. Sometimes, all it takes is a request from a pleased customer to see a glowing review pop up on your website minutes later.

“If you have a customer that is beside themselves with glee over your service, you need to take advantage of that,” Tucker said. “Ask them to write a brief testimonial and then place it in on a special testimonial page on your site. You can link this page to your Google Maps page quite easily. Look for the ‘Link to this Page’ link that is found on the bottom-right corner of your reviews page. Add the link to your testimonial page, and you’re done.”

Soliciting Reviews from the Keyboard-Challenged

Customer Lobby (www.customerlobby.com), an online reviews service provider, includes a service that calls your customers, solicits their feedback over the phone and then transcribes the reviews to text for easy posting online. It also syndicates these reviews — as well as those it secures from people who know how to use keyboards — across the Web on many sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Bing, Google and Yelp.

Get your negative reviews under control — and balanced out with positive ones — and you’ll find your pond business growing faster than the plants and koi you sell.

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