You Don’t Need Five Stars to Attract New Customers

Online Reviews

You do need to earn honest online reviews

Does your business need to have online reviews to successfully attract customers? In today's world, most likely, yes. For retail or service oriented businesses, absolutely.

Should you panic if your business is not getting plenty of five star reviews? No.

The trend of more people searching for businesses online continued to rise in 2014, according to a recent poll, and they were looking for a broader range of businesses. It's not safe anymore for a shop owner to claim he depends mostly on walk-in customers so he doesn't need to concentrate on the Internet. The customers may still be walking nearby, but they're using their phones to find the shop on the web first, and likely won't bother to walk through the door if its reviews are poor.

The partner of online search for commercial businesses is the online review, written by customers themselves. So what is the impact of online research? As with everything else on the Internet, it's complicated.

BrightLocal, an SEO agency and builder of tools to track rankings, conducts an annual survey of consumer reviews and research online. The 2014 survey it released in July found that 57 percent of consumers had searched online for local businesses more than six times a year, only a single percentage point higher from 2013. The most significant jump was in the percentage of respondents who searched for businesses online every day. That rose 8 percentage points, from 7 percent of total respondents to 15 percent.

BrightLocal suggested the results shows consumers are more comfortable using the Internet to find businesses. With more and better services for locating businesses, people are finding online searchers are faster, easier and better. Plus, it's habit forming, increasing the regularity of searching online.

The results may also be a sign that more local businesses are building and improving their online presence, delivering more abundant and accurate data which in turn creates a better experience.

The survey found that nearly nine out of 10 consumers in the new survey have looked at reviews to determine the quality of a local business, and four out of 10 do so regularly. Do they trust the reviews?

Yes, to a point. While people will consider online rankings, they don't restrict their purchases to just those with five-star ratings. In fact, the same survey found that 92 percent of respondents would use a business if it has a four-star rating, and 72 percent would still use a business if it had a three-star rating. Customers aren't demanding perfection, and they are discerning of online comments that may be too effusive (i.e. fake).

There is a steep drop to 27 percent, however, for businesses with two-star ratings. The sweet spot for businesses, then, are three- and four-star ratings, with any five star ratings you receive as bonus.

So how do you attract solid customer reviews? Actually, there are some simple rules to follow.

 1.    Earn It

If you want customers to write online about the top quality of your service, you have to give top quality service. It's the same with the quality of your products. You can't fake this stuff. Longtime business owners know the return on their investment in quality service and products is in customer loyalty and the word-of-mouth marketing they do for them. It's one of the reasons why they're longtime business owners.

 2.    Ask For It

Word-of-mouth marketing typically happens ad hoc. A neighbor asks one of your customers for a recommendation, and your customer shares his experience with your business. Customers aren't always as likely to post comments online. So nudge them a little. Ask them to write comments about their experience in doing business with you, but don't pester them about it. Include a note on their receipt asking them to comment and give the address where they can leave a comment, or mention it when talking with the customer over the counter. If you need to send a customer an email, you can add a request for comment in the email and include a link on where to leave the comment. But make the request only once for any transaction. If you keep bugging your customers about it, you might not like the comments they leave.

 3.    Don't Buy It

Some business owners and managers resort to hiring a service to write good reviews for them. Don't be one of them. These fake reviews have to be generic since the writers rarely if ever visit your shop, are often lame, and can be spotted a mile off by your actual and potential customers. The result will be a negative impact on your business and an invitation for customers to counter the fake comments. Also, don't write fake comments yourself. They can be just as obvious as the ones you buy, and can really be damaging if you're found out, and people will find out.

 4.    Own it

When a customer does write a bad comment about an experience he had with your business, own the problem. Don't get into an online argument with the customer. Instead, apologize for the problem and ask the customer to contact you directly, by email or phone, with details of the problem, then make it right. If the customer wrote of an endemic problem in your business, you can make a public statement on your website about what you're doing to correct it. Not all bad comments uncover actual problems. Some people just like to complain. But if you already followed steps 1 through 3, your loyal customer may rise to your defense online in those cases.

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