Tips for successfully managing online customer reviews
To manage online reviews of your business, you need to know when and where they appear. Luckily, free services exist that will track and report them for you.
Many review sites (e.g. Yelp, Product Review, TripAdvisor) can send a notification each time you're reviewed, provided you 'join' the site. If you want to search more broadly, Google Alerts will report mentions of your business (or any other term that you request) in web pages, blogs, videos and discussions. Twitter Search allows you to search Twitter for any term.
You can also pay for more sophisticated 'reputation monitoring'. If you're interested in doing this, seek the advice of a social media consultant.
Claim or create your business page
Sites such as Yelp, Zomato and Google Places use publicly available data (e.g. from the telephone directory) to generate a page for your business. Some sites do this only when you're reviewed, but others do it automatically to provide complete search listings for users.
Claiming your page is free, and you then have control over what it contains. Or, if a page hasn't been created, you can create one yourself. To claim or create a page, visit the site concerned and look for a button or link that says something like 'For business', 'Claim your page' or 'Unlock your page'.
Claiming your page may improve your listing in search rankings, and will often give you access to special services provided by the review site (e.g. tools to track and analyse reviews, and the option of communicating privately with reviewers).
Decide who handles reviews
Each business must decide who will monitor and respond to customer reviews. Many sites allow only one management response per review, and you also want to control the quality of your responses (e.g. you don't want a junior waiter insulting a customer who has complained about the waiter's serving skills!)
The staff member who handles online reviews needs to have:
- a strong customer service attitude
- a friendly writing style
- the authority to resolve complaints
- good judgement about when to refer a review to more senior staff.
Respond to positive reviews
Most marketers suggest responding to positive reviews so customers know that you appreciate their compliments. Some recommend sending a private message that only the customer will see, while others suggest responding publicly (if you're responding to 'reviews' on forums such as Facebook and Twitter, you may have no choice but to respond publicly). You may also have to decide if you answer everypositive review or just the ones that stand out.
Most experts say not to offer tangible rewards (e.g. gift vouchers) to reviewers, because this can be construed as a bribe for future positive comments. Nor should you annoy reviewers by targeting them with advertising or asking them to join your mailing list. It's best to simply introduce yourself and say thank you. If some other aspect of your business might be of particular interest to them, it's probably fine to mention that too (e.g. if a customer praises a particular brand of stereo, you could let them know that you'll be expanding that range next month). Use your judgement on a case-by-case basis.
Manage negative reviews
Many businesses fear negative online reviews because they may drive away existing and potential customers. Thankfully, it is possible to manage negative reviews, and even turn them to your advantage in some situations.
Read our detailed advice on managing negative online reviews.
Follow each site's rules
Most review sites stipulate that reviews and responses must not contain personal attacks, profanity, breaches of privacy, advertising, or criticisms of the site itself (e.g. you can't say that a site is unfair, even if you believe it is). Other sites (e.g. TripAdvisor) go further and say that all material must be 'family friendly'.
Whichever site you want to join, read their rules carefully. There's no point writing a response that breaks the site's rules because it won't be published anyway. In the case of personal blogs, there may be no official rules, but it's best to follow the rules that the bigger sites use - even if the blogger themself appears not to.
Don't post fake reviews
It's unethical and a breach of site rules to post positive reviews about your own business or negative reviews about your competitors. This applies to business owners but also to staff and to any family or friends who are not genuine customers. Posting fake reviews may also be illegal. In some countries, business owners are using lawyers to challenge what they believe are false and defamatory negative reviews. Larger review sites filter any reviews that they believe are false.
Encourage positive reviews
One of the best ways to get online reviews working for you is to encourage happy customers to post positive reviews. But take care how you do this so that it doesn't backfire.
- display the logos of the review sites in your store and on your website
- provide comment cards in store that include the logos and web addresses of review sites (customers can either drop the card in your suggestion box, or take it away and post their comment on line)
- embed a 'Review us now' button on your website that takes customers to the review site
- regularly give customers new reasons to review your business (e.g. introduce new offers, products and incentives)
- consider asking especially satisfied customers to post a review (e.g. the customer who sent you a postcard saying that your whitewater rafting trip was the highlight of their holiday)
- aim to add a few new reviews each month.
- send an email to your entire customer list asking them to post a positive review - a wave of positive reviews posted simultaneously will either be filtered out as fake or regarded with great suspicion by readers
- offer incentives to 'bribe' customers to review you - their reviews are likely to sound forced and to be filtered out or ignored by readers. Plus you won't really learn what your customers think.