Every business lives and dies on its reputation. While the best way to ensure you have a great reputation is to provide excellent customer service and a solid product, it can sometimes feel like you have no control over negative online feedback. Thankfully, you now have more options to control the message about your business than ever before. Your business can employ several reputation management tips to help reduce negative feedback, increase helpful feedback and engagement, and ensure more customers receive a positive impression of your business online.
Provide Uncompromising Customer Service
Your number one business priority should be to provide excellent service. Whether you’re a restaurant, clothing store, landscaper, or electrician, customers are more likely to leave positive feedback — and less likely to leave negative feedback — if you excel at customer service.
Chic-Fil-A is an excellent example of this. The company regularly receives negative online feedback due to the political views of its CEO, Dan Kathy. Yet Chic-Fil-A’s growth hasn’t taken a hit. It’s now the third-largest restaurant chain in the US. The key to its success is its dedicated approach to making customers happy.
The company has sat at the top of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for restaurants every year since 2016. It easily weathers its negative feedback thanks to its superior customer service and product quality, making it difficult for negative feedback to stick.
Proactively Examine Your Company’s Online Presence
Your business may have an online presence in a large number of locations across the web. It’s much easier to manage your reputation when you know where reviews or discussions about your business occur.
Depending on your online presence, you may find reviews and feedback about your business on:
- Angie’s List
- Better Business Bureau (BBB)
- And many others
You also don’t want to ignore community-based forums like Reddit. Any place where individuals can interact online is a potential location where feedback about your business might exist, both positive and negative.
Some of these sites are places where you have to be a business owner to register your business at all. Others allow anyone to register the business.
Make sure you have as full a list as possible of any location where your business has an online presence, whether or not it’s a profile or location you created and manage. Then, monitor these places for feedback, starting with the most frequented or most popular sites.
Cultivate Positive Feedback
Your online presence is incredibly public. Whether comments and feedback are occurring on your Facebook page or community forums, just about anyone can see the commentary, reviews, and discussions happening in public online space.
When you find positive feedback about your company, take advantage of it by:
- Leaving replies with thanks and gratitude
- Engaging on a regular basis
Potential customers and current patrons will see how you interact, which will leave a better impression of your business on potential customers.
Make it Easy to Leave Feedback — But Be Aware of the Law
When customers have a great experience with your business, ask them to leave you feedback. You can make it easy by including links to review sites on your customers’ receipts, or by asking your customers directly. If you have an email list, be sure to use it to request feedback if customers feel they had a great experience.
However, as you navigate requests for positive feedback and reviews, make sure you don’t break the law in the process. Paid or fake reviews are illegal under FTC rules, so even offering discounts for good reviews could be land your business in legal hot water. Each infraction comes with a $10,000 penalty from the FTC.
So while you can request that customers leave you positive feedback, avoid providing any incentives in return for those positive reviews. If you do offer incentives, they need to be for leaving a review in general, not only for those that leave a glowing one.
Assess the Reasons Why Negative Feedback Occurs
The internet makes reputation management much more difficult. One researcher found that it takes 40 positive reviews to undo the damage that one negative review can cause. That’s certainly concerning considering negative reviews typically can’t be trusted to be honest or unbiased.
Before taking any action on negative online feedback, ensure you understand why that feedback exists.
There are two key reasons why negative feedback occurs online:
- A customer had a bad experience when patronizing your business
- Someone is leaving false or spam reviews about your business
It’s important to understand whether a review is based on a real experience or is just spam, as this will impact how you should respond, if at all.
For example, let’s say a customer’s negative review was related to a verified, less-than-ideal interaction with one of your employees. A Harvard Business School study found that toxic employees can destroy the culture and success of a business. If an employee’s behavior is at fault, it may be best to treat it as a personnel issue rather than an attack against your business.
However, if someone is leaving fake or false reviews about your business, many websites offer tools to help you rectify the situation. Yelp, for example, allows you to report reviews for abusive behavior. The company will remove reviews that have a conflict of interest, that don’t focus on the user’s own experience or those that contain lewd of inappropriate material.
Respond Positively to Negative Feedback
You can’t stop negative feedback from occurring, but you can take charge of the messaging by responding the correct way.
Most review sites allow you to respond to feedback. When negative feedback occurs and you’ve confirmed it’s not spam that can be removed, do the following:
- Thank the customer for patronizing your business
- Apologize for his or her negative experience
- Ask the customer to contact you to help resolve the problem
Avoid doing any of the following in response to negative feedback:
- Blaming the customer for the problem
- Denying that the customer had a negative experience
- Arguing with the customer or trying to make counter-points to the negative feedback
Negative feedback is a good opportunity to show potential customers that you’re active and conscientious. Even if you believe the customer was wrong, always respond to negative reviews and comments in a positive, helpful way that will defuse the situation and allow potential customers to see you as agreeable and willing to work through issues.
Fix Problems Quickly and Publicly
In cases where a customer had a legitimate complaint against your business, make sure to fix the problem as soon as possible. This could involve one of many things, such as improving or streamlining a key part of your process, changing to a different vendor, upgrading your technology, or hiring new staff members.
When you make a major, customer-focused change to your business practices based on a users’ complaints, make sure to address this change publicly. Post any changes you make to your business on your company blog or on social media (or both). Make those changes visible for past and potential customers who will see your business as responsive to customers’ concerns.
Improve Your SEO Strategy
What do customers see first when they search for you or your business online? If the first thing that comes up is negative feedback on review sites, you may need to revise your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
SEO involves optimizing your website and online presence to ensure your preferred content appears high on search engine results. Optimization strategies are vast, but make sure that you:
- Regularly publish creative and original content about your business with targeted keywords
- Optimize your landing pages with keywords
- Ensure your website is smart-phone friendly
- Increase your website’s page loading speed
Additionally, make sure you avoid practices that can hurt your SEO, such as keyword stuffing. Study the latest, verified SEO practices, or hire an SEO specialist to optimize your site for you.
Create a Commanding Presence on Social Media
Take charge of your online reputation by controlling the message on social media. Make sure your business not only has a presence on every major social media platform but that you also post regularly and engage positively with customers on those platforms.
The most important social media platforms for businesses include:
Your social media strategy can help you withstand negative feedback, or help give you space to offer constructive responses to negative feedback. Share your best content on social media and engage with your followers in a way that makes you visible and friendly.
Wendy’s is a great example of a company that has completely owned its social media presence. The company’s sarcastic and humorous approach to Twitter has helped it win fans worldwide, making it easier for the company to deflect negative reviews.
Hire a Reputation Management Company
Although you can tackle some reputation management concerns in-house, there are issues that could exceed your time or abilities. You may also find that negative feedback, especially on social media websites, can be difficult to root out and can cascade beyond your control.
Reputation management companies can help you get a better handle of your online presence, and can even work with social media sites to fight back against false information about your business.
If you own a small business, you’re also far more vulnerable to the consequences of a bad online reputation. One report found that 86% of consumers would refuse to spend their dollars at a business with 3-star reviews.
For many small businesses, that profit loss could mean the end of the business if the problem is not remedied quickly enough. Even medium and large businesses with larger cash reserves could see their reserves run out in the face of quickly decreasing sales from a bad online reputation.
Don’t wait until false information about your business creates significant damage to your profits and long-term viability. Hire a reputation management company that not only fully understands the complexities of online interactions but that also has the high-level experience you need to help you both recover from and proactively manage your reputation.