Reputation Management: Track, Manage, and Improve Your Online Reputation

Your customers are talking about your business and the entire world is listening (really). The review process (or user-generated content) has been democratized and consumers have wonderful new power online, in the social realm. In the grand scheme of things, businesses that have truly exceptional customer service, the ones that deeply care about their customer experiences, win in this new democracy. Firms that are not sincerely concerned about their customer’s experiences, the firms that manipulate reviews and are merely focused with acquiring positive online reviews are destined to fail with user-generated content. Consumers want "social proof" that a brand or product is reputable. Millennials, beginning with birth years of the late 1970s to early 2000s, (who now surpass the number of Baby Boomers in the US in 2013), will not click the buy button without input from friends and the online community at large. Forward-leaning companies seek to create fans, brand ambassadors, followers, enthusiasts—not customers.

The social review space should be seen as a forum for communication and feedback about quality and service of businesses. Everyone has opinions—and shares them. This is the point of it all. Some will be positive and fewer less should be negative if the business has good product or service offerings, competitive pricing, and a genuine desire to provide excellent customer service. Some reviews will be true and others false. And some will be destructive rants. Even a lack of reviews can negatively impact your organization’s reputation.

A real experience in the retail automotive sector

I’m about to walk onto my favorite automotive dealership online. It’s been five years since I purchased a new car and it shows. This is a legendary place, a third generation family business that really cares about its customers. The staff knows my name because I’ve made purchased four cars and SUVs over the years. While I’m parking the car, I decide to go online. Just below the website link in Google is a review site. I’m curious, so I check it out. The first review I see says: "This place is horrible. Run away as fast as you can, don’t walk." Plus there are five more negative reviews.

A handful of strangers have bashed my dealership. This place? My dealership? The best auto dealership around? How could this be? Perhaps something has changed. Did the family sell-out? Have I been wrong all this time? I have faith. After all, I’m a Gen Xer.

To my delight, the best dealership in the world is still there, just as I remembered. And yet six other people had a rough experience too. That’s because, as it turns out, people are different and have divergent opinions. Moreover, reviews are highly manipulated. And as a rule, the enraged folks flock to the review sites while us happy folks seldom provide any feedback.

Now, some of those negative reviews were likely generated by business interests. Early reviews are often juiced by owners or ninja marketers with skin in the game. A couple of the negative reviews could have been generated by competitors trying to get the upper hand. And here’s where it gets weird. All those positive reviews from last summer for this dealership group are now gone. Somehow they were deleted, likely by an algorithm that saw something unfair or manipulative.

The bottom line: it is in your business interest to actively seek online customer engagement.

Fixing Online Reputation

Frankly, some of us liked it better before the birth of review sites (not that long ago); when upset customers sat down face-to-face or called business owners or managers and shared their experiences. "Back in the day," it was easy enough to "make it right" so that all was well. Those days are long gone. Every consumer has tremendous power. A highly ranked business has much to lose and a business that gets a poor Google Places, Yelp or other review site score has much to gain from investing in online reputation management. These are just a few of the popular review sites that we monitor:

  1. Angie’s List
  2. AutoTrader.com
  3. Bing
  4. Cars.com
  5. CitySearch
  6. Edmunds.com
  7. DealerRater.com
  8. Epinions
  9. Facebook
  10. Google Places
  11. GlassDoor.com
  12. Insider Pages
  13. Merchant Circle
  14. OpenTable.com
  15. PissedConsumer.com
  16. Site Jabber
  17. Trip Advisor
  18. Urban Spoon
  19. Yahoo!
  20. Yelp

The onus is on the business owner and/or the marketing team to monitor and effectively respond to reviews. Some analysts say that as much as one-third to nearly nine in ten consumer’s purchasing decisions are influenced by reviews. On the high side, that’s nearly every prospect a business has. Reviews build trust and trust increases conversation. Negative reviews are a killer. Once a negative review is firmly planted on a review site it is almost impossible to get it removed. At Yelp, any request to remove a complaint triggers an investigation which includes contacting the user who posted the review. It takes time for your business to contact the review site and if the site agrees to remove the review, it takes more time. All the while, your customers and prospects are reading it and driving past your business.

The best way to thwart a negative review is to intervene with the disgruntled customer before a review, or shortly after a review, has been posted. It's important to respond quickly, acknowledge the writer (and apologize depending upon the situation, and ask the reviewer to contact you (and then provide your name, title, cell phone, and e-mail address). If you can do a little research into your CRM and identify the user, then by all means reach out to the customer privately to resolve the situation. Now if the user has shared a positive comment, we encourage business owners to respond, too, and say thanks for the feedback. It’s about manners, just like your Mom taught you.

Although you may run a reputable business, you’re not always going to be perfect, so your business is bound to get a negative review eventually. When you receive a negative review your first impulse with be to deny and defend. This is the wrong stance. You’re not a lioness protecting your cub. Fact-based responses do not work. Stop! Don’t respond immediately (but do respond quickly) and always have a colleague review your response before sending it.

This is a social space where everything is in the open. Always respond publicly to the user in the review site’s community to ensure that your brand story is represented. For a negative review, thank the customer for the feedback and promise more effort and better service next time. About half the time this will neutralize the review. Learn from the feedback shared in negative reviews and take a deep breath, you cannot control the opinions of all your customers.

Of course, to respond timely you’re going to need to pay close attention to the review engines. Hint, this is where Dirigo can help. You need to carefully monitor your business on review sites and develop and/or curate the content to share.

Attempting to bury a complaint with positive reviews supplied by paid marketers is a difficult challenge; besides it’s smarmy. That’s because review engines question the legitimacy of every new review. And let’s be honest, online users can oftentimes tell when a review is phony. The number, frequency, and pattern of reviews and the IP addresses of the review origin are critical components in legitimacy algorithms of user-generated content sites. Review filters regularly discard perfectly legitimate reviews especially when a business is cooking the review books. This means that one day your business could have dozens of reviews and the next, they disappear (or the reviews go into a filtered space). We see this all of the time in the automotive space.

Shady online reputation services generally try to bury bad reviews or say they can remove poor review by boosting the search rankings of more positive information about a company. First, no business can remove lousy reviews. Read the review sites terms. It’s pretty clear about that these sites own the content on it and generally, only the user who posted the content can remove unless the content contains porn, profanity, or meets another similar bar. Some firms call this style of reputation management "inoculation." Inoculation is waged at the keyword level and it is both expensive and time consuming. Inoculation is extremely short-sighted. The usual tactics include publishing a series of online releases filled with positive news about the business or creating microsites about a business's products as a way to avert online searchers from finding the reviews high on the search engine results page. Such techniques are valid for emergency damage control situations only. This strategy isn’t going to solve a reputation problem long-term. Why? Because savvy customers, the ones making important purchase decisions (remember those pesky Millennials), seek out customer review sites, and then dive deep.

To illustrate our point, take a gander at Reputation.com on GlassDoor.com, an employment community. GlassDoor is a review site of companies where present and prior employees review their employers. Pay special attention to the negative reviews. That’s because many of the positive reviews are most probably bogus given that the company’s mission is to overwhelm negative reviews with positive ones. What you’ll find is not very pretty; the underbelly of a sales and marketing organization that does not care much about their rank and file employees or their customers. Now compare Mercent.com with ChannelAdvisor.com. Both are big ticket shopping feed management firms that sell SaaS solutions (we’ve used one of these services here at Dirigo). Which one would you use? You decide … [We hope that this little exercise underscores the importance of reputation management and soliciting reviews as part of the normal business process.]

Our Approach

We offer a number of services under our Applause brands. Our AutoApplause.com and MerchantApplause.com services came about in 2012 to monitor and solicit reviews. Notice that we did not say positive reviews. We monitor and solicit all feedback and then consult with businesses on how to achieve better feedback. If left unmanaged, customers are more likely to leave negative reviews than positive ones. If a business has good products and services, it usually has no issues picking-up positive reviews. Our services include:

  1. Outbound mail (post cards) asking for either social feedback or product reviews.
  2. Triggered outbound customer satisfaction survey e-mails. Customer satisfaction is a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectation. Customer satisfaction is defined as the number of customers, or percentage of total customers, whose report experience with an organization, its products, or its services (ratings) exceeds specified satisfaction goals. One of the best ways to cut off negative social reviews is to send instant and regular customer satisfaction review solicitations. This provides for dialog before it gets to the social space.
  3. E-mail solicitation which drives customers directly to: a link in the social space to review the company or an intake form where the consumer can share negative feedback with senior management
  4. We drive onsite e-commerce product reviews. We solicit product reviews and feedback for use with onsite shopping engines.

When given an opportunity, customers in all generations will most often share negative experiences directly with the company in a private one-to-one exchange. Our AutoApplause.com and MerchantApplause.com brands go a step further, putting Dirigo center stage as the consumers’ advocate. We promise to pass feedback along and to intervene with management. In the long-run, Dirigo won’t stand for bad service. We fire customers before covering up bad service.

We do this work via proprietary software solutions developed at Dirigo by in-house staff.  We're sticklers for following best practices and proven conservative white-hat methods. What people think of your organization is one of the most important factors in determining the level of its success. By partnering with Dirigo you’ll get the protection you need for one of your company’s most valuable assets—its reputation. Call David Addison at 207.358.2980 or the rest of the team at 207.358.2990 to learn more about our reputation services.

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