Guest post by Megan Totka.
Today’s social/mobile/local technology makes reputation management a big concern for many businesses. The online dynamic makes it easier than ever for customers to take out their frustrations about a bad experience or share a heartfelt allegiance to a particular company. Websites like Yelp, Foursquare and TripAdvisor allow users to “check in” every time they visit a business. Users can then rate their trip from one to five stars, add comments, add quick tips, tell others what to avoid and what to definitely do, and review their overall experience. For customers these online services, which are even more readily accessible because of mobile apps and different mobile marketing companies, can impact which new places they visit.
For small business owners though, these online review sites can be a headache, not just because customers will inevitably point out your flaws, but because they make reputation management extremely challenging. This is why web presence has to be made a priority. Not that a business should ignore online reviews, certainly; some can be very helpful in pointing out necessary changes to your company to make you more successful in the future. But the danger is business owners can become obsessed with bad reviews. This obsession can be very hurtful to a small business owner. Rather than focusing on important business operations, owners are too involved with the uncontrollable. This can include loosing too much revenue by trying to please customers who posted bad reviews, allowing negative feelings about reviews to impact employee morale, or making too many changes in trying to please every customer. Business owners need to find a balance between addressing unhappy customers through online reviews and ignoring trolls just out to cause trouble or get something for free.
To better understand the perspective, think of the “old school” newspaper reviews. Food critics and movie reviews would be posted weekly. These treviews along with features on schools, hotels and local businesses would be published, written by professionals. Brand reputation management was much simpler then. With their own reputations at stake, writers had to post truthful information and be as objective as possible. Businesses could request a retraction if something written were completely outrageous. The information was considered trustworthy because it was the job of a professional reviewer to be informative and accurate. These types of review still get posted and read but often aren’t as influential as in the past.
The online effect of having users able to impact the decisions of other customers requires small businesses to better understand reputation management. Businesses with established brands can perhaps afford to lose a few customers to a bad review. But small businesses rely on continued positive word of mouth (and “word of mouse”) to keep their name spreading from happy customers to their friends.
To best control brand reputation, small business owners should use tactics like open communications with employees and customers, empathy for the customers’ needs and concerns, and flexible but throughtful processes for handling issues. Small business managers need to know appropriate corrective measures that keep their best customers coming back while attracting new customers as well.
For more reputation management tips, read up on using social media to your advantage to increase your web presence, and customer service techniques to keep clients loyal.
Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for Chamber of Commerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources.