By Pam King
Consumers prefer doing business with companies they trust – and they use the Internet to find them.
What does this mean for you? It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and hop online to monitor the conversation and engage with customers.
Pete Blackshaw, president of the board of directors of the Council of Better Business Bureaus and a consumer-generated media guru, knows first-hand the power of consumer messages.
In his book “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends. Angry customers Tell 3,000,” Blackshaw writes of three truths:
1. Businesses no longer hold absolute sway over the decisions and behaviors of consumers.
2. The longer companies refuse to accept the influence of consumer-to-consumer communication and perpetuate the old ways of doing business, the more they will alienate and drive away their customers.
3. To succeed in a world where consumers now control the conversation, and where satisfied customers tell three friends while angry customers tell 3,000, companies absolutely must achieve credibility on every front.
How consumers tell those 3,000 others is infinite thanks to ever-growing outlets on the Internet. Consumers hop online to write blogs and post reviews (sometimes good, sometimes scathing) on message boards or consumer review sites. They sing your praises or rant about your faults in 140 characters or less on Twitter. And they make short videos for YouTube retelling their experiences with inferior service or faulty products.
All of this begs the question: Do you know what is being said online about your business? Are consumers getting correct information? Or are they reading negative reviews and blogs by disgruntled customers? Have you noticed bursts of new customers or even an unexplained decline in business and wondered why?
According to a survey by Opinion Research Corp., 84 percent of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. And a 2009 survey by the Nielsen Co. shows that online customer reviews are the second-most trusted form of advertising, personal recommendations being first.
So how do you start to manage your online reputation?
The first step is to visit popular search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo! and do a vanity search of your business. Is your website easy to find? Is content current and correct? Is your blog up to date? Is your business being reviewed in online forums or blogs?
Google continues to be the powerhouse of search engines, which is why it’s important to “claim your business” on Google Local as well as other local search sites. You can also set up Google alerts to automatically inform you when your business is mentioned in online reviews, blogs or publications.
By regularly monitoring the online chatter, you can respond to complaints, misinformation, even rumors as well as respond to reviews giving your business or employees a thumb’s up. Responding to negative reviews requires a delicate touch. Although it might be tempting to engage in an online version of a street brawl, it’s best to approach negativity with a calm voice and substantiated facts. Not only can you turn around the conversation, you might be able to win back disgruntled consumers.
Consumer-generated media can be influenced, but it cannot be controlled or edited to your liking. It is what it is. This doesn’t mean you have to like it or sit back and do nothing.
By regularly monitoring the online chatter, you can respond to complaints, misinformation, even rumors as well as respond to reviews giving your business or employees a thumb’s up. Responding to negative reviews requires a delicate touch.
Although it might be tempting to engage in an online version of a street brawl, it’s best to approach negativity with a calm voice and substantiated facts. Not only can you turn around the conversation, you might be able to win back disgruntled consumers.
Pam King is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.