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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sue for a review?

Only in the last couple years have small business owners fully taken grasp of the power of Internet marketing. The first step was to jump on the web by building and publishing a site. Companies sat back and figured that would do it, we’re on the Internet. Then a company came along and, basically, took control of how people search for information and what the results of those searches would be (Google it). So now businesses had to ensure their websites could be found when potential customers entered popular search terms.

As commerce began interacting with the search engine gatekeepers, companies specializing in search engine optimization (SEO) figured out how to get websites on the first page of search results. Once that happened, companies began to compete for the slots on the first page. Search engine programmers were also watching and began ranking the companies in the search results based on the sites web activity, content, links, etc. The SEO companies figured this out and the dance began and continues. Part of the data collected that goes into search engine rankings are business reviews. In part, the number of reviews affects the search results so a push was made to increase those numbers. Potential customers began to actually read the reviews and make shopping decisions based on what others had experienced.

Encourage reviews

The next entrepreneurial Internet evolution was the development of review based business listings that helped people make shopping decisions based on what others were saying. Yelp is one of the most popular services for finding businesses on the fly. Users rely heavily on the reviews they read. So, businesses naturally seek to be reviewed which in turn provides a 1 to 5 star-based rating system. To please the review “powers to be”, businesses seek out and encourage reviews. Through Yelp, Google, Facebook, and myriad other search engines and business listing sites, a company can have many opportunities for customers to leave reviews. All of which are searchable by patrons and used to rank the business in search results.

This is all wonderful until a business gets a bad review that stinks. Like everything else on the web, once it’s out there, it’s out there. There’s an old saying that it takes ten atta boys to overcome one oh crap. Once a company gets a bad review the decision has to be made to respond or not, or try and bury it with good reviews. Even if the company corrects the issue offline the bad review is still out there.

To encourage reviews companies, will provide on-site access so that customers can leave comments immediately. Some offer coupons, discounts, and other enticements to get customers to leave a review. Some, however, have attacked the problem from the other end. Not so much discouraging bad reviews, but attempting to take the ability away from customers.

Companies have begun putting non-disparagement clauses into contracts. A non-disparagement clause restricts individuals from taking any action that negatively impacts an organization, its reputation, products, services, management or employees. In Texas, a pet sitting company is currently suing a couple for posting a negative review on Yelp. The plaintiff is seeking more than $6,700 in damages, alleging the client violated a non-disparagement clause in the signed contract when the couple posted the bad review. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Get out the vote

People don’t picket outside your place of business trying to warn others of the terrible service they received. No. They get on the anonymous Internet and express themselves. So how to deal with bad reviews? Ecommerce has changed the way a company markets themselves. A company has to encourage reviews. Help make it easy for customers to find the place to write reviews. As they say in election years-Get out the vote!  You want to rack up as many atta boys as you can and keep the trend going. Circumvent bad online reviews by addressing issues as they arise. If left to fester you can bet you’ll be reading it online.

If a bad review pops up, acknowledge it. Don’t be argumentative.  Apologize and make it right. Explain to other readers in the response what was done to correct the issue. The same goes for good reviews. Acknowledge and thank the writer. Either way, show you care about their business. Of course, if your bad reviews outweigh your good reviews maybe there are other issues you need to address.

Depending on your customer base, getting them to write reviews can be like getting blood from a stone. Make sure they know reviews are welcomed and how they can do it. Follow up. People will say they will write a review but once they leave your business it never happens. Provide good service and the good reviews will come.

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