Online communication and customer reviews

If your business has an online presence, such as a website or social media accounts, you will need to manage the online communications with your customers and what they say about you. You will need to be aware of the different ways your customers communicate and put plans in place to manage them effectively.

Online customer communication can include:

  • social media posts and comments
  • emails
  • replies to your blogs
  • live chats
  • feedback forms on your website.

You will also need to monitor what your customers say about your business through online reviews. Responding effectively to reviews can benefit your customer service and promotions.

Managing your online communication

Managing your digital communication effectively and promptly is vital for your business's online reputation. Digital communications require the same level of customer service as traditional face to face contact.

Well-managed digital communications help to create a solid relationship with your customers.

Effective online communications will help you:

  • manage online information about your business
  • improve your business reputation
  • answer customer inquiries
  • engage effectively with your customers and potential customers
  • influence the information shared about your business online.

Develop online communication policies and procedures

You should create policies and procedures for your online communication to ensure clear and consistent messaging for the business, regardless of who is communicating with customers. These will be useful for staff training.

When creating policies and procedures, consider how you will manage the following:

  • emails
  • customer enquiry forms
  • your brand and image presentation in correspondence
  • who will answer on behalf of the organisation
  • setting up automatic replies
  • meeting expectations on response times
  • what hours you are available to communicate back to customers online
  • training staff to effectively communicate online on your behalf
  • deciding on who will manage the different channels (i.e. private messages, live chat, threads, comments, emails)
  • checking and quality-assuring staff communications.

Tips for managing your digital communication

  • Prominently present and explain contact options and expected timelines for a reply.
  • State a reply timeframe (24–48 hours is standard) and use automated responses if you expect that this may take longer in some cases.
  • Explain your complaint-handling procedure and the relevant channels to help direct these types of communications to a private forum for management.
  • Avoid open discussions about complaints by publicly acknowledging the customer complaint and directing them to a private forum.
  • Plan all communications based on your available resources and what you know you can manage effectively.
  • Your communications must be of a consistent tone and style that aligns with your brand image.
  • Proofread all communications before sending to ensure correct grammar, professionalism and suitability for public forums. All digital communications can easily be shared publicly and so should be written and edited with this in mind.

Business support for online communications

Managing your online communication can become a large and complex task. You may struggle to find the time to manage this effectively while working on other parts of your business. You can seek professional support to manage your online communications.

You can use professional communications support services to:

  • develop policy and procedures
  • implement staff training
  • implement communication best practice
  • manage all or part of your communications.

Professionals or organisations that can help manage online communications include:

  • public relations management companies
  • online assistants
  • administrators and personal assistant
  • chat services
  • social media managers.

Online customer reviews of your business

Customer reviews are a form of digital feedback customers share online about your products and services. Customer review websites provide customers with the opportunity to review businesses independently.

Review websites enable customers to formally and informally discuss and rate your business online.

Customers are often given general guidelines for reviews and asked to allocate a rating for the product or service. Review websites then use an algorithm (mathematical formula) to filter out any reviews that they suspect are false or automatically generated before posting the remaining reviews.

Positive online reviews increase the likelihood of customers using your business. Negative online reviews give your business an opportunity to respond well publicly and to improve your services in response.

Reviews enable direct insight into customers opinions, values and disappointments and can guide necessary adjustments to your business practices.

Benefits of customer reviews

There is a range of benefits to business that result from customer reviews, and these include:

  • each online review is a form of free advertising for your business
  • reviews provide exposure to a broad audience that could otherwise be very expensive through traditional marketing channels
  • reviews influence search engine results by enabling your business to rank higher the more often your business is mentioned online
  • reviews increase the brand trust your customers and potential customers have
  • reviews offer an excellent opportunity to resolve a customer's problem and improve business practices
  • you can use well handled negative reviews to build stronger customer relations and fortify your brand and professionalism.
  • replying to both positive and negative reviews demonstrates to customers that you're interested in what they have to say. They can also show customers that you're committed to improving your products and services.
  • reviews give great insight as to where your customers are spending time online.

Managing customer reviews

It may seem challenging to manage reviews because you cannot control what people on the internet will say. However, you can take various steps to control how your business is presented and benefit from both positive and negative reviews.

The following actions can help with effective customer review management.

  • Research and identify the websites where your business frequently receives reviews and set a schedule to read and respond to these reviews regularly. Common review websites include Google Business Reviews, Yelp, Facebook, Zomato and TripAdvisor.
  • Claim your business pages to control your online profiles and content:
    • visit review websites and register/sign up
    • read the website's participation rules
    • look for claim button or link (i.e. 'For business', 'Claim your page' or 'Unlock your page')
    • enter details about your business
    • follow remaining steps on each review website as needed
    • turn on notifications from each review website (each time a review is left, you will get an email).
  • Set up Google alerts to search for your business or product name—you will receive an email any time your business is mentioned online.
  • Display the logo of review websites on your online platforms and website to encourage reviews.
  • Decide on who within your business will respond to reviews and set some rules for these responses.
  • If you are allocating a staff member to respond to reviews, train them in:
    • customer service
    • writing styles and responses that suit your brand
    • allowable customer complaint resolution
    • when to refer a review to you or a senior staff member.
  • Encourage and direct customer reviews to preferred review websites:
    • provide cards in physical locations or with purchases that contain links to preferred review websites
    • request reviews from satisfied customers
    • email customers after a purchase and request reviews on preferred review websites.
  • Apply best practice when responding to reviews:
    • reply to the customer as soon as possible
    • address them personally
    • thank the customer for the review
    • acknowledge the customer point of view (for both negative and positive reviews):
      • for positive reviews, you can respond to the particulars of the review on the public forum.
      • for negative reviews, provide direct contact for the reviewer so the complaint can be dealt with privately.

What to avoid when managing customer reviews

  • Avoid getting into a public dialogue with customers about why they are unhappy—acknowledge how they feel and indicate how you will contact them directly to try and resolve their concerns.
  • Avoid offering rewards or other incentives to your customers for reviews.
  • Do not:
    • write fake reviews, which are unethical and breach review website rules
    • use review websites to tarnish a competitor
    • immediately respond to a negative review—take time to step back from the issue and consider your solution before replying
    • give rude, aggressive or flippant responses to customer reviews
    • ignore customer concerns, points of view or issues they raise—they are great insights to help your business improve
    • assume private messages to customers will remain confidential—anything online can be shared. Remember everything online is always public
    • ignore review website rules for business—always maintain a professional presence
    • leave false or inappropriate reviews online (Note: If you receive false reviews, you can ask the review website to remove them)
    • fail to investigate or research negative reviews—it's important to seek to address the reason for the incident so that your business uses the information contained in reviews to improve. Speak to your staff in addition to the customer, so you have both sides of the incident.

Learn more about managing online reviews from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Note: If you feel unfairly pressured by customers or review website businesses in relation to providing incentives (e.g. room upgrades, free meals) in return for the customer not posting a negative review, you should seek legal advice or report the matter to the Office of Fair Trading.

Reviews as a promotional tool

The internet has given customer opinions mass exposure, which has increased the use of customer review websites and the level of trust customers and potential customers have in online reviews.

Reviews are free advertisements from genuine customers—they have the power to turn a potential customer into your customer by increasing purchasing confidence and helping with decision making.

You can use reviews in your promotions and online marketing efforts.

Using reviews to promote your business

Reviews and customer testimonials can be valuable when used in promotional materials and on your website or other media channels.

Reviews create trust—the more confidence a person has in your business, the more likely that they will become your customer.

If you plan to use reviews for promotional purposes, you should seek permission from the customer first.

All information used in promotional material must be accurate—the reviews must be authentic and reflect the actual views of the person who left the review. It is not legal to alter customer reviews or edit them in any way to make the organisation appear in a more positive light.

Read the ACCCs online product and service reviews to learn more about the legal requirements of using reviews in promotions.

Ways to use reviews in promotional materials include:

  • quotes—you can feature positive customer reviews prominently on your website
  • social media posts—if a customer creates a post mentioning your business, share that image or post to your own social media profile to showcase the customer review
  • video reviews—encourage your customers to review your products on camera. Upload these videos to your website or social media sites. Unboxing videos have gained popularity in recent times
  • customer testimonial page—gather all the reviews your customers have left online on various review websites and repurpose them on a dedicated page on your website. Alternatively, select a few customers and spotlight them on your website

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