The internet is revolutionizing business marketing and competition in many industries. Like any new technology or media, it will become increasingly commonplace at all levels and sizes of business. The most sophisticated and competitive business owners will adopt it as part of a total marketing and customer engagement package. These businesses will be attractive to current and prospective customers. Their online branding will reinforce for current customers that they’re making a good choice in continuing to do business with that business, just as a clean store or office and friendly staff will reinforce that it’s a desirable place to visit and do business. The least successful businesses will slowly see their business decline as their competitors receive more and more of the new customers, and those who are “shopping around” in their local geography.
Businesses who aren’t current in their practices and who fail to adopt all available means of interacting with prospective and current customers will slowly lose market share to their more competitive rivals. The pathetic cycle of revenue and profit reduction will accelerate until it seems (and may ultimately become) irrecoverably fatal for the business. There are many victims of business failure:
- owners lose passive income,
- employees lose jobs,
- the remaining happy customers have to find a new supplier, and
- competitors have to find a way to accommodate the sudden influx of new business without sacrificing service and product quality.
As this article shows, consumers use online information to make purchase decisions. You must make sure your online reputation supports a choice in your favor. Millennials are the first generation to grow up not knowing what life was like without a keyboard, computer, or smart phone. As their economic and spending power increases, they’ll do more online research about potential vendors (the equivalent of letting their “fingers do the walking” in the olden days), and they’ll continue to leave more feedback about those vendors online. If you’re to meet your customers where they are and where they’ll increasingly be, you need to be online for a portion of your marketing and brand management also.
The Olden Days
For local brick and mortar service businesses during the 20th century, advertising and reputation management was about phone books, newspapers, and maybe direct mail. In the same way phone books were a constant source of information for companies who chose to use them as a means of reaching new and current vendors, the internet is also a continuously available, 24x7x365 source of information about the company, its competitors, and the overall market in which it operates. However, the Internet has significant advantages over the phone book:
- Access and good positioning on the internet is cheaper and easier than advertising and receiving good positioning in the phone book or newspaper.
- It’s nearly always possible and nearly free to modify information about a company on the internet, whereas it’s impossible to modify a phone book or a printed advertisement once ads are designed, the publication is printed and delivered to prospective customers.
- A company may control its own online branding and presence, for very low or no cost. To the contrary, paper media typically requires third party intermediaries and services to create and manage.
A company’s online information can be changed in a few minutes. It would be a whole year before the phone book was updated, and it would require interaction and payments to a vendor to create the change. Representatives of a company can update most properly designed internet information services for free, on their own, without intermediaries.
New Business Skills Will Be Required Permanently
This is a new, real, and permanent change in the business landscape in the 21st century. Previously, this kind of public shaming of a company could only happen if a person chose to take out an ad in the newspaper or other media disparaging your company, and even then it would run for only one or a few days, at the expense of the reviewer. Maybe as a free alternative they’d park a vehicle in front of your business with a sign, or they’d take the time to picket at your business. There were real barriers for customers to do this. Now there are numerous places where negative statements end up, at no cost to the reviewer, and where they remain permanently until a representative of your company takes decisive action to address the negative review.
Few companies manage this process well, and given companies’ tendency to do most new things well only for a short while, there’s an opportunity for you and your company to own your local market and competition, and to gather an asymmetrical percentage of new business over time, if you take ownership and build this as a strength of your company’s operation.
Doing Nothing Costs You Sales And Delivers New Business To Your Competitors
The benefit of managing this 21st century online community exceeds the benefits of doing nothing. Your response is an opportunity to share what you do to ensure a positive experience for every customer in every interaction. (A pattern of similar negative reviews may also be an opportunity to see where your operations can improve or optimize). Future customers will see you’re actively working with your existing customers to solve problems, even when it’s sometimes clear other reviewer aren’t working with you. This is a net positive for the value of your company and your customers’ experience. All responsible adults and good customers realize sometimes errors occur, and they want to know problems will be solved instead of hoping your business is perfect and later finding they were wrong.
- Most reviewers are genuinely concerned about an experience they had, and they’re willing to understand what happened and give your company a second chance.
- There appears to be a second type of reviewer (maybe sometimes a representative of your competitor) who relishes the opportunity to make vague, negative statements about companies online. Addressing these reviews directly can help to highlight how unfair a reviewer is being in their review of your business.
- Leaving a negative comment unmanaged leaves a permanent negative impression in the minds of current and future customers. There’s only downside in this. Responding affirmatively enables you to put some positive energy back into the system.
- Never respond in a negative, demeaning, or condescending tone. Again, you are the positive force for public opinion about your company, no matter what trash or truth others are willing and feeling empowered to share in the relative anonymity of the internet.
- Always turn these interactions into an opportunity to:
- promote the positive elements of your process that are designed to ensure 100% positive customer experience.
- publicly demonstrate your ownership and accountability for your company’s operations.
- confirm you have processes that are designed to ensure 100% positive customer experience.
- own your company’s positive reputation and customer experience.
- recognize that errors will occur and difficult problems will result: your customers just want to be heard and treated fairly when this happens.
- provide a specific means for the negative reviewer to receive the personal attention they failed to receive at the time of dissatisfaction.
- never let a negative statement about your company, your staff, your service, or your products be the final word on the subject.
- see online reviews as feedback about what’s working in your business and where your business can improve.
- leave a positive impression of your company and improve the situation for the benefit of all stakeholders!
Once negative reviews are out there unmanaged, they will have the real effect of causing potential customers to go elsewhere. The net result is a meaningful percentage of new customers will go to your competitors instead. You have to manage these interactions, or the long term effect on your company is your company’s earnings systematically decay while your competitors grow ever more profitable, with resources to outcompete you.
5 Steps to Manage Your Online Reputation
- Know the customers in your market and the places they seek or exchange information about services or products like yours.
- Locate the web sites where your prospects and customers are researching and sharing about your company and other local companies in your industry.
- Do your own research.
- Ask your prospects and customers.
- Perform a survey.
- Encourage your customers to provide feedback on those websites with physical signage, encouragement on receipts, flyers, bag drops, and product tags. For example: “If you had a great experience, please tell a friend and leave a positive review on a local business social media site. If we didn’t meet your expectations, please let us make it right: notify our General Manager, Manager Name, at (XXX) XXX-XXXX.”
- Monitor those web sites and consider what customers and prospects are saying about you and your competitors.
- Engage your reviewers. (Slight modifications are necessary for companies that are subject to HIPAA regulations: more about that in a future post.)
- Provide positive feedback for those customers who provide positive feedback. For example: “Thank you for your kind words! We work hard to ensure you have a great experience every time, and we appreciate your feedback when we succeed. I’ll be sure to share your kind words with our staff. Please say ‘Hello’ the next time you’re in the store! We’d love to meet you in person.”
- Professionally address every negative review, offer to fix the problem, and request the opportunity to do so. For example: “I’m sorry to see we didn’t meet your expectations. . . Something must have gone terribly wrong for 3 shirts to be ‘completely destroyed’. No part of ours or any modern dry cleaning operation would generally cause the complete destruction of a garment. Please call me directly at the phone number on your receipt, so we can resolve the matter fully. I’ll also send you a private message to ensure you have contact information. Once again, we’re terribly sorry for the inconvenience and for your dissatisfaction, and we hope you’ll give us the opportunity to understand what happened and to resolve the problem to your satisfaction.” Here’s a great example of a real response to a negative review.
Create A Process For Continuous Improvement
No part of the above is particularly difficult or time-consuming, any more than most customer interactions are usually difficult or time-consuming. As a result, like most of your business processes, these activities can be standardized and delegated. Once you or a responsible member of your management team takes ownership for these activities, understands them, and defines some basic procedures for managing them, they can largely be put ‘on auto-pilot’ with members of your staff. Define a few simple metrics, and let these staff members share what they’re learning about customers and organizational performance. Create a complete feedback loop for this information, and enable all operations participants to receive valuable information timely, so continuous improvement is possible.
21 Ways You Can Present Your Best Face To The Public
- Perform a Marketing assessment
- Create a Marketing strategy and policy
- Create a Marketing plan
- Develop a Marketing operations manual
- Publish a Website
- Create a Web operations manual
- Maintain your Website
- Perform a Social media assessment
- Create a Social media strategy and policy
- Create one or more Social media accounts for your business
- Maintain your Social media presence. Social media may include the following (please leave a comment if you know others).
- Google and dozens of other search engines
Confused about where to start or how far to go? Let me help!
- Share your experience below. What worked for your business and what didn’t? Why or why not?
- Let me know in the comments below if I’ve met my purposes.
7 Online Reputation Management Resources
Not all are specifically for businesses. Please leave a comment below if you know others.
- Brandyourself.com (My personal page, as an example)
- Remote.com (formerly branded.me. My personal page, as an example)
5 Local Business Reputation Management Resources
Please leave a comment if you know others.
- Industry associations
- Local leads clubs
- Professional associations
- Chamber of Commerce
- Better Business Bureau
Brand Development Resources
Audience For This Post
- Local business owners and operators who are getting crushed on the internet at yelp and search engines.
- Local business owners and operators who are ready to crush their competition.
- medical offices
- dry cleaners
- real estate agents
General Purpose Of This Post
- Provoke business owners’ and managers’ concerns they’re not connecting to their biggest audience and they’re giving business to their competitors.
- Inspire business owners and managers to take action to better reach and manage relationships with their prospects and customers.
- Enable business owners and managers to build sustainable business processes that make these skills ongoing marketing strengths of their company.
Specific Purpose Of This Post
Readers will take action and improve their business, serve their customers better, or contact me to discuss their concerns, ideas, fears and opportunities. If they need help, they’ll let me help them create and run their most valuable business.
Originally published at Dylan Cornelius.