More consumers than ever before are sharing their good and bad shopping experiences on Internet review sites. And the public is reading those reports before making buying decisions. Retailers must protect their brands by responding appropriately to negative reviews, promoting positive ones, and posting helpful information for an Internet-connected public.
“Online comments will become increasingly important to retailers because of the growing power of social media,” says Daniel Burrus, a business consultant based in Hartland, Wisconsin. “As a business image builder, the use of social media is a ‘hard trend’ that will become more prevalent.”
The “social” part of that trend, says Burrus, carries the payload. “We humans are social beings. When a technology satisfies that need a revolution is created.” Smartphones, in particular, give customers the power to broadcast a shopping experience instantly to friends and strangers alike.
If all this makes the online world seem like a scary monster, take heart: You can bridle the Internet beast and turn its power to your advantage. “Many people don’t think of their online presence as something that can be monitored and built,” says Hersh Davis-Nitzberg, a Beverly Hills, California-based consultant. In fact, he says, a carefully designed image improvement plan can raise your profile as a quality retailer.
How to? Davis-Nitzberg suggests letting a few key principles guide your actions. The first is to realize that building a great reputation means more than responding appropriately to negative reviews. “You need to do more than just repair damage that is done online,” he says. “You also need to create a positive image for your brand.”
“You need to understand your centers of influence,” says Beal. “Where is your target audience? Where do they hang out online and directly discuss your business? Don’t just assume the answer is Facebook and Twitter. Maybe people are going to Yelp, or Angie’s List, or a special forum.”
One way to find out the answer is to use Google to search for your business name or industry keywords, says Beal. “The most active communities will show up higher on the results. You can also search your competitors’ names to find out where they are focusing their efforts.”
Bonus tip: Survey your customers. Ask them what Internet sites they go to for trusted information about retailers.
Eliminate The Negative
Mention social media to most retailers and you’ll hear a horror story about a negative review.
So a Bad Review Happens to You. What Should You Do?
Avoid the temptation to ignore the negative review. A lack of response makes a terrible impression on the public. People will think, “That retailer does not care about taking care of customer problems.” At the same time, avoid a knee jerk response. “If you get a negative review do not start an argument online,” advises Michael Fertik, Executive Chairman of Reputation.Com, a Redwood City, California-based reputation management firm. “Pause and take a breath. Analyze the review before taking action.”
Fertik suggests beginning with an assessment of the quality of the review. Is it written in all caps, and filled with exclamation points? People are likely to discount the poster as a dubious source of information, especially if the review is the only negative one of a dozen others. In such a case you might post a reasonable response such as, “Thank you for your feedback. We are taking steps to resolve this issue.” A simple response like that one will communicate your concern to other customers reading the reviews, without raising undue hopes that you will be able to mollify a crank.
Next, says Burrus,
The customer’s request may be for much less than you might think. Very often, says Burrus, all the complaining customer wants is an acknowledgement that a complaint is justified, that a transaction did not go off as planned. “People really want to be heard,” says Burrus. “So instead of protecting your point of view, agree with them.”
If the original review was a thoughtful and carefully written one, the customer will likely respond with a reasonable request. Agree to what the customer asks and post instructions on how the customer can participate in resolving the matter. If the request is unreasonable, post a thoughtful alternative. Keep negotiating with the customer until the matter is resolved.
And now the best news of all:
Bonus tip: Consider creating a page on your website that contains a dozen or so glowing reviews. Then, when a review on a public site seems unreasonable, you can post a link to your assembled quotes, along with the words, “Here is a link to a dozen of our customers who disagree with you.”
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.
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 dialog will show people that you care and that you want to make things right,” says Burrus. “People see that you are trying.”
The above comments reflect a key principle:
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.
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.”
Physical retail stores have an advantage, because they can encourage a public dialog 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 web site. That helps enhance your reputation even further.”
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 ones 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.
Tools to Mind Your Image
So many review sites, so many social networks, so little time. How can you track what customers are saying about your store?
One part of the answer is to utilize services that will alert you whenever a nasty (or positive) comment appears. Here are a few of the most active. Give each service a trial run to determine which works best for you.
BrandsEye. How’s your store brand doing versus the competition? Monitors up to 10 phrases. (brandseye.com).
Brandwatch. Personalized assistance in watching your business name and managing your reputation. Expensive. (brandwatch.com).
Google Alerts. Perhaps the most popular of the lot, and free. Sends a notification anytime a post is made about your business. (google.com/alerts).
SDL (formerly Alterian). Offers detailed marketing analytics. Let’s you interact directly with reviewers. (sdl.com).
Trackur. Monitors both web site and social networks. Assesses poster’s degree of influence. (trackur.com).
Twitter Alerts. Receive text, email or voice messages when specific data appear. (alerts.com)
Yahoo alerts. For registered Yahoo users. Sends email or texts when designated topics appear. (yahoo.com).