Featured at INB’s Executive Speaker Series April 2015

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In the Socialnomics video that was part of our post about how the digital consumer is changing, one of the statistics stated that 90 percent of consumers trust the recommendations of peers online when making a purchase decision. If you think about it, this isn’t that surprising of a statistic, given that most of us would rather hear what others say about a particular product or service than pay attention to “formal advertising” in the buying process. But do you have any idea what your online reputation is (or how you can impact it for the better)?

First, if you’ve not done so before, it’s important to get a baseline of what your reputation is online (and what others are posting about your business). The first recommendation is to head over to Google and do a search for your business name, and then add reviews to the end of the search phrase. It’s important to enter your business name in quotes like “Illinois National Bank” before the reviews qualifier to keep the search as focused as possible. If your business name is somewhat generic, you may need to put in your geographic area as well to keep it local. Click Submit and then…. do you like what you see?

Chances are you’ll get one of three results. If you’re lucky, you’ll find several of your happy customers have gone online and shared their experiences and given you some four or five star ratings. If so, kudos and keep up the good work. However, many businesses will likely find one of two other results. For many businesses that don’t have any sort of a proactive review solicitation effort, unfortunately only upset or former customers with an “axe to grind” will take the time to post a review. This means that when someone goes online to see what type of service you provide, only the unhappy ones are speaking for you. Not good since you have many more happy customers who just aren’t sharing their experience.

While negative reviews aren’t good, the other result could be almost as bad. What if there’s nothing about you online, and you’re completely invisible. If nobody has reviewed your business, consumers looking for reviews before making a buying decision will likely shy away, as few want to “be the first.” And if you look around at your competition, chances are you’ll find someone else online who does what you do with some reviews.

The good news is that getting reviews isn’t nearly as hard as it seems. When a business develops a proactive review solicitation program, according to the online review service Customer Lobby, the average rating increases from two stars to four stars. As the saying goes, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” rings true when it comes to reviews, but you need to make this part of the business’ culture. Below are a couple of strategies you can use to boost your review and influence the 90 percent  of consumers who find reviews helpful.

Approach Your Existing Customers and Ask Them to Share
If you were asked to identify your top 10 (or more) customers, chances are you know the names, and maybe even their phone numbers, off the top of your head. The best way to kick-start your review program is to simply reach out to these folks and ask for their help. It can be something as simple as a phone call or a formal letter with instructions, but chances are if they are your best customers they’ll be happy to help. You can ask them something as simple as…

“As you may know, online reviews and ratings are becoming increasingly important when people are making their buying decision. As one of our valued customers, we’d love it if you would be willing to visit one of the online review sites, like Google Places, Yelp or even Foursquare, and offer your opinion. We’d really appreciate it!”

Capture New Customers When They are Happiest
Someone that’s just made the decision to do business with you is likely at their happiest right after their purchase experience is done. If you don’t have an “onboarding” process, consider developing one that follows-up to help introduce new customers to your organization. This could be a follow-up letter thanking them for the business, a call to verify things are going ok or maybe an email to invite the new customer to follow them on social media or to sign up for the monthly email newsletter. During this process, include a request to offer up a review on one of the networks that is most influential (as noted above).

So where will you find reviews? Be sure to check out some of the following sites, and depending on your industry, some will be more relevant than others.

Google Local/Places
Yahoo Local
Trip Advisor
Better Business Bureau (BBB)
Glassdoor and Indeed (Yes, your employees can rate you too!)

What’s the Internet saying about YOU and your business? Are you the proud recipient of your satisfied customers’ accolades? If not, it might be time to think about putting together a review strategy and getting your happy customers tell the rest of the world just how awesome you are. If you think Illinois National Bank is awesome, feel free to give the bank a review, too!