What You Need to Do With Online Customer Reviews

Social media affords the customer great power in voicing their experience with any product or service. If you felt like the hotel clerk didn’t pay attention to your request, don’t’ worry, you can include your story as part of the hotel review on Trip Advisor. Or, on the positive side, if a you had a tremendously positive experience wherein the business went above and beyond to provide a superior experience then it is fair to assume you would include it as part of your review. And that is exactly what is happening on forums, chat rooms, social networking sites, blogs across the Internet, every day, all the time.

The alarming fact is that many aren’t even paying attention to all this chatter about their brand. Companies should never underestimate the power of the written word – especially in today’s world. A recent study from the Society for New Communication Research bears this out beautifully. In a report titled Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media, they present the following data:

  • 59.1% of respondents use social media to “vent” about a customer care experience
  • 72.2% of respondents research companies’ customer care online prior to purchasing products and services at least sometimes
  • 84% of respondents consider the quality of customer care at least sometimes in their decision to do business with a company
  • 74% choose companies/brands based on others’ customer care experiences shared online
  • 84% of respondents consider the quality of customer care in their decision to do business with a company at least sometimes
  • 81% believe that blogs, online rating systems and discussion forums can give consumers a greater voice regarding customer care, but less than 33% believe that businesses take customers’ opinions seriously

If these numbers woke you up then good. Now.  What should you do about customer reviews which are proliferating across the Internet. The first thing is to hunt down every negative review on your brand and respond. I can’t show any numbers, but my experience has been, that the power of a bad review gets magnified over and over again if there is no response from the company. That is why every business needs to have the infrastructure in place to respond to negative reviews. Furthermore in order to influence and engage their customer further it is recommended that you should even respond to a some of the positive reviews as well.

While responding to a bad review is the starting point it is only damage control and not a proactive strategy. That is why it is really important to take a step back and develop a strategy to managing your online reputation. In fact this should be big part of your social media strategy. And if you say you don’t have a social media strategy for your business believe me you already do. Your strategy can be called a non-engagement strategy and it’s hurting your business whether you know it or not.

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a HSMAI webminar on “How to Manage and Respond to Travel Review Websites”. Even though the presentation was focused on the travel industry I felt that the material could apply to a broader set of industries, considering how prevalent customer reviews have become on the Internet. Here some of the bullet point highlights from this presentation:

  • Solicit  feedback on online forums at time of checkout (with those who have had a positive experience) or by e-mail
  • Never offer an incentive for the feedback
  • Bogus reviews are not as prevalent as those in the (hospitality) industry think
  • Google and Yahoo do consider reviews on sites as part of SEO
  • Sites such as Expedia factor in reviews in the results pages of their queries
  • Google obtains its local results from hotelguide.com and hotelguide.net – so it’s important to monitor reviews on these sites
  • You can contest a bad review with some of the sites but there is no guarantee that it will be  removed – you need to prove to these sites that you have addressed the customers concerns/complaints
  • Designate someone in your staff to be in charge of responding to reviews

There are software packages available to help you monitor your online reputation. I strongly recommend you begin researching the best tool for your business and start developing a strategy to maintain your good name.

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