By Lauren Glass, Product Manager, G/O Digital
As with any service-based industry, online reviews can make or break your HVAC business. In fact, research shows that 72 percent of consumers have more trust in a local business with overwhelmingly positive online reviews. However, we all know it’s the occasional displeased customer who is far more likely to log in and leave their unfiltered opinion. With reviews playing such an important role in building your business, what can you do to boost your online reputation with more positive comments? And how should you handle the negative ones?
Know Where You Are
The first step in managing your image online is getting a handle on your web presence. If you haven’t already updated and/or claimed your business on the major listing sites, it’s time to do so. Your business may already be listed even if you didn’t add it – in which case, you likely have reviews linked to your business as well. Key sites to monitor are Yelp, Facebook, Google, the Better Business Bureau and industry specific sites like Angie’s List and Home Advisor.
Check that all your information is accurate and that you’ve registered as the business owner. If your businesses is listed but you don’t own the listing, it’s important you take the next step and claim it. Having control of your business listings ensures you also control your business information on the internet. This typically involves a simple verification process but it’s essential to your ability to respond to reviews and be part of the conversation with your customers. This adds credibility and trust when potential customers see that a business owner is involved and cares about their brand’s impression.
Keep Your Ear to the Ground
The next key step is to start listening. You can set up direct notifications from sites like Yelp and Facebook so you’ll get alerts when new reviews and comments are posted, while other sites may require a manual check. Try to monitor reviews once per day. Most customers expect a response to a question or complaint within 24 hours. Unanswered questions could mean they take their business elsewhere and complaints need to be addressed in a timely fashion as well – more on that in a bit.
Beyond keeping a watchful eye on review sites, you’ll want to monitor social media (beyond your own channels) and the web for organic conversations about you or your business. There are several great tools available to help simplify this task. A few of the most common are Hootsuite or Sprout (both of which offer varying subscription plans) and good old fashioned Google Alerts (which are free). These platforms enable real-time insight about when and where you’re being talked about and can help you quickly gauge the sentiment of the mentions (positive to negative), as well how much momentum the comments are gaining (their influence or reach). You might be surprised by what customers are saying and could even find inspiration from those conversations for your next blog post or marketing campaign. Actively listening and responding to what’s being said about your business online is imperative for positive reputation development.
Deal with Dissatisfaction
Bad reviews are where most small business owners get hung up. First off, know this: they are par for the course. While we all strive for every customer to be a happy one, there will inevitably be complaints, whether justified or not. It’s helpful to view them as learning tools. Don’t take them personally; rather, look at each of them as an opportunity and a challenge to turn a negative into a positive.
Follow these six golden rules of responding to criticism online:
- Above all else, respond! A surprising number of business owners simply ignore bad reviews. This is a poor strategy because it demonstrates to potential customers that you may be unwilling to respond to or correct customer concerns. Respond in a timely manner. As mentioned above, the rule of thumb is within 24 hours. The sooner you can address a complaint, the better. However, if a review really has your feathers ruffled, it’s in your best interest to leave it unanswered until you’ve had time to calm down and reply professionally.
- Apologize and take the conversation offline. Even if you think the review is unjustified, a simple “we’re sorry you had a bad experience and we’d like to ensure it doesn’t happen again” can help alleviate some of the customer’s anger. Offering a contact email or phone number is a great way to show the rest of the online audience that you’re working on a solution and also takes the conversation offline where you can discuss the problem directly with the customer. Moving the conversation offline for a resolution is key for two reasons: First, you don’t want things to escalate and have the conversation public for others to see, share or chime in on. Secondly, if you make resolutions public (like offering 50 percent off a customer’s next service to make-up for the unsatisfying service the first time), you’re making yourself vulnerable to other customers who may try to take advantage or make complaints in order to gain the same sort of resolution.
- Once you’ve resolved the issue and turned a frustrated customer into a happy one, it’s perfectly ok to nicely ask the customer if they wouldn’t mind going back to their original review and comment that the problem was rectified. (It’s not recommended to make this comment yourself, however, as it tends to appear disingenuous.)
- Don’t say your business name. You understand the importance of SEO, but did you know reviews are included in that SEO equation? To help deter negative reviews from appearing in search results, avoid using the name of your business in your reply. (You may have guessed it, but using this logic, it is recommended you write your business name when you reply to positive reviews!)
- Know when to let it go. There may be times when you’ve done everything right and you still can’t make a customer happy. If you’ve responded to the complaint and offered a solution offline or made other comments expressing how you are working to ensure the issue doesn’t happen again, other customers will see this and you’ve done your job.
- It’s also worth mentioning that you should never delete customer feedback. Sites like Yelp make it nearly impossible to get a review removed but for social sites like Facebook where you do have the power to edit pages on which you’re the admin, don’t do it. The same rules as above apply. Respond, take it offline when possible, and use it as an opportunity to learn and improve.
Get More Love
While reviews are highly influential in a customer’s decision making process, the average customer will read less than 10 of them before settling on their opinion of a business. What can you do to ensure that opinion is positive? Don’t be afraid to solicit reviews, however, trying to manipulate the system (offering discounts for positive reviews, having all your employees post fake reviews, etc.) is a huge no-no and may get you blocked from some sites.
Here are three tried and true tips for getting more genuine online props for all the great work you do:
- When the job is done, ask! It’s perfectly acceptable to ask a client as you’re wrapping up the visit to share their honest feedback online. Seven out of 10 customers will do it!
- Make it easy. Provide links on your business card or invoices which lead to your online profile(s) so people don’t have hunt you down to write a review.
- Follow up via email with a targeted message. Within a day or two of an interaction, send the customer a brief and friendly email letting them know it was a pleasure to serve them and ask them to leave a brief comment about their experience. Give them links and don’t make it sound like a daunting task. Email is one of the most effective ways to garner reviews. They’re already online when they’re reading your message so they’re much more likely to act immediately.
Thank Your Brand Advocates
We already mentioned how customers are more highly motivated to leave a review after a bad experience versus a good one, so when a customer does take the time to write you some kudos, they deserve some thanks for their time. Many businesses fall short on showing gratitude for kind words because they get hung up on handling the conflicts. All it takes is a simple acknowledgement and a thank you to make your happy customers feel appreciated. A quick thanks goes a long way in fostering a continued relationship with that customer!
Reputation development is one of the best things you can do to help grow your business. And in the crowded field of HVAC business, your 10 positive reviews could be the tipping point for a customer when deciding between you and your 4-star competitor.
If you don’t have time to monitor and manage your online profiles yourself, consider hiring outside help. Some estimates show that claiming your business on Yelp alone could put an additional $8k in your pocket annually. The bottom line: investing in your online brand management is always a smart decision.
About the Author
Lauren Glass has been with G/O Digital over four years and is a Product Manager in Phoenix, Arizona. Lauren graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and is passionate about all things digital, particularly as it relates to search.