Online Review Forums and Customer Service

These days, customers aren’t just picking up the phone, shooting you an email, or coming into your store for support. As review forums such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google Local have grown in popularity, consumers have begun to use them to voice complaints and questions.
Most small businesses monitor review forums solely for the purpose of maintaining their brand image, but you can also use online review forums as another customer service channel. Here are 2 dos and 2 don’ts when it comes to responding to online reviews.

DO Take Action to Right Wrongs

If a customer writes a negative review, investigate the claim with your staff. If your business was at fault, take the appropriate action to right the wrong, whether it’s writing an apology, offering a replacement item, or extending an offer for a free or discounted product or service. Don’t be afraid to admit that you made a mistake—but be quick to make amends for it. The vast majority of customers will still keep doing business with you if you make an effort to address their complaints in a timely fashion (within a week).

DO Respond to Inquiries and Suggestions

Often times, customers will include questions or suggestions in the course of their review that they won’t take time to share with you personally. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to gain valuable insight into what your customers want and what you could be doing better. You don’t have to reply to every reviewer, but you should make an effort to answer any specific questions that come up and respond to users whose suggestions you’ve implemented. These kinds of interactions will make customers feel valued and involved in your process.

DON’T Take Negative Feedback Personally

Most patrons won’t take the time to review your business unless they’re exceptionally pleased or exceptionally displeased with their experience. Reading angry reviews, especially those that seem unprovoked by a real grievance, can be upsetting. Keep in mind that none of the comments consumers share are directed at you personally, and no single comment is representative of your entire customer base. While it may be challenging to remain calm when it feels like your business is under attack, replying with a heated or nasty comment will only fan the flames and draw more attention to that particular review. Keep your replies professional at all times, and as the old adage goes: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

DON’T Let Yourself Be Exploited

Every system can be exploited for personal gain, and this includes review forums. The goal of most reviewers is simply to share their experience with others, but there are always a handful of people whose goal is to take advantage of businesses. Competitors may pose as patrons in order to publicly critique your business; users may write reviews of your business without having been a patron; others may purposely post harsh comments in hopes that you’ll offer a little something to make amends. For this reason, you need to be careful when it comes to online reviews. If a review seems fishy, it probably is, and you shouldn’t waste your time engaging with it.

The Bottom Line

In general, online customer service follows the same rules as phone, email, and in-person customer service. If you reply promptly, stay professional, and treat people with generosity, you’ll be able to grow your customers’ loyalty. The added benefit of doing so on a public forum is that your actions can have an impact on a larger audience who isn’t directly involved in the conversation. Let your actions speak volumes of good things about your business, and others will notice.

How to Generate Great Online Reviews

As a small business owner, you know from firsthand experience and industry research that customer reviews are one of the most important ways to generate new leads. 85% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and positive reviews have a real impact on where consumers choose to spend their time and money.
The great news is that, while you can’t directly participate in the review process, there are a number of things you can do to facilitate online reviews for your business. These 3 simple steps will help get you started.

1. Ask People to Review Your Business

Even your most loyal customers are likely to forget to write you an online review unless you give them explicit direction to do so. Make it a habit to ask for reviews at various times during a customer’s lifecycle. A few ideas include:

  • Ask for a review after a purchase
  • Prompt readers to review after downloading a piece of content
  • Include links to your review properties in your email signature
  • Send a dedicated email campaign encouraging reviews

2. Give People a Place to Review Your Business

All the reminders in the world won’t generate reviews if it’s difficult for customers to find an outlet to provide them. Make sure to claim your listings on review sites and social media channels so that you can direct patrons to accurate pages for your business. You can also create a review board on your website, which gives you more control over what content gets posted and how it looks.

3. Share Reviews With Potential Leads

Once you’ve built up a solid library of glowing reviews, put that content to use by sharing it with potential leads. There are countless ways to repurpose reviews for your business’s benefit, such as:

  • Compiling reviews into more formal case studies
  • Writing blog posts featuring comments or recommendations from users
  • Featuring reviews in your e-newsletters
  • Sharing quotes from reviews on your social media accounts

The Bottom Line

Although you can’t force customers to write great reviews for your small business, you can encourage your patrons to participate in the process, make it easy for them to share feedback, and use that feedback to generate new leads for your small business—all without spending too much time or effort.

[News] Nextdoor Raises $60 Million Funding Round

Here’s a highlight of some of the top local-business-related news of the week:

[Social Media News] Nextdoor Raises $60 Million in Funding

News Source: Mashable

Nextdoor is a local social network designed specifically for neighborhoods. This week, the company announced a $60 million funding round.

The social network aims to serve small, neighborhood communities, connecting neighbors in a way that global giants like Facebook and Twitter can’t. These neighborhood communities often serve as a hybrid of Craigslist, Yelp and LinkedIn. Users can get recommendations and information on a variety of local topics (everything from babysitters to local disaster alerts).

There are over 22,000 neighborhoods served by Nextdoor today. With this latest round of funding, that number only stands to increase over the coming months.

Key Takeaway: Unlike some of the larger social networks, Nextdoor is a highly local resource. The potential opportunity to spread the word about your business (or have your neighbors do so for you) is great. Check out the site and see if your community has joined yet; if so, you may want to get in the game early and create a profile.

[Auto Industry News] Meet Openbay, the New OpenTable for Auto Repairs

News Source: Boston Globe

Cambridge start-up OpenBay released its first mobile app and website on Monday. OpenBay’s business model is similar to OpenTable’s restaurant reservations and reviews: Car owners can solicit competitive bids for repairs and check ratings and reviews of the shop or dealership they’re considering. They’ll also be able to book an appointment and pay for services, all within the app.

The system is free to users; business owners pay 10% of the total repair bill as a service fee to OpenBay. The program has been pilot-tested by 400 service providers and over 600 car owners so far. 

Key Takeaway: Customers are focused on convenience, value, and quality these days. OpenBay fills all of those needs for the auto industry. If you have an auto repair business, this might be a service you want to try out in 2014. 

[Social Media News] Google+ Rolls out Updates to Hangouts, Photos, and Introduces Custom URLs

News Sources: FastCompany and Mashable

Google+ rolled out a variety of updates this week. A few highlights:

  • Hangouts now include a new geo-location feature that adds a user’s location to a message using Google Maps. They will also support SMS messaging and GIFs.
  • Photo improvements include an auto-erase editing feature, enhanced photo search, and a new slideshow feature called Auto Awesome Video.
  • Users can finally choose a custom URL for their Profile, rather than using Google’s auto-generated string of numbers.

Key Takeaway: In spite of ongoing skepticism, Google+ is one of the largest social networks, and it’s not going away any time soon. These new features will help you get the most out of Google+ to engage your fans, boost your SEO, and help people discover your business.

Other news catch your eye this week? Leave a comment and let us know!