Friday, August 03, 2012

Business Reputation Takes 8th Place in 101 Marketing Secrets from the Serial Entrepreneur

Small Business Online Review Sites Have Only Exacerbated the Age Old Reputation Issue.  Word of Mouth Is Alive and Well, but Writ Large.

 Just how much is a reputation worth?  How much might it cost to get a reputation back, once lost?  The answer to both questions has always been "a lot."  Many of us grew up with our parents and teachers explaining how critical it was to hold on to our personal reputations.  PR firms have always had reputation creation and protection as the most critical element of their job description. 

But if reputation has always mattered, the internet has changed the dynamics dramatically.  The change started with Amazon inviting the public to review books in a public forum where the reviews would actually count.  Amazon and others expanded this consumer review idea to every product on the market, and then on to the companies selling those products. 

Small business owners got a break for a while.  Online searches made it hard for the local restaurant or nail shop to get found.  The move by Google to change the way local businesses were found on search was a great day for the small business.  The good part came with a sleeping potential negative however.  Reviews by consumers came to every business, even doctors and lawyers.  Now a single disgruntled consumer, ex employee, competitor, or prankster could undo years of reputation building with a single rant on Yelp or Google Places.

However, here is a dirty little secret from a marketing consultant who has been an insider with well over 300 small businesses during the past five years.  By and large, the online reviews reflect what is actually going on in the business.  Are there examples where business are getting way better reviews than the deserve or getting slammed by someone who has a screw loose or a vendetta? Sure!  My point is that overall, an owner should pay close attention to the reviews and not just dismiss them as unfair. 

I have created a little score card for owners. 

If you are getting 4.5 - 5 stars -  Congratulate your staff and keep doing what you are doing
If you are at 4.0 - 4.5 stars - Excellent work.  However, look at the negative reviews and see if there is something you can do to improve
If you are under 4, but still at 3.5 or higher - it is time to hold meetings on customer service, set up rewards for excellence, and retrain or dismiss those who are not hitting your standards. 
Between 3 stars and 3.5 - you are in danger of losing traffic.  You probably have one or more employees that are not treating people well.  Set up some clear rules and objectives.
Under 3 stars - there is probably a systemic problem, and the owner may be setting a bad example.  At this level you are losing clients.  You may even want to reach outside for a consultant to objectively see what is going on.
Under 2.5 stars - people who use these scores won't even bother to look at the reviews to see what the problem is, say the studies.

Reputation goes beyond what is said about your company online through reviews.  Word of mouth (WOM) is still alive and well.  Most of my clients tell me that over 50% of new business comes to them by this dependable channel.  You current customer base should be "managed" while dealing with you and also through your follow up.  Email blasting to a current customer list is a fantastic way to keep your name in front of people who like you, making them more likely to tell others when the opportunity arises.  Of course there are ways to write those emails that make them more likely to enhance your reputation and the WOM that might come with them.

Reputation is yours to create and manage.  Whether you want the reputation of the best in class, the least expensive, or the fastest, staying on top of that message is certainly worthy of spot 8 on this list. 

Action Steps for Day 8:

Check Yelp and Google Places once a week to see if there are new reviews. If you have good reviews, make sure the staff knows, and if anyone is specifically mentioned by name in a good review, you may want to reward them in some way. You can also respond publicly to good reviews. Don't gloat. Be thankful and humble. Then use your response to point to a policy that is in place that results in the good service they reported.

For poor reviews, respond privately to the customer first if possible. Acknowledge the complaint, let them know that it what happened is not within policy or resulted in a review of policy to correct the problem.  Then offer some type of consideration that requires them to come back to the business. Your ultimate goal is to have them change the review, but you can't ask them to or make repayment or any other offer contingent on the change of the review.

If the customer doesn't respond to the private note, go public. Explain that you reached out, and still maintain that humility and clear statement of your policy on the issue.

Take positive steps to create a great reputation through community involvement, helping local charities, and going over the top on customer service. 

Do you agree?  What other methods do you recommend for enhancing reputation and dealing with negative reputation issues?

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