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In our community, the power of a referral is unmatched. But one thing many local businesses are overlooking is the power of the online review. In 2014, almost nine out of 10 consumers looked at reviews to help make decisions on local businesses, according to Bright Local’s Consumer Review Survey.
Online reviews are like the black sheep cousin of referrals — you didn’t pick ’em, but they come with the package. MarketingCharts.com reported 68 percent of Millennials trust consumer generated content, including reviews, almost as much as a referral from their friends and family.
I combed through the Google reviews of some Columbia businesses and found the majority had less than three reviews, but a handful had more. I had to know — what made those businesses embrace online reviews? And what are they doing that the rest of us are not?
One of the pack leaders for local reviews was Foundation Recovery Systems. Margrett Andrews, marketing director, recognizes the need for online reviews. “Quite a few of our customers have left feedback specifically stating they went with us because of our good reviews and high recommendations,” she explains. “Customers want to do business with a company they feel they can trust, and they put a lot of weight on the experiences of others.”
Family Focus Eyecare had quite a few recent reviews, so I contacted them to hear about their plan. Dr. Joseph Rich, owner and optometrist, said: “Several patients have told me they chose to come to my office because of the number and ratings of reviews we’ve obtained. I can’t say it’s been my sole reason for success, but when patients are looking for a new optometrist, a few gold stars next to your name certainly doesn’t hurt.”
While Family Focus Eyecare hasn’t been consciously gathering reviews, their patient management software has been asking for them via email. “Asking for reviews is one of many things I strive to do better,” Rich admits. “I would say most of our reviews have come from people I have asked to do so, especially if I have seen them multiple times and they seem relatively pleased with their experience.”
Foundation Recovery Systems has a more structured approach. “We have a program in place called ‘WOW Service Crew Review,’” Andrews says. “We provide our production teams with review postcards to hand to customers after completing a job. They encourage the customer to review us if they were happy with our service.”
Handouts: Couple the link and instructions on a handout to deliver in person or as a follow-up mailer. Consider using a QR Code. Handouts don’t have to be expensive; a business card with the proper information will do.
Email: Though it’s the path of least resistance, since a simple click will direct recipients where they need to go, email can be less personal than an appointed ask. Automate emails so you don’t forget to send. Even add a review request to your email signature.
Web: Instead of a direct link to the ever-changing review platform, consider linking to your website and providing directions online. Use social media to direct followers to your review instructions page.
Before you can effectively mitigate a negative review, you have to know it exists. Monitoring review activity is one thing both Family Focus Eyecare and Foundation Recovery Systems do well.
Although Andrews has only come across a couple negative reviews over the years, she investigates every complaint carefully. “We research what happened step-by-step, from the first contact with the customer to the completed work, and resolve with the customer when needed,” she says. “We respond to negative reviews online too, because we want viewers to understand that we take every customer concern seriously and do not ignore them.”
Rich welcomes the constructive criticism. Though they haven’t had negative reviews yet, if one surfaces, he is prepared. “From the review, I would respond in-depth with my side of the situation, contact the patient, discuss the situation, and, if necessary, see if they would be willing to have the review removed,” he says.
Whatever your plans, don’t ignore online reviews. Ask for reviews from good clientele, and share instructions. Monitor reviews, then create a plan for the not-so-good ones. Either way, your black sheep cousin is going to be at the family reunion.