It's no secret that satisfied customers bring you more sales, while unhappy customers can prevent sales. People who feel strongly about a service they received or a product they purchased are more likely to tell others about their experience.
Before the Internet, this effect was limited to word of mouth - a customer could tell his family, friends and workmates about his wonderful or dreadful experience with your company, but it took some effort on the customer's part to get the word out though, and many just wouldn’t bother. Very few people took the time to write a letter to the business or even tell friends about it more than a few days after their interaction with a business, so only if they were extremely pleased or displeased would the word get out.
The growth of the Internet has made it much easier to applaud or criticise a company in a public place. There are many online directories that allow anyone to post a comment about a business. Not only does this allow a customer to make their opinion of your products and services known to many more people, it also opens the door to abuse. Business owners pretending to be customers can post positive reviews. Disgruntled employees can post negative reviews. There is no verification that the information posted is true.
All of those reviews are about to become ten times more visible to potential customers who are looking for a local business. Google Places (formerly Google Local Business Listings), has displayed reviews entered by users on their site and a number of other directories. Now Google is integrating information from the Google Places listing into the organic search. So you’ve worked hard to make sure that you are one of the first few listings that shows up when customers are looking for the product or service you offer in your area. Now, right next to the organic listing is a link to customer reviews. Immediately below your URL is your address and phone number from your Google Places listing. Often a snippet of a review is there too. If this happens to be a negative review, the potential customer will almost certainly click on a different listing. It's the online equivalent of someone standing in front of your business with a sign telling people not to shop there.
What can you do about it? Google won't remove a negative review just because you ask them to. And they won't take the time to find out whether the information is accurate. You must encourage positive reviews and address negative ones - with the customer and/or online.
Encourage Good Reviews ...
If there are more positive reviews than negative, there's a better chance that a review that shows within the body of your listing will be good. Also, if a customer takes the time to look at several reviews, they may be swayed by the happy customers. You could encourage all of your customers to write an online review, but that will result in more negative reviews as well as positive. How can you approach only the satisfied customers with a request for an online review? Here are a few ideas.
Many businesses already have a system in place to solicit customer feedback, often in the form of a telephone follow-up or written questionnaire. You could sort out those who have responded favourably and send them a request for an online review. If your request is in the form of an email, you could provide links to your business's listings on various sites that accept user reviews. You could offer something to your customer in return for taking the time to post a review. Something free, a discount off their next purchase from you, or some other enticement to encourage them to make the effort and also help them feel good about your business at the same time.
Address Detrimental Reviews ...
If you can communicate with the unhappy customer and resolve whatever problem he had, he may be willing to remove the negative review. Whether or not you think his complaint is valid, it's in your best interest to fix it. This may cost you money, but not doing so could cost you even more. Think about how much you spend to bring in new customers. Don't let a comparatively small amount of money deter you, even if the customer is wrong and you're right.
Sometimes it will be impossible to get the customer to withdraw his post. You can still alleviate the damage by responding to the complaint online. Post your own comment explaining the situation or apologising to the reviewer and stating your offer to fix the problem. If a potential customer takes the time to read the whole story, they will see that you are trying to make your customers happy.
Occasionally, a review will violate the terms established by the review site, for example using inappropriate language - if this is the case, you can flag the review and it may be removed.
Other Tips ...
Don't enter multiple positive reviews yourself. Online directories try to prevent reviews which are not genuine because they make their site less useful to their visitors.
Google Places displays reviews from sites such as Insider Pages and Yelp, as well as reviews posted directly to Google. If you ask your customers for positive reviews, give them links to a variety of review sites. It will look more natural if reviews come from more than one site. For example, New Zealand restaurants could suggest www.eatingout.co.nz or www.dineout.co.nz or an accommodation business could suggest www.tripadvisor.com
It has always been important for a business to cultivate a good reputation, but never before has a dissatisfied customer been able to reach the public directly by your listing/advertising. Increasingly consumers are bypassing the Yellow Pages and turning to their favourite search engine to find a business instead. You can no longer afford not to know what reviews are out there or to ignore dissatisfied customers as they have more power than ever before.