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Hear advice from business owners and consumers about how to engage with your online presence and build a strategy that reflects your business.

Behind the Review host and Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week’s episode of the podcast.

Whether you have a brick-and-mortar business or go onsite to serve customers, people look at your online presence when deciding if they want to do business with you. And among the most impactful parts of that online presence are user-generated reviews and your replies to those reviews. This podcast episode highlights key review response strategies and insights from business owners and reviewers.

Many people believe that most online reviews are critical or that consumers only turn to online review sites when they want to complain. But in fact, there are more 5-star reviews on Yelp than 1-, 2- and 3-star reviews combined. So rather than avoid online review sites because of fear of the critical, get excited about the positive reviews—and have a plan for when you receive both.

Nic Faitos, the owner of Starbright Floral Design in New York City, said, “A negative review is not bad if it’s followed up online with a resolution and a show of how you resolved it.” And that display of resolution may happen on its own if a consumer chooses to update, change or remove their review, or it may be up to you or your team to respond publicly and share your side of the story in the response. But remember, particularly when you’re responding to a critical review, you’re not responding in hopes of winning the reviewer over but rather to put your customer service practices on display for all potential consumers.

“When I read reviews about a business and see a company responding, it gives me an idea about who the company is. A random 1-star [review] doesn’t mean much to me, but I can tell a lot when I see a business responding about what kind of business model they have. Are they customer-focused? Are they calm, cool, and collected in their response? There’s so much you can learn about the company you’re about to do business with,” said reviewer Jennifer W.

Related: How to Ask for Reviews (With Examples!)

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You don’t want to become too focused on the negative review or star rating itself. “I’m not concerned about getting the person to change the hypothetical 1-star review to a 2-star or 5-star [review]. I’m not looking for more stars. I’m looking to express sincerity. I’m looking to express care, and I’m looking to express: “What can we do to make this right?'” said Nic.

We can’t overlook, however, the fact that businesses are human. They’re made up of and run by humans, so mistakes happen. But those mishaps can also turn into opportunities. “I take ownership of any legitimate problem that surfaced from a 1-star review,” said Josh Campbell, owner of Rescue Air Heating and Cooling in Richardson, Texas. “It needs to be a learning opportunity for the organization.” And if you’re striving to be the best, customer feedback is an essential part of that process—Josh even thanks his critical reviewers. “Thank you for the 1-star review. This is how I grow. Without you bringing these mistakes to my attention, I would never know they were occurring. So you’re a layer of accountability for me to build a better business.”

Sometimes, the customer’s expectations aren’t even something you intend to serve. There are also times when you and your team are executing things precisely to your standards, but the customer’s expectations are not met. Those reviews are an opportunity to intentionally explain to consumers who you are and what you offer. You can lean into the parts of the review that are true to who you are and take it as an opportunity to clearly state what you provide—and what you don’t—to help correctly set expectations for the next customer. This can also aid in deterring any other consumers who may not be the right fit for your business.

Every business wants to have an outstanding online presence. And every business can if they commit to engaging with their reviews and reflecting their customer service practices digitally. Avoid soliciting or asking for reviews as it’s against Yelp’s terms of service and content guidelines. But instead, celebrate the great reviews you have by responding to them and then sharing them on your website or social media. Lastly, there’s no substitute for creating enjoyable and memorable experiences for your customers. High-quality customer service is the most direct way to impact your online reputation positively. Customers will then be more inclined to share their positive experiences digitally for others to see.

Related: The best organic marketing strategies for small business

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  1. Engage. Paying attention to your online presence is the first step in making that online presence work for you. Claim all your business pages and turn on notifications, so you’re aware when customers are talking about you or sharing their experiences. Follow these crucial steps for creating a review response strategy:
  2. Be open to feedback. Having a plan for responding to reviews means you have to be open to gleaning insights or learnings from your customers who share their experiences digitally, positive or negative.
  3. Be prepared to respond. Whether you agree with an online review or not, having a response strategy means you will respond no matter what. Replying to a review doesn’t need to be a back-and-forth dialogue between you and the reviewer, but rather show off your customer service practices to all future consumers. Keep the response short, thank them for their feedback, and then take the conversation offline.
  4. Always take the high road. Your response is a reflection of your business. The only thing worse than getting a critical review is pairing it with a heated or aggressive reply. Use your response as a business owner to remain professional and respectful.

Helpful article: 3 Ways to Handle an Upset Customer That Actually Make Them More Loyal to Your Brand

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from more business owners and reviewers, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Related: Connecting With Customers Through Empathy Marketing
Related: The Risky Review Schemes That Could Sink Your Business

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Article by Emily Washcovick 

Senior Field Marketing Manager and Small Business Expert

As Yelp’s Senior Field Marketing Manager and Small Business Expert, Emily is responsible for building a thriving network of local business owners, operators, and marketers through education and networking events (now, exclusively virtual). She hosts events and webinars to provide business owners with resources that help them succeed and grow in the world of online reviews. Emily’s expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management, and all things digital marketing. Her knowledge encompasses countless industries and through thought leadership and speaking engagements, she’s able to share insights that business owners of all kinds can leverage for the future of their business.
Emily is also the host of Behind the Review, a podcast from Yelp and Entrepreneur Media that features conversations with business owners and reviewers about their experiences—whether positive or negative —giving listeners behind-the-scenes insights and real-life learnings.