In a perfect world, customers would hire you based on the quality of your work, and not on the opinions of Internet users whose feedback may or may not be entirely truthful.
According to an Ipsos Public Affairs survey, online ratings and reviews play a significant role in your customers’ purchase decisions. How you leverage your positive reviews, while learning from and managing your negative reviews, is critical to your business’s success.
Here are five ways to ensure that online ratings and reviews can work to your business’s advantage.
Humans are predisposed to focus on the negative. This inherent bias is why we’re able to vividly recall unpleasant experiences. Because negative events tend to elicit stronger emotions, people are more apt to share their negative experiences. However, these emotions can easily cloud their judgment and distort their perceptions of the experience. Given the ability to post reviews that don’t require verification, it’s easy for individuals–or competitors–to embellish or misrepresent the truth without fear of recourse, especially when hiding behind a veil of anonymity.
The good news is that consumers are becoming increasingly adept at recognizing false reviews, both positive and negative. Because a review is only as trustworthy as the individual posting it, many consumers are seeking out sites that verify their reviews. Joining a site that only posts verified reviews is the first step toward protecting your business from false reviews.
Negative reviews sting, and much like negative events they elicit stronger emotions. While you might be tempted to respond to a negative review with an immediate and vigorous defense, doing so could damage your reputation more than the initial review.
The best thing to do is to give yourself time to process the review before responding. When you do respond, and you should, be as diplomatic and professional as possible. Don’t be defensive and don’t blame the customer. Be apologetic if you came up short, or explain the situation if the customer misunderstood what led to the complaint.
No matter how good you are at what you do, there’s always room for improvement. Ratings and reviews give you the insights you need to make those improvements. The key is to reframe critical reviews as opportunities to evaluate and address any shortcomings in your business practices.
Monitor your ratings and reviews to identify patterns. If multiple customers are criticizing certain aspects of your operations, work to address the issues raised in a timely and effective manner. At the same time, don’t overreact to negative reviews by making large-scale business decisions based on a single critical comment.
When a potential customer visits a site that provides ratings and reviews, they do so with the expectation that the reviews will be authentic and honest, regardless of how positive or negative they might be. Unfortunately, some sites allow advertising to influence their rankings.
In order to be effective, your reviews and rankings should be based solely on the opinions of your previous customers, and not how much you spend with the site hosting those reviews. If a site makes the pitch that you can improve your rankings by advertising with them, it’s time to question the legitimacy of their ranking process.
Some sites try to do it all: rating and reviewing restaurants, retailers, and professional services. That might pull in visitors, but this everything-to-everyone approach can yield inconsistent–and sometimes unsubstantiated–reviews from customers who aren’t as knowledgeable as those who post on industry-specific sites.
While it’s a good idea to expand your reach by posting your business profile across multiple sites, focus your efforts on those that are directly related to your industry, specifically those that screen member businesses and verify all ratings and reviews before publishing them.
—Chris Terrill is the CEO of HomeAdvisor, the nation’s No. 1 resource for pre-screen home improvement specialists. Terrill has years of leadership experience in the Internet business, including executive positions at Match.com, Nutrisystems.com, and Blockbuster.com.