By Bruce Freeman The Small Business Professor.
Rating and review websites like Yelp and Angie's List are now among the first sources consumers turn to for advice on local businesses.
Yelp alone attracted more than 142 million unique visitors per month in the first quarter of this year. In fact, numerous studies indicate that the vast majority of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Responding appropriately as a business owner is part art, part science. ___ Q: I have a small medical practice in the Boston area and have wondered what to do about a couple of negative Yelp reviews. Not many of my patients have reviewed my practice, but two very outspoken and dissatisfied patients have. What can I do to preserve my online reputation?
A: First, don't panic. The presence of a bad review is not itself a business killer. In fact, research shows that bad reviews actually help to bolster the validity of the good reviews that surround it.
This is what you need to know about the mechanics of responding to reviews, according to Daniel Lemin, the author of "Manipurated: How Business Owners Can Fight Fraudulent Online Ratings and Reviews."
-Respond to all reviews, good or bad. Responding to bad reviews may seem counterintuitive but doing just that can indeed be beneficial. Most customers read between two and 10 reviews. A business owner's presence, even on negative reviews, demonstrates good customer service. It will benefit the business at the beginning of the customer relationship and may end up in a great review down the road.
-Whatever you do, do not make it personal. Focus on the comment, not the reviewer. Candidly outline some things your business has or will do to rectify the complaint. If you fixed something that was at the heart of the complaint, let the customer know.
-Acknowledge the reviewer's feelings with neutral terms like "disappointed" or "not as expected."
-Get creative about generating more reviews. You want to encourage your satisfied customers to write good reviews to help keep your profile updated and fresh. While many online review sites prohibit direct solicitations, you can do a number of things to increase your visibility on their sites, from putting a Yelp sign on your site or storefront to setting up free Yelp check-in offers.
-Once you build up your positive reviews, invest some time each day to monitor and respond to online reviews. That's the best way to make online ratings and reviews into a marketing asset to reach new customers and build your business. ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Bruce Freeman, an adjunct professor and co-author of "Birthing the Elephant" (Random House), is president of ProLine Communications.