At a conference recently, I asked the audience to raise their hands if they knew what their business’s online reputation was right now.
About half of the room put their hands up—the other half looked at me reasonably blankly.
If you are one of those giving me a blank stare right now, then this message is for you: Your business’s online reputation can no longer be ignored. It is not just some trend or a ‘nice-to-have’; it is a real, tangible factor in your business’s success.
The rising importance of online reputation
Over the last five years, the relevance of online reviews has increased exponentially. The number of Google Reviews per year, for example, has increased by between 200% and 300% year on year, over the last three years.
This rise in volume has led to a change in the weight consumers attribute to online reviews. Just look at these statistics from a Neilsen study:
27% of potential customers will engage with your business if you have a 2-star rating
72% will engage if you have a 3-star rating
92% will engage if you have a 4-star or higher rating
For those who are not aware of your online reputation, this is cold, hard evidence of its importance. A prospective customer is drawn in by your marketing, googles your business to make a purchasing decision, then a rating pops up next to your business’s name. Whether that rating is 2.5 stars or 4 stars determines whether 73% of your marketing budget is immediately wasted, or well spent.
Online reviews are now a measurable asset, or liability
Your online reputation affects more than day-to-day sales.
Businesses being sold, or receiving a valuation, are now finding their online reviews impacting the balance sheet. A decade ago, goodwill could be quantified with some creative accounting—how long a business has been in one location, number of repeat customers, and a pinch of fairy dust. Now, it is incredibly straightforward — what do your reviews say? If you have 1000 reviews, at an average of 3.5 stars, that is the measure of your goodwill. This will show up every time a prospect searches your business, and will impact how many of them choose to engage or not.
This offers both an opportunity, and a warning. Cultivate a strong culture of customer centricity, and every day you increase the value of your business. Conversely, ignore your online reputation, and risk creating a liability against your name that will remain for years.
Taking matters into your own hands
Given the importance of online reputation, the best thing you can do for your business is take this goodwill into your own hands.
It is imperative that you have visibility into what your customers are saying about your business—not only that, but going one step further, that you can influence this.
Make sure you have the ability to handle negative customer feedback immediately. Imagine if, when a customer received sloppy service from a checkout operator, you were able to call them within five minutes, apologise, and offer them a discount on their next purchase. Chances are they would feel much better towards your business, and not jump online to detract from your reputation. Imagine being able to capture every single customer with a thrilling experience, and direct them straight to Google or Trip Advisor to place a review.
Even if you can’t do that, make sure you’re still engaging in the conversation. In a recent TripAdvisor study, they discovered that hotels which responded to reviews gathered around 12% more reviews and their ratings increase by 0.5 stars (out of 5). At the very least, make sure that you’re engaging with reviews and responding in a positive, constructive way.
If it were me, I would choose to take my business’s future into my own hands, rather than sitting there blankly.