Think back to the last time you planned on making a purchase. Maybe you wanted a massage and weren’t sure which spa to go to, or needed a new appliance and didn’t want to spend your day driving from one store to the next, or you wanted to impress a friend with your restaurant choice but didn’t know where to go.
If you are like 90 percent of today’s consumers, you looked up a few online reviews before stepping foot in that spa, restaurant or appliance store. “I saw this change happen about 10 years ago,” says Lauri Flaquer, media strategist and small business consultant with St. Paul, Minn.-based Saltar Solutions. “Our first point of contact is now always the Internet.”
This change has had huge implications for small business owners. In many cases, online reviews have replaced the old way of consumers leisurely shopping and developing relationships with business owners over time. The “browsing” of products and services is now done online, so by the time a customer steps foot in an establishment, he or she is usually ready to buy.
Chris Campbell realizes businesses can have a hard time keeping up with reviews on a variety of platforms (i.e. Yelp, Citysearch, TripAdvisor, Google, and others). so Therefore in 2012, he launched ReviewTrackers, a software management tool to track and manage online reviews. Today, more than 25,000 businesses use his service. He says the impact of online reviews on local businesses cannot be understated.
“They are truly critical to driving sales; reviews have changed the way we all make purchasing decisions,” he says. “I don’t think reviews have hit their full potential yet. They are growing extremely fast and people are using them more and more.”
To illustrate his point, he tells the story of his girlfriend of three years asking him —in person—for a dentist recommendation. “I love my dentist and was raving about him. As I was talking, do you know what she did? Mid-conversation, she took out her phone and started reading reviews of my dentist,” he says. “And that is my girlfriend!”
How can businesses attract positive reviews?
Business owners are smart to put online reviews at the core of their marketing strategies. And while it isn’t a good idea to badger customers to write positive reviews, it does pay off to ask nicely for a review after delivering top-notch service.
Flaquer also helps a business sell peanut brittle at fairs and festivals around Minnesota as well as online. Following an in-person purchase, she says she nicely asks if the customer for an online review. She follows up with those who oblige her request.
“I will contact them, thank them, and then become Facebook friends with them,” she says. “It is a lot of hands-on and can be very time-consuming, but it is worth it.”
Asking for reviews can be done in a variety of ways. If you own an online business, you could send a follow-up email after a purchase. For in-person transactions, consider asking the customer to review your company and/or including a mention of a review site on the bottom of your receipts.
How should you handle a bad review?
Bad reviews don’t need to spell the end of a business, but they can ignite strong defensive feelings on the part of the business owner.
- First, stay calm. “Tell them you appreciate the feedback and apologize that they had a negative experience,” recommends Campbell. “Then send them a private message asking if you can serve them again.”
- Fairly consider the complaints in the review. “Ask yourself, ‘Is it valid? Could we do something better?’” suggests Flaquer. “Own up to it if it is your fault, but also know that if it isn’t your fault and someone is just hostile, the reader will see right through it. Just go back to work and focus on getting that next great review for your business.”