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More than any other form of marketing, there is true power in online reviews. BrightLocal reported in 2015 that 92% of people regularly read online reviews. In the same report, 88% of people said they trust online reviews from strangers as much as personal recommendations.

It’s not just about consumer trust either. Positive reviews can have a direct impact on your bottom line. A 2011 Harvard Business School Study showed that a single Yelp star rating increase could increase revenues by 5% to 9% for restaurants.

online-reviews-for-businesses-in-2017Similarly, negative reviews can be just as impactful. Bright Local’s same 2015 survey reported that 92% of people will hesitate to do business with companies that have fewer than four out of five stars. Moz estimated in 2015 that four or more negative articles about your company in Google can cause you to lose upwards of 70% of potential new customers.

Suffice it to say, consumers are better informed than ever before. They will do their research before walking through your doors. A single strongly positive review or devastatingly negative review can have a huge impact on your business. It is more important than ever to have a plan in place for soliciting, managing, and responding to customer feedback.

What Good Online Reviews Can Do for Your Business

Good online reviews can have an immediate, positive impact on your business. The vast majority of consumers use sites like Yelp to evaluate restaurants and other businesses before they commit to visiting. They interact with each other and build community with their fellow users.

Here’s an example of a review given to La Maison de Maggie in Las Vegas. It’s a detailed review not only of the food, but of his experience, and the resulting feedback is extensive. More than 50 reactions have been recorded, and this is only one positive review. Now imagine a restaurant or business new to the Internet that has only a handful of reviews. A review like this would hold immense sway, especially from an established reviewer.

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What a Bad Review Can Do TO Your Business

But if a positive review can have a direct and immediate positive impact on your business, even more so can a negative review.

The average customer needs to read only 4-6 reviews before trusting a business. That means a single negative review can swiftly undermine that balance. With 86% of people hesitating to purchase if they see a negative review with no response, it’s vital to manage these. Here’s a prime example:

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This review was left over a year ago for a brunch spot in Las Vegas. No reply from the owner, and over 20 reactions from users who read it and likely made a decision based on what they read. And it’s not the only neglected bad review. There are several other negative reviews for this restaurant likely impacting that restaurant’s bottom line.

Handling Negative Reviews Effectively

There’s not much you can do to completely eliminate negative reviews. They are going to happen. Servers have bad days. Equipment breaks. Some people are just very hard to please. But how you respond to those negative reviews is fully under your control. Even a simple reply acknowledging the issue is better than nothing at all:

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When you engage with upset customers, you’re speaking not just to them, but to every single person who might walk through your doors.

Anyone who reads that review will get a sense of you and your business from the way you respond to that single negative review. Ignoring online reviews only validates the complaints. It makes you appear neglectful and hurts your brand in an important online forum.

Apologizing, promoting your business by highlighting your strengths, and offering to make it right with an offline conversation will turn an impactful negative review into a potentially positive experience. This is especially true if you can fix the problem and get them to update their review.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Online Reviews

With the vast majority of consumers trusting the opinions of their fellow consumers online, you need to treat every review as an opportunity. Businesses that underestimate the power of even a short review from a customer are hurting themselves more than they may realize.

To take advantage of the situation, there are three things you can do:

  1. Build a Plan to Solicit Reviews from Customers – Your business is likely to get dozens or even hundreds of reviews regardless of what you do. Instead of passive involvement, take a proactive role and solicit reviews at the point of purchase, on receipt printouts, and through your servers. This will create a conversation about your service, rather than a one-sided judgment.
  2. Be Proactive in Engaging with Customers to Drive New Reviews – Building a list of customers through email, Facebook, or other social media allows you to reach out and ask for feedback when it matters most – whether you’re launching a new location, pushing a new menu item, or combatting a recent spate of negative reviews.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid of the Bad – Have a Plan for Response – Build an action plan for how to handle negative reviews. You’ve likely seen the worst case scenarios, when a business owner loses their temper and flames an online reviewer for what they perceive as an irrational complaint. By building a plan for response, including a timeframe for replying, what you’ll offer, and the language you will use, you can get in front of bad reviews and showcase your customer service to future customers.

Using Reviews to Grow Your Business

By far the most important component of an online review policy is staff engagement. Ensuring your staff understands the importance of their performance is vital. Engaging them to ask for reviews will not only improve service quality, but encourage them to take ownership over the process.

As an entrepreneur, reviews can make or break your business. Build a strong action plan, take them seriously, and be aware of what can happen if you don’t. If you do it right, you can turn every piece of feedback you receive into solid gold – benefiting both your public perception and your bottom line.