Building a Great Online Reputation

Bridling that internet beast and making it work for you

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Public Spat
The most important aspect of the above scenario is its public profile. Remember that the whole point of the exercise is to let the public see how thoughtfully you go about resolving a customer’s complaint.

To some extent you can take the conversation “offline” and deal with the person via emails or phone calls. But if you do so, be sure to post details of what you are doing in the same online thread as the original complaint. And don’t forget to post the final resolution of the issue so the public can see the entire picture.

Seeing the details of the resolution will make a tremendous impression on people who are accustomed to the “do nothing” attitude of retailers who do not care about the welfare of their customers. “Even if you end up not giving the person what they want, the dialogue will show people that you care and that you want to make things right,” says Burrus.

“People see that you are trying.” And when it comes time for customers to make a purchase, they will patronize the retailer who has exhibited a concern for customer welfare.
The above comments reflect a key principle: Always consider a negative review an opportunity. “When anyone posts something negative, you have been given a fantastic gift,” says Burrus. “What you do next can turn them into a raving fan. Address their issue, acknowledge that it is a problem, then resolve it. Do it online, and the public will see it.”

Accentuate the positive
In the best of all worlds, all of the online reviews of your business would be positive. But that likely won’t happen. And the fact is that an occasional negative review, if handled as described above, does little or no damage. “The problem is not a negative review but the scarcity of positive ones,” says Fertik. “You want to achieve a good proportion of the two.”

People tend to post reviews only when they are upset. So you need to take steps to make sure your happy customers share their experiences. “Smaller businesses need to be actively getting their ratings fans, their best customers, talking about them,” says Burrus.

“And one of the ways to do so is to make it easier for them.”

Here’s one way to do that: Suppose a customer makes a gracious remark about your service or merchandise. You might respond with words such as these: “Would you mind sharing your experiences by putting out a tweet or posting on Facebook?” Or,
“If you can go to my Facebook page and say something about it, I would really like that.”

There are other ways to encourage customer feedback, says Davis-Nitzberg. “Send email to people who have been customers. Ask them about their experiences. Then ask, ‘Would you like to share your experience?’ And provide them with links to review sites.”

Physical retail stores have an advantage because they can encourage a public dialogue at the moment the customer is buying, says Fertik. “Have an iPad on hand and ask, ‘Can you share your experiences online right now?’ Or plug each customer’s contact information into an email system that generates a request when the customer gets home.”

At the very least, give each customer your business card with your Twitter and Facebook handles. And when good reviews are posted, take action. “Thank people who say good things,” says Beal. “And you can also post their quotes on your website. That helps enhance your reputation even further.”

Do not pay for reviews. That is called “astroturfing” because it is the opposite of “grass roots.” This is often against the rules of review sites and can get your listing flagged. And it’s simply bad for your reputation. The above suggestions maintain a distinction between openly soliciting reviews and asking people to share their experiences online.

Beyond Reviews
There is much more to building a great image than monitoring your reviews. You can also take positive steps to communicate your expertise and your professionalism.

Here again, the internet plays a critical role. “Provide information that is of value to your public,” says Beal. “Join internet forums and post advice of real use to your customers and prospects.” Post useful information on your Facebook page. Create how-to video guides and tutorials. Consider putting together short clips of your best customers using your merchandise. These “soft sell” approaches will establish your business as a source
of expertise.

What materials will people find most valuable? Ask your customers for guidance. Sometimes your most loyal clients are the best sources of ideas because they are thoroughly familiar with your merchandise and services, as well as with the new-customer knowledge gap.

All of the above image-building techniques share the same driving force: the desire to run a customer-focused business. “Earn the trust of the public by responding to customer complaints, providing useful information and answering people’s questions,” says Beal. “Then, when it comes time to buy, people will patronize your store.”

This story first appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of Tobacconist magazine.

Contributed by Phillip M. Perry