Harvard Business School released a report in September called “Fake It Till You Make It: Reputation, Competition and Yelp Review Fraud,” stating that nearly 16 percent of restaurant reviews on Yelp are fraudulent. That news serves as a reminder that small business owners need to be more vigilant than ever about their online reputation.
As business owners, we’ve always had to deal with naysayers and we know that their voices rise above the rest. But this report brought to light some new findings. First, we know that businesses are paying other businesses to write glowing reviews that will benefit the bottom line. Second, competitors are trying to sabotage the competition by writing negative reviews. Whether real or fake, if it’s about your business, you’ve got to stay on your toes and be aware of what folks are saying about you.
Business owners who honestly address negative reviews—whether fraudulent or genuine—will wind up with happier customers. Here are seven tips to help small business owners become more aware of and responsive towards online reviews.
- Stake your claim. Before you can address any online reviews, you need to claim your business on sites such as Yelp and Google. That way, you’ll be in charge of supplying the correct information, such as location, hours, phone number and website, and you’ll be in a position to respond to reviews, when necessary.
- Read the reviews daily. It’s important to stay on top of the sites where customers are reviewing your business. These reviews are in the public eye, and your customers are reading them. The last thing you want is to hear about a negative review through the grapevine.
- Address negative reviews. Don’t ignore a negative review, and don’t make excuses. Truly consider what the customer is saying. Respond to him or her briefly, on the same forum, and, if possible, explain what happened, from your perspective (without assigning blame or making excuses). Then, ask that person to connect with you offline. You don’t need the whole world to see your dialogue. But you do want a chance to make the situation right.
- Respond to positive reviews. Don’t give the negative Nellies all of your attention! If you’re touched by a positive review, let that person know! By responding to reviews, you’re showing your customer that you’re interested in what they have to say and grateful for the time they spent to say it. That’s a great way to build upon a growing relationship.
- Don’t hit delete. It’s tempting to delete negative comments that might appear on Facebook, Twitter or your website, but don’t do it! This will only escalate the situation, making your customer feel censored. It’s hard to face criticism, but it sends the message that you’re responsive, you put the customer first and you’re willing to do what’s right for your business.
- Encourage customers to review your business. If you’ve developed a strong relationship with a customer, it’s not unusual to ask them to share something about their good experience online. It never hurts to try. Just don’t be overzealous about this (i.e. don’t mention it more than once!).
- Fix your internal problems. As a business owner, you must learn to take criticism to heart. Try not to let it consume you, but if it the complaints are, indeed, based in fact and you see a pattern, it’s time for some serious soul searching and self-examination. Use this as an opportunity to fix the problem at hand, and be on the lookout for other potential challenges. You can often nip a situation in the bud, before it goes viral.