Online review sites… Who needs ’em?

March 9, 2015 by

Online review sites. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. If you’re a consumer, it’s where you go to check out a business before going. If you’re a business, you tend to hate them and wish they’d just go away.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, online review sites, like Yelp® and FourSquare®, allow consumers to rate and review your business, often without your knowledge or input.

Consumers love these sites because they can quickly get an idea of what other people thought about your business. They can quickly get a feel for what they’ll experience, based off what others report, when they interacted with your business.

On the flip side, most businesses hate these sites for pretty much the same reason. It takes direct control of their online reputation out of their hands and puts it into the hands of strangers. Their biggest gripe, and fear, is that anyone can put whatever they like on these sites, regardless of accuracy. Put another way, this ‘anyone’ could be their competition, a disgruntled employee, or even a customer who didn’t get special treatment. Even worse, they can leave this review without the business owner having any ability to remove fake reviews.

The funny thing is, these sites can also be a huge source of new customers when used correctly. They can also be the source of competitive business intelligence; data that used to cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to research just a few years ago. The big trick is to view what these sites offer with an open mind.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when you start doing your research is, not all bad reviews are bad and not all good reviews are good. Some bad reviews can actually improve your sales, while some good reviews can actually lower your sales.

In a talk given by Panagiotis Ipeirotis (YouTube® link here), he discovered that some negative reviews, when the reviewer mentioned specific issues that the purchaser didn’t feel were relevant, tended to act like a positive review. In other words, because the negative review didn’t list something that the next customer cared about, they were more likely to buy.

Because the negative review was specific in the complaint, the customer reading the review felt the reviewer was more trustworthy. By the same token, a very general “this item is awesome” type of review tended to be mistrusted because there wasn’t anything specific about it. It tended to lower sales because they didn’t describe why it was so great.

So if all you’re looking at when you check your reviews is whether they’re positive or negative, you’re overlooking the possibility that those negative review might actually be helping your bottom line.

Another aspect of looking at your negative reviews, and to a lesser degree your positive ones, is that they might actually be valid. For example, if you get several reviews stating that employee X is rude, you might want to investigate whether employee X is causing you to lose customers.

Especially in the food business, where atmosphere and customer service can contribute to having repeat clients, having rude or inconsiderate employee can easily break you.

Several years ago, the only way to get this type of information was to hire a secret shopper(s) to come in and pretend to be a customer. Now you have the opportunity to open a website, type in some words, click a few buttons, and have access to that data for free.

Even better, you can gather the same type of research about your competition. Just by surfing on over to their page, you can get an idea of what they’re doing right by studying the good reviews.

You can also spot opportunities to differentiate your business by seeing what your competitors is getting negative reviews on and doing them better. And again, it’s all free at the click of a button.

The hardest thing about doing this research is that you take it too personally. When someone is talking about your business, your baby, you might have a hard time distancing yourself from this information. Instead of taking the information provided and looking for ways to improve your business, you might take the reviews personally.

Unfortunately, taking it personally usually leads to one of two outcomes… You either lay into the reviewer that left the negative review, assuming the site allows it, or you completely avoid the site.

Of the two, ignoring a negative review is the worse option. You can always go back and change your review. You might also have the ability to privately contact the reviewer, depending on the site. Just by reaching out to them and apologizing, they’ll sometimes change their review to a more positive one.

Ignoring the sites completely, on the other hand, means you have no clue what’s being said about you, and by extension, denies you the opportunity to address bad reviews. If bad reviews start piling up, especially about things that can be fixed, then it’s only a matter of time before your customers start going elsewhere.

So the question really becomes, how can you make the most of these review sites? Quite simply, actually look at them. Read what comments are being left, both good and bad.

If they’re bad, figure out if they’re things you can fix. Contact the reviewer, see if they’ll give you another chance. It won’t hurt to reach out to them and try, and it could actually benefit you in more ways than one.

That reviewer might not just change the negative review to a positive one, they might actually tell others about their experience, about how you, the business, actually listened to them and cared enough to right their wrong.

A few minutes of your time can build tremendous goodwill and might even lead to more customers. All because you took notice of a reviewer’s complaint and cared enough to try and make it better..

Even if they won’t change their review, you might be able to determine how to improve the next customer’s experience based off of why you got the negative review originally.

Just so you don’t think I’m just trying to sugarcoat it though, I will say that there’s always a chance that they just wrote a review out of spite, or because they couldn’t get their way, or yes, because a competitor wrote it to hurt your business. It happens. It’s just the cost of doing business.

Now, assuming I convinced you to start looking at online review sites in a different, more positive light, the next step is to actually log onto these sites and:

  • Claim it: Most sites have a process you have to go through to take ownership of the page, allowing you to control the information posted, like menus, services you provide, etc.
  • Put your info on it: Actually put your correct business information on the site. Since these pages are customer generated, they may have incorrect info on the site, like hours of operation, a bad address, or bad phone numbers, etc.
  • Read the reviews: This can be the most time consuming part. Depending on how popular your business is and/or how tech savvy your customers are, you might only have a couple, or a couple hundred, reviews to go through.

After doing these steps, you then need to set up a schedule for checking your page on a regular basis. The more frequently you check, the more likely you are to catch a negative review early, meaning you can reach out to the reviewer and try and address the issue before they stew about it. The downside is that you have to take time away from other duties.

Or you can review your site less frequently. The plus is that you’re not spending as much time on it. The downside is, if you get a negative review, you’re less likely to change their mind the longer the review stays up there.

So it becomes a balancing act. Or you can have someone else do it at your business. The plus to that is, they’re less emotionally attached, so more likely to review the information analytically. The downside is, they’re doing this instead of what they’re normally doing in your business.

The third option is to hire a 3rd party to do it for you. A third party can normally devote the time needed to get the most out of data provided. A lot of them can also monitor the web to see if your business gets mentioned online, either on a different review site, from a blogger or food critic, or possibly even from a news report from a paper or magazine that posts their articles on their website.

So in the end, you have a choice. These sites aren't going anywhere. In fact, they’re only going to get bigger and more authoritative. You can either ignore them or embrace them, but keep in mind, if you ignore them, you do so at your own peril. Choose wisely.

So what are some of your reasons for or against monitoring your business page profiles on sites like Yelp® and FourSquare®? Put your comments in the section down below.

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