In the past, word of mouth built a business’s reputation. If your mother had a bad experience at a restaurant or a car dealership or a dentist, she probably told family and friends about it and that company may have lost some business.online-consumer-reviews

In today’s digital world, online consumer reviews are the new word of mouth. With the click of a button, consumers can share an experience or opinion with everyone on the internet. Good or bad, this will impact a company’s reputation. In fact, people don’t even have to buy a product or service. Simply interacting with a business can make an impression that can end up in an online review.

This new reality should make every business owner take pause. To survive and thrive, businesses, big and small, have to understand how online consumer reviews impact them.

The Reach of Online Critics

Research conducted about the impact and usage of online consumer reviews is rather surprising. It tells a clear story of just how important online reviews are to business reputation and their impact on sales.

Recent research conducted by digital software firm Vendasta shows just how important it is to look at every customer as a potential critic. Here are some of the more powerful:

  • 100% of consumers making over $150,000 per year claim to leave online reviews when it comes to poor customer service.
  • 94% of consumers would use a business with a four star rating. That number drops to 57% for a business with a three star rating, and to 14% for a business with just one or two stars.
  • 88% of shoppers use online reviews to make purchasing decisions.
  • 86% of consumers will hesitate to purchase from a company with bad online reviews.
  • Between one and three bad online reviews are enough to deter 67% of shoppers from purchasing a product or service.
  • 58% of consumers have begun leaving more and more online reviews about customer service over the last five years.
  • Online reviews produce and average uptick in sales of 18%.

Online Critics Have Many Platforms

It turns out that people love to judge products and services, and no place demonstrates that more clearly than the internet. Let’s consider Yelp. The website asserts that it has more than 53 million consumer reviews, an average of 120 million unique visitors each month, and estimates that 26,380 online consumer reviews are posted every minute. Those are pretty staggering numbers.

And Yelp has a lot of company. Reviews for businesses in general can be found at Google+, Yahoo! Local, Bing Local and the Yellow Pages. These sites post online customer reviews for everything from bars and clubs to plumbers and roofers. Social Media also plays a big role with Foursquare, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

A quick search on Google will show you that there are also online review sites for specific industries. Houzz, Home Advisor and Angie’s List are platforms for home remodeling and home improvement professionals. The travel and tourism industry has Trip Advisor and Expedia. In addition to Yelp, restaurants are reviewed on Open Table and Zomato.com (formerly Urbanspoon). Doctor and dentists have Health Grades and Doctor.com, and there are others for car dealers and repair shops, lawyers and law firms, apartments, employers and more.

Key Ways Online Reviews Impact Businesses

Good or bad, online reviews help consumers form an opinion about your business without ever interacting with it personally. How people react to your product or service not only builds your brand reputation, they influence future business and sales.

Obviously, positive reviews can drive new business while negative reviews can cost business. But online consumer reviews can also provide your competitors with key business information. Reviews may post what’s wrong with your business. A savvy competitor may use that information strategically to tweak their products or services, pulling customers away from you.

Actively request new reviews and keep them fresh. Getting as many reviews as possible helps tell your story and brings you up in search rankings.

One very important thing to keep in mind is that online reviews can make a long-lasting, even indefinite, impact on your business. Once reviews are posted, business owners can’t easily have them removed though it’s not impossible.

Defending Your Reputation and Brand from Online Consumer Reviews

First, check and/or claim your online reviews. Make sure they are accurate and include as much information as possible. This may put you a step ahead of at least some of your competitors. If you can include photos, be sure you do. People can form a better impression of your business with images.

Respond to both positive and negative online reviews. If you get so many reviews that it’s impossible to respond to every review, choose some positive reviews to respond to, but be sure to respond to every negative review. Be professional and offer solutions, if possible.

For positive reviews, thank customers for their feedback. Tell them you’re happy that they were satisfied. For negative reviews, start a dialog or personally reach out to customers, show them that you are sincerely interested in why they were not satisfied. If appropriate, apologize. If not, try to understand why the consumer was unhappy and see if you can remedy the situation. If the customer has a valid concern or complaint, can you correct the situation?

Most importantly, you want to proactively monitor online consumer reviews on a regular basis. Set a schedule. Read your reviews as often as it’s appropriate. An online reputation management tool can simplify the process and allow you to take decisive action quickly.

If you would like to learn how online reputation management can help protect your business from online critics, contact us today.

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