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Issue: 74 - Feb 16, 2015
An Online Review! What’s it to You?
By: Maureen Blaney Flietner
Mavourneen LLC/MBF Communications

If you’ve got something in mind to do – go out for dinner, choose a doctor, find a hotel – do you check online reviews? I do.

I want to know what aspect of the business the comments are about and even how they are written so I can make a judgment call on the person commenting. I also look for any response from the business.

I’m not alone. Apparently online reviews are getting a lot more important because a growing number of consumers are turning to them when considering local businesses.

The Local Consumer Review Survey 2014 by London-based BrightLocal asked consumers in the North American market about online reviews and how they use them. It found that almost nine of 10 consumers in its survey group (88% vs. 85% in 2013) had looked at reviews in the preceding 12 months to help them make a decision on a local business. Four of 10 did so regularly.

Another survey, this one conducted by Dimensional Research and sponsored by Zendesk, found that social media drives increased sharing of customer service experiences. Participants reported broad use of social media (45% for bad and 30% for good) and online review sites (35% for bad and 23% for good) to spread stories about customer service experiences.

Sure, there are fake reviews and consumers know that. The Federal Trade Commission says reviewers are supposed to disclose their connection to a company. But not all of them do. Because of that, the FTC urges consumers to do their research and to compare reviews from multiple sites before they decide whether to trust a local business.

What does that mean for you? Apparently it can mean a lot, especially if you don’t even know what is being said in cyberspace.

Are you checking your online reviews?

A study commissioned by Yodle, an online marketing firm for local businesses, found a disconnect between small business owners and consumers. Among its findings were that 68% of small business owners don’t spend time monitoring for online reviews. Almost one in four small business owners (24%) don't know if they receive online reviews.

Could this be a case of what you don’t know could hurt … or help you?

Set aside time to do some sleuthing. Search out sites that may include reviews of your business. Local directory sites such as Yahoo Local, Merchant Circle, CitySearch, Yelp, YellowPages  may have your business listed. The information may include your business name, address, phone number, website, hours and even payment methods. If you have checked out where you are being reviewed, you may want to “claim” your business. 

If you have many positive reviews, great! You want more! But asking your clients to write reviews may not be the best choice. Yelp, for instance, discourages business owners from asking their customers to write reviews. It suggests that since you are only going to ask for reviews from happy customers, it will become a bias viewers will notice. Read a few five-star reviews yourself and decide.

Instead, Yelp suggests you may want to just invite viewers to check out your reviews. Once there, they might feel compelled to comment themselves.
With online communication so important now, not responding to reviews almost seems as rude as ignoring the client in person. Each site has policies regarding reviews. Read them.

Promptly acknowledge kind words expressed in a good review. For a negative review, respond -- but only after you have had time to look into the situation. The person venting may have been having a bad day; may be confused about the situation; or might be pointing out a real problem.

A quick search of negative online reviews about veterinary practices found several complaints that would seem to call for better business practices. For examples, reviewers complained of:

• Being told one price on the phone and another when they arrived at the clinic.
• Being surprised by a large jump in prices for medications they had regularly purchased for ongoing conditions.
• The veterinarian not explaining an animal’s condition thoroughly or so that the client could understand it.
• The veterinarian or staff member not answering the client’s questions.
• The receptionist judging the severity of an animal’s problem over the phone and discouraging the scheduling of an appointment.

Reread the comments with an open mind. Check into your records to recall the individual situation but do not get into specifics online. Suggest the reviewer contact you to discuss their experience. Respond in a professional, helpful and courteous way, just as you would in person. It’s all about building relationships.

Maureen Blaney Flietner, a former newspaper journalist, provides marketing and communications services for a variety of clients. Contact her through her website at www.mbfcommunications.com