As our economy becomes increasingly digital and global, online reputation will grow in importance. One bad review may not be the end of your business, but echoed across the blogosphere, it can mean lost business and the need to rebuild customer relationships to prevent further damage. By instituting an ongoing program of reputation management, you can keep up with what people are saying and help shape the conversation in your favour.
It’s important to remember that you can’t maintain something that doesn’t exist. So, you have to start from where you are. If your business is like many, you may not have much of an online reputation. That’s good news. By telling your own story, you can establish your reputation, and add positive customer experiences to reinforce your narrative. Here’s how it’s done.
1) Build a good reputation
Start with solid business practices and good customer relations. Reputations cannot be created by one side alone, they must be earned by honest interactions that receive positive feedback. Many business owners want a good reputation, but simply run their businesses in a way that makes that impossible. They get the reputation they deserve. There are some things you can do to start building your reputation.
- Use a company blog, press releases and articles linking back to your sites and services to tell your story.
- Ask long-time satisfied customers to write reviews on prominent services, such as Yelp. This will give potential customers something to find when searching for the services and products you provide.
- Engage your customers on social media. Discussing positive experiences with your customers on platforms like Twitter and Facebook can go a long way toward to building a positive image of your business.
2) Ask customers for feedback
Once you’ve established a narrative, continue it by asking your customers for feedback at regular intervals. Positive public feedback on places like Google My Business are very powerful. Tools like Customer Lobby or Survey Monkey are also useful here. Email and website surveys are a great place to start. You control who sees them. Ask customers who provide positive feedback to add to your reviews and give testimonials for use in marketing and on your site.
- Survey each customer after purchase. Experiment with timing. It’s best to give them time to experience results before asking for feedback.
- Make sure your blog, social media and other forums are open to comment. Respond professionally, even to negative feedback. It can be a great opportunity, if handled well.
- Conduct exit surveys with customers who choose new services or products, when possible. You can learn a lot from why a customer chooses to move to a new vendor.
3) Apply customer feedback
It’s not enough to merely ask for feedback. You need to incorporate it into your business practices. Make sure this includes negative feedback, when it’s warranted. By correcting your weaknesses, you can improve a good reputation or repair one that is lacking.
- Thank customers who provide feedback. Even if it’s negative, taking the time to say thank you can go a long way toward building a positive relationship.
- Acknowledge changes made through customer feedback. A company that is perceived as listening to their customers, gains a reputation for being easy to work with.
- Learn when to ignore feedback, both positive and negative. Taking everything anyone says to heart is a sure way to end up depressed, or worse yet, falsely confident.
4) Monitor what’s being said
It’s hard to have an accurate picture of your reputation, unless you know what’s being said about you. While you can definitely spend too much time and energy worrying about every comment and review, it pays to stay alert. Some channels, such as social media and blog comments are easy. For others, you’ll need to set up systems to provide you with information.
- Google Alerts is a good place to start. By setting alerts to your company name, the names of key players in your organization and any trademarks, or product names, you’ll receive an email every time a mention is indexed on Google.
- Social media reputation tools, such as Klout can help you gauge how you’re perceived.
- Take the time to search your name, your company name and product names on social media and search engines regularly to see what others see when they search for you.
5) Make reparations quickly and publicly
Every business makes mistakes. You will too. When it happens, rather than bury your head and wait for it to blow over, get out in front of it. If you can, fix the problem by dealing directly with affected customers. You only get one chance to tell your side, make it honest, and humble.
- Use your blog and social media to tell your story. Show how you’ve improved and what you’re doing to make things right, if necessary.
- Apologize directly to offended parties in private. If they prefer to keep the matter private, agree. Not all mistakes need to be aired publicly.
- Make amends and move on. Immediately follow bad publicity with good. Show new products, new advances, and charitable efforts. Resist the urge to gloss over the mistake, simply show a better side.
By building a reputation for honesty, quality products and services, and stellar customer service, you can ensure your success. Take the time to establish some simple protocols for building, monitoring and maintaining your reputation now. If you wait for bad press, it may be too late.