How to Improve Your Business’ Online Reputation
Focus on Good Customer Service
A 2015 study by Accenture Strategy found that 64 percent of surveyed consumers have defected from a business due to bad customer service. Worse than losing business, negative word-of-mouth from unhappy customers may create a ripple effect of bad press. In its 2014 Global Customer Service Barometer report, marketing analytics firm Ebiquity found that 60 percent of those surveyed talk about bad customer service experiences, compared to just 46 percent who gush about good ones.
Bottom line: bad news spreads faster than good. Never let your customers leave dissatisfied. Ask your clients about their experience, and deal with grievances before they can snowball.
These days, having an online presence is crucial to business reputation management. Don’t wait for a public relations emergency to start cultivating your brand. Set up a website with a professional domain address and keep it updated. Regularly adding to your website will also pay off in SEO, increasing your visibility and even driving impressions from new customers.
Follow Your Customers
For entrepreneurs and budding businesses, social media marketing can be a cost-effective, grassroots way to drive sales. Networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can also be a platform to hear what people are saying about your brand and to connect with customers. It can even be used to soothe critics. Many irate customers simply want their complaints to be heard. Giving them a place to rant, and get a response, can neutralize a plurality of reputation-damaging content. Maintain active accounts for your brand on as many social networking sites as you can.
Play to Your Humanity
While large corporations may have sophisticated automated software to deal with customer complaints, small businesses have the advantage of human touch. According to a 2016 report by Salesforce Research, 66 percent of those surveyed admitted they would consider switching brands if they were treated as a number rather than an individual. Mom-and-pop businesses with smaller customer bases have the advantage of being able to respond individually to those they serve. Better yet, these businesses can create custom solutions that make the aggrieved feel heard and taken care of.
Share Customer Success Stories
Online reputation management is not just about minimizing negative press. It can also be about circulating positive content that brings attention to your product or service. Customer success stories can be a great way to boost your company’s profile on the web. They also happen to be one of the most successful forms of marketing.
Respond to Positive and Negative Reviews
A 2015 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of U.S. adults “always or almost always” read customer ratings or reviews online before a first-time purchase. That statistic is even higher for Americans under age 50, and more than half of customers surveyed between 18-29 years old reported consulting online business reviews. Always acknowledge feedback from your customers. Show your appreciation for positive reviews, and manage complaints by working to solve them.
Monitor Your Image
Business reputation management is not a one-off project you do once and forget about. Your reputation can be under siege at any time. Set up Google Alerts for your business to hear what’s being said about your brand online, then act quickly to deal with issues as they arise.
These days, being upfront with customers is no longer a marketing ploy but an expectation. It can also be a survival tactic. In an age where one jilted patron can easily make their story known to dozens, if not thousands, of people online, you can’t afford to be known for shady business practices.
Even if your business has a pristine reputation, it’s a good idea to draft a crisis management plan before a catastrophe erupts. If your business receives damaging press, you’ll know how to respond so that you can contain the situation, and ensure it doesn’t get worse.
Online reputation management is a marathon, not a sprint. Be skeptical of marketing tools or services that promise quick results. Over time, a consistent brand image will build trust with customers: they know what to expect when they deal with you. The truth is that people are talking about your business online, whether or not you’re aware of it. Taking control of your public image, while daunting, is now necessary for success.
The good news is that taking time to earn the loyalty of your customers will pay off both on and offline, through positive reviews, word-of-mouth and repeat patronage.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.