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How your business can make the best of online reviews -- both good and bad

By Don Silver

Don_Silver_low_resEveryone’s a critic.

And with consumer review websites such as Yelp or Ripoff Report, your business is fair game for a harmful review. Smart business owners and managers watch for unhappy customers and respond in ways that turn a negative into a positive.

Yelp provides online searches for local businesses and allows customers to post reviews and rate a business on a scale of zero to five. The public comments can be good for your business. Harvard Business Review says that a one-star improvement in your Yelp rating can increase your revenue five to nine percent.

Downbeat comments are also inevitable. Someone is going to have a bad experience or be the wrong customer for your business. How you react to a negative review says a lot about you and your business. The right reaction can have a big impact on how potential customers view you.

Ripoff Report is different. It’s exclusively for those with a gripe. The site lets the consumers “File a Report” and “Update a Report.” It lets the business respond, as well.

What to do — and what not to do? First, regularly monitor the Internet (and social media) by using free services like Google Alerts and more robust paid services. Then, create accounts on all major review sites so you have access and the ability to respond.

Here are some tips to follow for reacting to consumer reviews:

• Respect opinions. Customers are entitled to their points of view. They paid their money and have the right to speak their minds. Don’t ridicule reviewers for bad spelling or grammar. The errors will be obvious to readers.

• Think before you respond. A bad review injures your ego. The instinctive reaction is to strike back with a nasty online response. Bad move. You seem immature and your business looks unprofessional.

• Keep it simple. Thank each reviewer publicly for his or her business and say that the input will be — or has already been — used to make constructive changes.

• Stay positive. Some reviewers try to draw you into a fight. Don’t take the bait. If you go negative, the critic can respond even more negatively.

• Set the record straight. If a reviewer makes a factual mistake, state the correct fact in a diplomatic fashion so that your response is seen as businesslike.

• Be sincere. Say publicly that you will discuss the customer’s unpleasant experience with your employees so that it does not happen again.

• Follow up privately. Don’t publicly offer a freebie to make up for the bad experience. That makes you look weak and encourages others to complain. Contact the customer privately to ask for more information and an opportunity to make things right. The individual may amend the review to reflect your sincere actions.

• Don’t try to stack the deck. The best antidote to one bad review should be three or four good ones. However, these sites look out for reviews from you under disguised names or people you entice to share a few good words. Suspiciously positive reviews are hidden if wrongdoing is suspected. Conversely, the good news is that many of these sites bury the reviews of chronic complainers.

• Stay active. Regularly check the review accounts and keep them up-to-date.

Keep in mind that postings from these sites have high priority with Google and the other search engines. So, take them seriously, and if patterns arise, you may want to make operational, customer service, product assortment or pricing changes to respond to comments that no one may be telling you to your face. Think of it as a suggestion box in Cyberspace.

Don Silver is Chief Operating Officer of Boardroom Communications, a Plantation-based public relations and integrated marketing firm. This article first appeared in Business Monday.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/28/v-print/3069301/businesses-can-make-the-most-of.html#storylink=cpy