Ten or fifteen years ago, when I wanted to buy a washer and dryer, I’d walk into someplace like Sears and ask the salesman which set most customers preferred, and which one model most customers said had the least problems.
The salesman would scratch his chin or the side of his nose or his head — the key is to scratch something, so it looks like you’re really thinking about it — and then he’d say, “Well, it seems like a lot of people like this set.” He’d be pointing to the Kenmore brand that is right next to us. I got the feeling he’d say that about whichever one was nearby.
But that was the closest you could get to real customer feedback back then without a subscription to Consumer Reports magazine.
The Love/Hate Relationship With Online Reviews
That’s why I love online reviews. I don’t buy a thing today that costs more than $35-40 without checking the online ratings by consumers. It’s just so easy to do this using a smart phone — which is always in my hand, so why would I not check them? Case in point, I bought a new dehumidifier this past summer. The one on sale at Home Depot was popular, but when I read the online reviews I saw the larger model was probably best for my situation. It also had a slightly higher number of stars and glowing testimonials. And of course, I check YELP when going to a new restaurant.
While I love online reviews, some business owners hate them. They worry that someone will unfairly trash their service, product, operation or staff. That’s also the main reason many small businesses owners are reluctant to use social media. “What if some nut job keeps posting negative comments?” they’ll ask.
But the benefits of online reviews and comments far outweigh the disadvantages — even for a small business or non-profit organization.
And if you know how to prepare for and handle it, a negative review or comment won’t be traumatic or threaten your livelihood.
How to Handle Online Reviews
First, learn the ground rules for most ratings and reviews. You can flag obscene or abusive comments and ratings. And if someone is set on bombing viewers of your Facebook page or other social sites with trash talk, you can block or ban them.
Bad Ratings Aren’t Always Bad
Keep in mind that most people can see when you’ve been treated unfairly with a low rating. I once saw a very good restaurant get just one star from a customer because he had to wait for a table. “The food was great as usual,” the customer wrote. “But we had a reservation for 8:00 pm and didn’t get seated till almost 8:30! We’ll see if they do better next time.” Sigh.
Stay Engaged With Customers
Examples like that aside, look at the comments on social media as a way to stay engaged with customers. If you get a complaint, try to go offline with it first. Always apologize for their perception of being wronged or dissatisfaction. Try posting for all to see, “I’m sorry about your situation. Please give me a call and we’ll make things right for you.” Or give them your email address and ask for a way to contact them directly by phone or email. Most people will be surprised you’re willing to reach out personally.
Don’t Hesitate Asking For Reviews
I’d also suggest that you encourage your customers to post positive online ratings and comments for your business. Ask them personally, or put up small signs in your place of business with this request. The vast majority will be happy to do it. If not, then you probably do need to make some changes to your product or services. Love ’em or hate ’em, online ratings are here to stay — so follow these keys and you’ll come out ahead.