Protecting Your Reputation in a Digital Age

Online reviews are the new ‘word-of-mouth.’

Whether you like it or not, your business has an online reputation. And it’s going to affect – if it has not already – the way potential customers feel about you. It’s going to influence their decision-making process, their purchase behavior, their way of weighing you against your competitors.

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That’s simply the state of business today as a result of the Internet, social media and mobile technologies. When it comes to service-oriented businesses in the automotive sector, the importance (and impact) of online reputation couldn’t be more evident than in the way an increasing number of people now rely on consumer-generated online reviews. We’re talking about the ones you see on Yelp, Google (Google+ Local and Google Maps), Citysearch, Cars.com, Edmunds, Insider Pages, and even Foursquare (among many others).

Did you know that 93 percent of consumers check online reviews before making a purchase decision, according to a study by local marketing news site Street Fight. The digital marketing company of BrightLocal revealed that 85 percent of consumers read reviews to determine whether a local business is good or not.
And a research firm, Cone Communications, found that four out of five consumers reverse their purchase decisions after reading a negative online review.

In short – the power that reviews have to shape the reputation of your business is undeniable. Reviews are the new word-of-mouth.

What can you as a shop owner do in the face of this growing business challenge? How do you manage and protect your reputation in the digital age? And how do you keep reviews from blemishing your image and driving away potential customers? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Know where people are talking. One of the best ways to manage your reputation is to actively monitor reviews of your business posted online. You can’t join the conversation unless you know where the “meeting” is. Identify the sites where your customers are most likely to share reviews – then look for your business listing and claim it as your own. As mentioned above, Yelp, Google (Google+ Local and Google Maps), Citysearch, Cars.com, Edmunds, and Insider Pages are all good places to start.

Say “thank you” or say “sorry.” Got a new review? Say “thank you” to the person who wrote it. Remember: A customer took the time and effort to give you some feedback; never mind whether it’s good or bad, one-star or five-star, fair or unfair, accurate or exaggerated.

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Thanking the reviewer also allows you to hit two birds with one stone. First, you put yourself in a position where you’re engaged in a conversation with a vocal customer, and can possibly change that customer’s experience for the better. Second, you get to show everyone else that your management cares, and that your business listens to whatever the customers have to say. In a study by market research company PhoCusWright, 78 percent of respondents said that seeing a business respond to online reviews (even if it’s just a simple “thank you”) made them believe that the business cares more about them.

Meanwhile, in cases where you think your business really did mess up, don’t hesitate to say “sorry.” Let’s say a staff member forgot to include the shims during brake work. Or he accidentally used the wrong transmission fluid. If you received a one-star review because of these honest mistakes, just apologize. Then make a resolution to provide a better customer experience next time. No business is perfect and it won’t damage your reputation to say you are sorry.

Read reviews objectively. A bad review of your business can feel like a punch in the gut. It hurts, especially if you’re really passionate about what you do. But it’s best to avoid emotional knee-jerk reactions to criticism. Getting involved in an online catfight and name-calling will only serve to inflict unnecessary damage on your reputation. Don’t fan the flames!

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Instead, you should read your reviews objectively and find ways to get to the heart of the customer issue being raised. By doing so, you’re more likely to identify, for example, operational policies that need to be addressed or staff members who may need to be trained. In a way, bad reviews can be good for business: they give you a chance to do better and prove critics wrong. So maybe your new mechanic really did forget to change the oil filter. And maybe your tuneups are kind of overpriced. Whatever the review said, the key is to not let your emotions take over. Be objective and honest about yourself. This is the only way you’ll gain the customer insights that are essential in helping you improve your performance.

Make it personalized, but keep it professional. It’s important to invest time and effort in responding professionally to online criticism. Don’t copy and paste your reply. And stay away from the usual sales talk or brochure-worthy jargon. Instead, make every response a personalized one. Make it something that will turn the reviewer’s frown into a smile. And be sure to post it with your real name: this is a terrific way to humanize your business and get you to connect more easily with reviewers and review readers alike.

Generate more five-star raves. If you’re concerned that low ratings and bad online reviews are hurting your reputation (and sales performance), look for creative ways to get your happy, loyal customers to talk.

You can create special offers and deals that pleasantly surprise customers who visit your shop location. You can also drive awareness of your business pages on Yelp, Google, etc. by posting a “Find Us On (Review Site)” message on your website and your Facebook and Twitter profiles. Or maybe you can offer free Wi-Fi: it’s a simple investment that can encourage customers to virtually “check in” at your shop, rate and review your services, and start online conversations about your business. Of course, the best way to generate more five-star ratings and glowing reviews is to provide amazing service. Even in today’s digital age, the connection between you and your customers will continue to be the one that matters the most.

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