Your Reviews: How building your reputation online translates to success offline

For anyone operating a small business, one of the single most important things you can do is take full advantage (and full control) of your online reviews. For the average sports and fitness retailer, this is no secret. But do you ever have a hard time getting started when it comes to your reputation and reviews? Get some tips on why review activity is so vital and how to respond below…

We live in a world of digital shopping assistants

Are you telling them what they need to know?

In a global survey, 74% of in-store shoppers who searched online before going to shop said they searched for information ranging from the closest store near them, locations, in-stock near them, hours, directions, wait times, contact information, and more. – Google/Ipsos Global Retail Study

For the average business owner, it’s hard to deny that dramatic shifts in technology have led to similar shifts in customer behavior. This is true regardless of industry. Today’s consumer is more informed than ever before – and a majority of that information comes directly from the digital shopping assistant in their pocket (their phone).

But before we mourn the death of retail or the loss of the personal touch. Don’t forget: the majority of sales are still happening in stores. In 2019 for example, eCommerce accounted for less than 11% of total retail sales.

The result? While foot traffic to businesses has decreased, the value of each visit has skyrocketed, because more often than not: your customer has already visited you somewhere online and they’re ready to buy.

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Online reviews link two vital elements of your business: the human element and the digital element

The human element

The truth is, 97% of consumers use digital channels to find and research local businesses before making a decision. What they see on those channels directly influences the decisions they make in numerous ways, from how they feel about you to what they know about you. Today’s consumers trust online reviews from strangers as much as the recommendation of a personal friend. Coupled with the ability to interact directly with customers, set an expectation, and encourage further action – online reviews give savvy business owners an incredible edge.

The digital element

While social proof is undoubtedly one of the best reasons to care about reviews, it’s not the only one. In 2017, a study by Search Engine Journal revealed that reviews “appear to be the most prominent factor” when it comes to displaying your business in local search results. Have more good reviews? You’ll enjoy better visibility when local consumers search for your category of business. It’s that simple.

These days, more than half of Google searches end without a click

What does that mean for a business like yours?

It means that, as consumers expect more of search engines, search engines will continue to meet those expectations. Years ago, the goal was to give you a list of relevant web pages. Today, it’s to provide an answer – and now more than ever, those answers are embedded directly in the search results.

You’ll notice this when you ask a question, like “What’s the best grass seed for Florida?” or if you search for a business and immediately find a star rating, reviews, phone number, and a link to their website.

With this in mind, it’s important to remember: when a consumer uses a review platform – whether it’s Google reviews or Yelp, it’s likely that they’re looking to make a decision. While traditional advertising is focused on enticing them, your reviews assure them the decision they’re about to make by calling or visiting is a good one. As a block in your marketing foundation: this digital evolution of ‘word of mouth’ is dangerous to ignore.

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When a customer leaves a positive review…

You should always respond!  Not only does it show customers that you stand behind your product and your service, but it also allows you to engage with your satisfied customers and build trust with them. 

Acknowledge them by name in the response and show them your gratitude. But don’t just stop there. Anyone can write a quick ‘thank you’. This is an opportunity to separate yourself from your competitors. 

Go above and beyond by offering them some sort of extra value, whether that is coming into your store and testing out a new product, or sending a complimentary water bottle or t-shirt to their home with your company’s name and logo on it. Think outside the box if you can. Show them that you don’t just pay attention to the customers that cause headaches.

When a customer leaves a negative review…

Evaluate the feedback internally first, then respond to the review! It’s worth repeating, though: You should always respond. If the review meets the platform’s review policies and is from an actual customer (more on that below), you should respond to the review directly after you’ve taken the time to chew on the feedback.

Customers have a lot of power online, and if you react emotionally the disgruntled can easily spread negativity. It’s easier than ever to do so.

Not offering a solution to make it right means you didn’t properly respond to the negative review.

How you respond to the review naturally depends on the situation. If the customer misread a policy or promotion, they may not react positively if you publicly shame their reading comprehension. You also don’t want a long, detailed explanation from a negative review outweighing more positive reviews. For both of these reasons, it’s always best to offer your empathy, an apology, and a sincere wish to follow-up personally. This takes it offline. 

Offer them your email address or work number so that they may contact you directly. Then, consider creative ways you can offer a solution and turn a negative into a positive. If they’ll leave a negative review, they’ll leave a positive one. 

Having a template ready can help…

Positive Response Template

Hi {first name}!

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this review. I’m ecstatic to hear that you were a fan of {positive feature mentioned in the review} and I’m excited to let our team know they’re knocking it out of the park. Mention this review next time you visit and we’d love to offer you a token of our appreciation. Thanks again for your review, {your name}, owner/manager

Positive Response Template 2

Hi {Name}, thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about your experience. If we can help in the future, please don’t hesitate to give us a call {number}.

Negative Response

Hi {first name},

Thank you for letting us know about {negative experience highlighted in the review}. I’m extremely sorry to hear that your experience with us was lacking, and will be reviewing your comments with our team to discuss how we can do better in the future. Can we connect so I can try and find a way to help? Please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience at {email or phone number} so that we can find a good resolution for you. Sincerely, {your name}, owner/manager

Negative Response 2

Hi {Name}, I’m sorry to hear that your experience didn’t match up with expectations. I’d really like to follow-up and ensure we’ve found a solution for you, can you please contact {Name} at {Number}?

What to do when a review is obviously fake, malicious, or written by a competitor (almost always a violation of the website’s terms of use)

Start by flagging it as ‘inappropriate’ For all the good internet tools like reviews can do – some people use them maliciously. Luckily, many websites that allow customers to leave reviews also have policies in place to curb the abuse of their review system. Flag the review. If you don’t get the review taken down by flagging it then try and get in touch with the site’s support team. Whether you are able to get in touch with a support team will depend on the website, as some are easier to reach than others. Some also make it easier to contact support if you’re a paying customer. If all else fails, be prepared with a civil response. 

In the meantime, instead of leaving the bad review with no response – add a stopgap. Something as simple as “I’m so sorry to hear about this, but it doesn’t appear we have you in our records as a customer. Can you give us a call at {store phone number} so we can find you a resolution?” is all it takes. It tells prospective customers this review could be fake while also reminding them – no matter what – you’re ready to help.

Need a hand with your digital footprint? Take a look at our Marketing Tools, designed to give stores like yours a flexible solution for digital marketing.

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