Understanding Reputation Marketing

How important is your reputation to you?

Some say that your reputation is all you have.  That once it is tarnished, it is very hard to recover.

Warren Buffet is quoted as saying. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it.”

And, if you think about your own judgment process about selecting a place to do business, your impression of the reputation of the business will absolutely impact your decision to buy.

Now, there are exceptions.  A gas station with a lousy reputation 60 miles from the next station when your gauge is on empty.  A grungy convenience store that has cold water when you really need it.  An airline you hate that has the last flight home or spend the night in Akron.  Those are exceptions.

But, by and large, when you have a poor impression about a business, you look elsewhere.

That is why businesses, more and more, are very conscious of their reputations.  They go great lengths to make sure their images remain as positive as possible.

Ironically, businesses are less than ever in control of public opinion with the advent of dozens of “review sites”.  Ever since Amazon started the phenomenon of letting average consumers be the judge of what is good and not-so-good, the business world has been changed forever.

Today, every single business is totally exposed to the opinions of the masses.  Businesses are naked online.

Of course, this can lead to abuse, but it is not as frequent as you might think.  Review sites are pretty sophisticated these days.  A competitor may get away with a single scurrilous fake review, but not many of them.  And, while fake negative reviews can be removed if the case can be proven, often that is challenging.

The bigger problem for businesses today is – the TRUTH.  Under-serve customers and you will get exposed.  And, a great many businesses don’t even know they have been slammed.  They are not paying attention.  Those days are quickly coming to a close.  Soon every business owner will be acutely aware of his or her online reputation.  And, it will make their businesses better as a result.

Today, 90 percent of people say they trust recommendations of friends.  Surprisingly, 83 percent of people say they trust the recommendations of total strangers if they do not appear to have an agenda.

Think of your own experience when you make a purchase.  You may check reviews on Amazon before buying a product online.  You will check the experience rating of a seller on eBay before bidding.  You’ll check TripAdvisor before booking a hotel reservation. And you’ll check Yelp before picking a restaurant, or dentist, or plumber or a house cleaning service.  In the past you checked Consumer Reports and many still do or go off what you heard from friends and relatives.

People like the comfort of the experiences of others before making a purchase.  Conversely, should you have selected a provider and, before buying, check online to see what others think; 85 percent of people say they would change their minds if they read sufficient negative evidence written by others.

Throughout history, this has been the case.  It was called “word-of-mouth” advertising.  Today it is even better – or possibly, more dangerous.  It is incredibly hard to hide behind ignorance of those customers who have not heard the negatives yet.

Today, the Internet is the great equalizer.  It will make good businesses better and bad businesses gone.

Perhaps you have heard that a happy customer will tell a friend, but an unhappy customer will tell seven other people.  Well, today it is worse.

Today, many people, expecting a good experience from the provider may tell a friend but, only a very few will take the trouble to write a positive review on an online site.  Delivering on what you say is not unusual for them.  It is what they expect.

But, mishandle a customer and things change dramatically.  They are anxious to share their negative experiences.  In fact, consumers are 41 percent more likely to post a negative review online than a positive one.  This is not fair to businesses.  The system is skewed to the negative and, given that, you can realize how expensive that can be for a business.

A Harvard study claims that one additional “star” in a Yelp rating is worth 5% to 9% in annual revenue.  For a typical small business generating $500,000 per year that is $30,000 to $50,000!

Perhaps now you see why businesses will be paying much greater attention to ratings in the coming months and years.

So, how does this play out in the real world?  Recently both Google and Yelp altered their algorithms to account for two main factors in their rankings of businesses on line.  You would discover this ranking if you were to put the generic name of the business – like Italian restaurant or orthodontist or home cleaning service or oil change – along with the name of the city in which you are looking for the service.  For example [name of your city] and orthodontist.

Google and Yelp and others will likely follow, count the number of reviews and the ratings of those reviews to decide who gets to show up first in the listings.  In the case of Google, the top seven show up in what is called the “Map Pack”.   That is the map of the area you described with little Google flags spotted on that map.  To the left of the map is the listing of the businesses, their star rating and a link to the reviews.  Generally, but not always, those businesses will have mostly positive reviews.

Every business gets some negative reviews.  You can’t please everyone, but there are ways to handle those.  More about that in a minute.

So, what is a business owner to do with this new world of reputation nudity?

The key is absolute vigilance.  First, of course, is do your job.  Make customer satisfaction the top priority for you and each of your employees at every level.  Something else that is surprisingly easy, but not often done is, ASK!   Ask how customers are experiencing your service.  Of course, you will fix anything that the customer finds lacking.  But, when you have a satisfied customer, ASK again.

Ask a customer to take the time to provide an online review.  Not everyone will, but the more you ask, the greater the likelihood more will.

You can help this process with a few easy steps:

Remind them:  Provide a postcard or business card that lists the review sites you want them to post on.

Simplify it for them:  Include a QR code on the postcard or business card that directly links them to the sites you want them to go – directly to your listing.

Teach them how:  Meineke, for example, goes into great detail about how to do this.  It has significantly increased the number of people who went online to do reviews.

Automate the process:   You can offer your customer an iPad or tablet that asks them three questions and they can answer by giving you from one to five stars.  If they give you a less-than-positive rating (three stars or less), the customer can then type their issues on the iPad and that text is immediately sent to a manger’s cell phone.

If they give you a positive rating (four or five stars), the iPad asks the customer to submit a testimonial.  This testimonial is posted to your webpage, your Facebook page, the customer’s Facebook page if he or she wants and then sends an email that thanks the customer and repeats the testimonial asking the customer to post it to a review site the link for which is in the email.

Next it is critical that you monitor your review sites.  On those sites that allow a reply, immediately reply to any reviews positive or negative.  Make people know you are aware and care.

What about those negative reviews?  They will happen.  There are services out there that promise to “get rid of” negative reviews.  This is a false claim.  They may bury them, but they are rarely removed.

A negative review can be removed in cases of racist or profane language.  It can be removed if you can prove it was sabotage by someone wanting to harm you, perhaps a competitor or ex-spouse.

One other thing.  It is against the law to promise a reward or some form of incentive for a positive review.  It makes the review “paid advertising” and must be described as such according to the Federal Trade Commission.  You may reward a customer for leaving one, but you cannot promise one in advance.

Except for the automated iPad method described above, you can do everything yourself.  There are no tricks or hidden methods.  It just takes time and commitment from you and everyone involved in your business.