‘Word of mouth’ marketing has taken on a whole new meaning in the digital age. With 48% of small businesses and 54% of medium-sized businesses using social media to engage with their customers, business owners need to know how to leverage and manage their reputation online. Here are some tips to help you do it well.
1. Check your online presence regularly
If your business has social media platforms, then it’s likely you already check them at least daily.
The same should apply to other online media where your business might be reviewed, including:
- Your Google business listing (where your business details, contacts, hours and customer reviews appear in search)
- Standalone review sites such as True Local, TrustPilot and Word of Mouth.
Monitoring all your online platforms will help you make sure you’re aware of what’s being said about your business online, whether it’s positive or negative.
Don’t forget to set up Google Alerts (here’s a guide on how to set it up), so you receive an email whenever your business is mentioned online.
2. Acknowledge all feedback
Seeing a negative review pop up on a website or social media is never fun. But while your initial response may be to ignore or delete it – don’t.
Regardless of whether you’re dealing with compliments or complaints, try to treat each equally by:
- Responding in a reasonable amount of time
- Thanking those that have taken the time to leave feedback
- Making your comment personal, and using your name as a sign-off.
Responding to positive comments is generally easy and pleasant. Here’s an example of a template you could use for your responses:
Dear xyz, thank you for your feedback, happy to hear…<reinforce the positive element of the review>, Thanks, <your name>.
If the comment’s negative:
- Try to respond as neutrally as possible
- Acknowledge the comment or review
- Encourage your customer to contact you offline so you can discuss the issue in more detail – whether it’s through a messaging app, email or over the phone.
Here’s an example of a template you can use for responding to complaints or bad reviews:
Hi [insert customer name]. I’m so sorry you had a bad experience, and thanks for letting us know about it. Please [call/email/chat] us on [contact details] so we can help [rectify the issue]. Thanks, <your name>.
Once they’ve contacted you privately, find out what their complaint is about, and see if there’s anything you can do to address the situation. This may include offering them a voucher or a refund, or arranging a face-to-face meeting with the customer.
While it won’t always be the case, sometimes a bad situation handled well can turn in your favour, and the customer may amend or update their initial review. But a prompt, personal response is likely to be better than no response at all.
3. Always stay professional
It can be easy to lose your cool when someone is saying bad things about your business. But if you respond to all feedback politely and professionally, it’ll speak volumes about the integrity of your business to other customers.
That said, it doesn’t mean you have to accept aggressive or abusive comments – or those from people who may attempt to troll you, or have malicious intentions in attacking your business online. Again, encourage them to contact you offline, so you can deal with the situation.
If the comments continue, state that you’re happy to address their feedback, but you won’t be able to do so until they contact you with their details. If they become abusive, tell them you won’t engage with them. And if you feel the need, you can flag and report their comments.
4. Develop a policy for handing online feedback
You should have a unified and consistent approach to dealing with complaints across your business. To do this, develop a policy for responding to online feedback that:
- Outlines the process for handling different types of feedback
- Establishes an escalation process for complaints or negative comments
- Incorporates staff training so that those responsible for monitoring and responding to online feedback are able to do so well.
Creating a publicly available user policy that outlines how you expect customers to engage with your business online is also useful. For example, you can state that swearing, personal attacks and spamming will not be tolerated, and will be deleted.
5. Reward referrals
There’s no bigger compliment than when one of your existing customers refers a friend. So why not thank them for it?
Look at ways for your business to encourage referrals – whether it’s by offering discounts or premiums – every time an existing customer refers a new one to you.
6. See what you can learn
Sometimes the online feedback you receive can hold valuable lessons for your business. If there’s a common theme, for example – whether it’s about long wait times for meals on a Sunday, or an overly strict Christmas gift returns policy – see if it’s something you can address.
If more than a few customers are flagging it as an issue, it’s worth noting. And if you fix it, there’s every chance someone will notice – and post positive feedback on it in future.
Managing your small business’ online reputation is an ongoing task – but a worthwhile one.
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