This is Day 17 of our new series: 30 days to a better online reputation. Be sure to subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss a single important lesson!

“There is place in the world for any business that takes care of its customers – after the sale.” Harvey MacKay

repped-day17As much as 85% of consumers say that they read online reviews about local businesses and 73% of them say that positive customer reviews make them trust a business more (source: BrightLocal). It’s the same for online businesses, with 74% of consumer electronics shoppers searching out online reviews before they make a purchase (source: Weber Shandwick). It doesn’t matter what industry you are in or how you conduct your business, your customers are checking out online reviews in an effort to judge whether to trust you or not.

There are review sites that rate individuals, companies, non-profits, products, doctors, realtors, employers, and even lovers! Online reviews are an important part of your online reputation efforts and today you’ll focus on making sure yours is worthy of 5 stars!

Not all review sites are equal

Just like your other Circles of Influence, there are some review sites that matter more to your online reputation than others. If you’re an author, Amazon will likely be the review site you care most about. A coffee shop owner might focus on Yelp reviews, while a plumber should care what rating Angie’s List gives him. For hotels and resorts, a TripAdvisor review can make or break your occupancy levels.

No matter what your industry, it’s practically guaranteed there’s a popular review site that’s already rating your reputation. The key is to funnel your customers to leave their reviews on the sites that will help you the most with your reputation efforts. The best way to do that is to provide an experience that they can’t wait to tell others about.

Encouraging positive reviews

Online reviews

The number of businesses that rely solely on online review sites as a means to collect customer feedback always surprises me. That’s a risky gamble to take with your reputation. What if the customer has a bad experience? Do you really want to learn about it first via a Yelp review? The time to influence a customer review is before they ever get to their computer. If you’re not interacting with your customer before they’ve completed their transaction with you, then you’re playing Russian roulette with your ratings.

Instead, build in points of contact with your customer along every step of their relationship with you. I’ve stayed at a hotel that welcomed me with a note from the manager and his cell phone number in case of any issues with my stay. I’ve received a personalized thank you email from a CEO asking me to contact them if ever there’s a problem with my web site hosting. And a local mechanic sent me a thank you card for letting him fix my car.

By having these touch points with your customer, you increase the chances that they’ll want to brag about the great experience they had with you. When they let you know how delighted they are, thank them and ask them to share their thoughts with others, if they find they have a few spare minutes. You can then name drop the review site that would benefit you the most. Something like this:

“Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed your stay with us. When you get back home and have a few spare minutes, I would be very grateful if you would share that same feedback on TripAdvisor.”

Find a way to connect with your customer directly and make a positive impression with them. That way, if they have a problem, they reach out to you first, not the review app on their smart phone!

Handling negative reviews

Do enough business transactions and eventually you’ll get your first negative online review. While it can be startling to receive a 1-star review, all is not lost. How you handle the review can make a big difference in how it’s perceived by potential customers that happen to read it.

Thank them – thank the customer for taking the time to leave the review. It shows there is no animosity on your part and that you appreciate the opportunity to do better.

Accentuate the positives – highlight any of the positive remarks they’ve made about you. This helps anyone reading your reply to see that doing business with you wasn’t a completely negative experience.

Apologize for the negatives – this is not the time to make excuses, but it is the time to explain any mitigating circumstances and to suggest that this is not the normal experience enjoyed by your customers, clients, or guests. By apologizing, you send a signal to everyone that this is below your normal high standards of excellence.

Take it offline – assuming you’re able to post your comments to the review—not all review sites allow that—you should attempt to take the remainder of the conversation offline. Provide your email or telephone number, or a link to your customer support page. Let this customer know that you want to ensure they are happy, while at the same time sending a message to prospective customers that, should they have a similar problem, you won’t leave them up any proverbial creek without paddle.

After that, endeavor to improve the experience for the next customer. The above approach will only work if the negative reviews appear to be isolated incidents. If you’re continually responding to 1-star reviews, then perhaps it’s time to fix the underlying issue.

Reviews by your competitors

What happens when you receive an unfavorable review where the facts don’t quite add up? They say they ate dinner at your restaurant on a Sunday, but you don’t open on Sundays. Or perhaps they accuse your product of having a faulty power cable, but it hasn’t even shipped yet. Likely it’s a competitor trying to undermine your review rating by posting seemingly real, but totally unsubstantiated reviews.

When this happens it’s important to collect as much information as you can to confirm any discrepancies in their review. In addition, look for blatant recommendations for a competitor’s alternative product or service. Lastly, check out their reviewer profile and see if this is the only review they have written or that they’ve trashed all competing products except for one—which they can’t help gushing about.

When you’re convinced you’re dealing with a review by a competitor, your best next step is to send the information to the review site owner. Some review sites will have a formal means of doing that, while others might require you to send an email or use the general contact form. If the review isn’t removed after a few days, you can generally reduce its credibility with a reply along the lines of:

“We’d love to be able resolves this matter for you, but we’ve not been able to verify that this transaction took place. Could you please contact us directly so we can collect more information and make sure we turn this experience around?”

You’ll likely never hear from them again and anyone else reading their review will do so suspicious of its authenticity.

Don’t fake reviews

Like any aspect of your reputation management you may get frustrated that the needle is not going in the right direction, or things are not improving fast enough. While it may be tempting, don’t ever think about posting fake positive reviews.

Whatever cunning plan you’ve created, the review sites are likely already one step ahead of you. Using different computers, building up fictitious reviewer profiles, asking your friends to chime in, and spacing out your reviews are all tactics that have been tried by others in the past. Even if you can get a few fake reviews past any automated spam filters, you still run the risk of getting found out. In 2013, Samsung was reportedly busted and fined over $340,000 for its involvement in building fake reviews for its products.

An authentic rating

A perfect 5-star rating doesn’t get you too far, if you have only a handful of total reviews. As you add more reviews, you’ll naturally attract some that are 3- or 4-star and even those with the best reputation attract their share of 1- and 2-star reviews. The key is to build an authentic looking review profile. If you have a couple hundred reviews, a few low ratings may mean you slip from a perfect score, but they’ll also help convince others that each positive review is genuine.

It’s more important to have an authentic 4.1-star rating than a fake 5-star one.

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