Online Reviews: Operation Critical

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“Getting your first review is like getting your teeth whitened. You hope it doesn’t hurt as much as they say on the Internet, and you also hope it will leave you with a blinding smile,” said Kathy Parks, author of “The Lifeboat Clique.”

Reviews can quite literally be the linchpin with regard to new customer acquisition as well as customer retention. Many prospects these days scour the internet for reviews prior to selecting an auto shop, or anything else for that matter. Online reviews are critical, and operators need to be aware of their importance and use them to generate more business and gain a loyal following.

Where to Begin If you don’t currently have any reviews, we’ll consider this a clean slate. You may also want to consider doing a Google search for your business name to see what comes up. You may have reviews listed that you didn’t know about. As an operator, you want to be proactive in earning and collecting as many positive reviews as possible.

If you don’t have a profile on Google, now is the time to create one. You can easily Google “create a Google+ page for my business” and go through the steps laid out for anyone with a business. You can add a business photo, a tagline and anything you want to make your business stand out. This provides your customers with another place to find information about your business, gives contact information for your business and gives your customers a place to leave reviews.

“Have your staff be proactive and ask for reviews from happy customers,” said Dave Erb, business developer at Frederick: The Marketing Automation Platform for Local Services. “They can generally tell when customers are happy and direct them to the appropriate places to leave positive feedback. Operators can also hire a customer relationship management (CRM) company like Frederick to assist with reviews.”

CRM companies have been known to assist small businesses of all types with review requests, general contact, appointment reminders and more. Many have tools to track progress, as well. You want to make sure you know what’s being said about your business. Facebook is another common place customers go to leave reviews, so if you don’t have a Facebook business page, you can easily set one up by following a few simple steps. There are a number of online blogs, like this one — — that provide step by step instructions on how set yourself up with a business Facebook page, start collecting reviews and getting more exposure for your business.

“Always answer reviews, good or bad,” Erb said. “Pay attention to what reviews are saying, and if there is some sort of theme, either positive or negative, going on in your business, operators should utilize that information to better their shops.”

There are always going to be areas of opportunity in any business operation, and striving to learn from those opportunities and make improvements can really set your shop apart from the others.

Reviews in Detail Growing and learning from constructive feedback ensures a business never becomes stagnant.

“It’s also important to continue getting new reviews to boost your listings on places like Google,” Erb said. “You want to keep things new and fresh to maintain your relevance online.”

It’s not just the sheer number of positive reviews a company gets that matters, but the details are also quite valuable.

“Five-star reviews are great, but the reality is, if the consumer is looking online at businesses and sees one that has an exact five-star rating, they don’t trust that as much as they would trust a 4.6- or 4.7-star rating,” Erb said. “The reason for that is consumers believe a company with only five-star reviews got them disingenuously. It looks propped up.”

Negative reviews do happen at one point or another, and it’s crucial to reach out to those customers to try to remedy the situation. They took the time to leave the review, and it could help your future transactions to follow up and discover what went wrong. As a business owner, any feedback can aid in preventing the same things that turned a particular customer off from happening again. Following up and putting in the extra effort can also help you retain those customers you might have otherwise lost for good. Like anything in life, you can’t please 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time. It simply isn’t realistic, but customers want to see they are dealing with honest companies they can trust.

Content Matters Relationship building is extremely important in business, and customers like to feel a connection with those they do business with. As an operator, you want your customers to be loyal, and what better way to build a loyal following than to create a sense of trust, honesty and a real desire to do what’s in the best interest of the customers.

“The best reviews are those that show customers having an attachment to the business,” Erb said. “Customers who express feeling valued and appreciated the way they were treated typically have the best impact in terms of reviews.”

Discussing price or details about a particular service received doesn’t have the same impact that discussing the actual experience has. Finding a way to create connections with consumers is the clear way to creating a loyal following, while also growing your customer base.

Execution Tips for getting reviews can include acquiring a good CRM product that can help companies identify happy customers and drive them to leave more positive reviews in the best places. You can also create a space on your invoices for comments and direct customers to your Google+ page, yelp, your website or direct them to an email address to send comments. This method is much like a modern day suggestion box.

“Getting people to check in while at your shop in places like Yelp can be quite helpful,” Erb continued. “You can also incentivize customers who have expressed their delight verbally to go online and repeat those kind words in a written review. As a shop, you could offer a discount to those customers or a free oil change on their next visit.”

Moreover, the way in which you and your employees think about the shop should be portrayed to the customers, as well. For example, saying things like, “Which one of your friends or family sent you to us today?” implies a close-knit, loyal, family environment. Referrals are a form of flattery, and your customers will likely tell you how they found your business, even if it wasn’t through a referral.

Whether you have zero reviews or 10,000, the message remains the same; consumers want to see you’re trustworthy and have your customers’ best interests at heart. You can never have too many reviews, and should always be looking for the next area of opportunity.

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