Strategies for Legally Generating and Monitoring Online Reviews
Businesses of all sizes and in all industries must embrace online reviews if they’re not doing so already.
Consumers are regularly crowdsourcing for the scoop on products and services, in particular reading online reviews. According to quarter three data from 2014, Yelp averaged 139 million monthly visitors.
And consumers are increasingly relying upon these reviews. According to Nielsen’s 2012 Global Trust in Advertising survey, featuring responses from more than 28,000 people globally, online consumer reviews are the second most-trusted form of advertising.
But the information contained in online reviews is often not factual or a business’s review page may simply not be representative of actual customer satisfaction – whether overly negative or even inflated positively.
Thus businesses cannot turn a blind eye to online reviews, as these reviews are often quite influential and can impact the success of any business, fair or not.
Generating positive reviews
In today’s world, it would be difficult to find a thriving business that has a negative online reputation. First impressions are frequently based on what is on the internet, not only among consumers but also other parties including job seekers, investors, and other businesses seeking to establish meaningful business-to-business relationships.
Further, no business is immune from negative reviews, and businesses often suffer from a sampling bias: for many, reviews tend to be disproportionately negative, but an increase in reviews leads to a better balance of positive and negative comments.
Accordingly, businesses should consider implementing a content-neutral program to generate additional reviews – that is, without providing any incentives (e.g. cash, gift cards or discounts). Not only do websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor prohibit businesses from unfairly influencing reviews, but government agencies have gradually started to crackdown on false and deceptive reviews.
The best mechanism for neutrally generating reviews may be to establish a program – perhaps utilizing a third-party review platform – that involves sending a professional email soliciting feedback from customers within 24 hours after they leave. The email should ask customers about their experiences, encouraging them to submit a review and take a brief survey to help the business improve.
Verified customer reviews will provide helpful feedback for businesses while simultaneously contributing to an aggregate profile of the business which would likely appear highly in search engines (and ultimately help generate more business leads). Even, say, a five percent participation rate among customers will substantially increase a business’s reviews.
Alternatively, a business may try to circulate a URL to the desired review website or platform, whether through an in-store card or flyer or by placing it on their website. Similarly, businesses will want to avoid asking for positive reviews.
Monitoring for negative reviews, posts
Notwithstanding having an effective content-neutral program in place to generate more reviews, it is inevitable that a business will receive negative reviews on websites such as Yelp. Thus, a business cannot stand idly by and hope that these negative reviews go unseen.
Businesses should consider implementing a real-time monitoring system that makes it easy for the appropriate persons to become aware of negative online comments and prepare responses. The sooner negative reviews (or even reputation attacks) are detected and can be addressed, the greater the opportunity a business has of mitigating the harm and potentially getting the reviews removed.
For most businesses, monitoring involves keeping a watchful eye out for anything that could impact them including: bad reviews, reports on complaint websites, and social media posts. The designated person or team should routinely keep an eye out for negative reviews or other threats, the frequency of which will depend on the size of the business.
Responding to negative reviews
Once a business becomes aware of a negative online review, a trained customer representative should contact the author of the review within 72 hours if his or her contact information is known. Otherwise, the representative should send a response asking them to contact the representative offline (through a private message when possible). For example:
Thank you for your review and I’m sorry to hear that you feel the blades are not lasting as long as previously. We have numerous quality checks throughout our manufacturing process, so this is not something we would expect. It may be helpful to know that the item fading is just a guideline and we recommend changing the cartridge when it begins to feel dull… If you would like, give us a call at 1-800-_________.
If a business is able to get the reviewer to contact them offline, the trained representative likely should try to resolve the situation by offering a refund, replacement, or some other concession to make the reviewer happy. If a business is able to resolve a situation with a customer, it should then kindly ask him or her to remove their negative review.
While a negative review is not ideal, if it is honest criticism and not false, the business should not threaten any legal action. On the other hand, if there might be a basis for legal action (e.g. defamation), the business should contact an attorney.
Why focusing on reviews is important
As consumers continue to read and rely upon online reviews, businesses can ill-afford to let their online reputations rest completely in the hands of third parties – including potential disgruntled customers wishing to harm the businesses.
As an aside, last year, Google rolled out an updated search algorithm – dubbed “Google Pigeon” by Search Engine Land – which modified local search results. These changes are largely internal, but various websites reported that the updated algorithm was supposed to impact how local businesses rank in Google.
Considering online reviews generally can have a substantial impact on local businesses, smaller businesses will want to ensure business listings on third-party websites are not filled with negative reviews should these review pages appear higher in Google search results – now or down the road.
Today, first impressions of most businesses are frequently made by what meets the eye when the businesses are searched online. Thus, businesses must be proactive and work to achieve positive ratings to the extent that they can legally and ethically.