For anyone in the world of franchising, there’s no doubt that having an effective local marketing strategy is critical to business success. For any company, harnessing the power of the Internet to create and optimize an online presence for their business is incredibly important, but it becomes even more crucial when you have one or more franchises striving to stake their claim on the local market. As a franchise, your biggest customer resource will always be those that fall within your geographical bubble, so to speak, putting them within range for engaging with your business – and contributing in the way of dollars and cents.
When it comes to local marketing, online customer reviews have the power to draw a clear line in the sand, playing a major role in a customer’s decision to choose your business (or not). On the large majority of top-tier search engines, when an Internet user searches for specific products or services, results will include the listings of businesses near them that match their search criteria. These listings often include user-supplied reviews, which can serve to either benefit the business or hurt it dramatically. Staying on top of customer reviews and taking a focused approach to online reputation management can ensure that your franchise can make the most of the all-powerful element of customer reviews.
Why Are Customer Reviews So Important?
According to ReviewTrackers’ 2018 Online Reviews Survey, more than 60 percent of consumers are looking to Google for customer reviews before visiting a business. That’s more than half of your potential customers, making a decision based off of the information and feedback supplied by other Internet users. Still not convinced? ReviewTrackers also found that a staggering 94 percent of consumers say that an online review has persuaded them to avoid a particular business, with 80 percent stating that they are aren’t likely to trust a business with an average rating of less four stars (on a five-star scale).
The numbers speak for themselves: consumers are using online reviews now more than ever, and if you aren’t taking a proactive approach to managing your business’ online reputation, you’re leaving a serious gap in your franchise marketing plan. Search engine platforms and social media outlets are fueling a significant shift in consumer behavior, creating a new form of “word of mouth” that holds a massive amount of power in the market.
One of the unique aspects of online reviews is that they aren’t just popping up for consumers who are specifically searching for customer reviews. While there are a handful of highly popular, review-focused sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook, a significant majority of users engage with customer reviews on Google. Anytime Google interprets a user’s search request as a local search (about 30 percent of all searches, according to ReviewTrackers), the search engine supplies a list of businesses in the nearby vicinity. This list is compiled through the Google My Business service, and provides users with an at-a-glance star rating of a given business.
In ReviewTrackers’ 2017 Local Search Report, more than 20 percent of consumers rated Google reviews as the most important factor in their process for finding a local business, beating out other factors such as geographical proximity and pricing. For smart business owners, it’s become clear that customer reviews are not something that should be ignored.
Customer Reviews Are A Balancing Act
Clearly, customer reviews are important – but do some carry more weight than others? Not necessarily. Both positive and negative reviews, as well as a complete lack of reviews, factor into your overall online presence. Having a well-formulated plan for handling all types of customer reviews and feedback is an important part of your larger marketing strategy.
As the statistics make clear, positive reviews are incredibly valuable, with the ability to persuade a potential customer to trust your company with their time and money. A solid collection of positive reviews shows consumers that your business has been thoroughly vetted by the public and earned a widespread nod of approval, making these reviews a highly valuable marketing tool. On the other side of the coin, even a single negative review has the power to turn business away. And for companies whose online presence doesn’t include any customer reviews? This can be a major deterrent for consumers as well, particularly those that don’t feel like “experimenting” with the unknown entity that is your business.
What does that mean for a franchise business owner? On a foundational level, it’s important to provide a high-quality customer experience that is more likely to garner positive reviews and avoid negative ones. However, that’s often not enough. It’s become increasingly key to not only conduct your business in a way that earns glowing online recommendations, but also to focus a certain amount of marketing energy on encouraging customers to take the time to leave reviews and responding effectively to less-than-stellar feedback.
Not only can reviews influence customers directly, but they can also have a direct impact on your franchise’s SEO rankings. On many top-tier search platforms, online reviews are among the most important elements in determining your local search result ranking. More specifically, having a solid number of online reviews – and maintaining a steady flow of new reviews – can boost your search result ranking significantly. For the business owner who works with multiple franchises, this makes online reputation management even more important, especially if you want each of your locations to be found by its local target market.
3 Things to Know About Online Reviews
It’s becoming increasingly clear to most business owners that online reviews are staggeringly important. However, there are a few other factors of your online reputation to consider. These elements can help you make better decisions about how to tackle the task of managing your online presence and reputation, enabling you to formulate an effective, informed approach to the challenge.
#1 Don’t Pay for ‘Em
While it’s certainly possible to “buy” positive reviews, it’s not a smart tactic. Odds are, you’ve spotted business reviews that seem a bit too good to be true. Perhaps the review is oddly vague, uses over-the-top positive language, or just seems a bit off. Unfortunately, fake reviews are a very real problem in the digital landscape. The good news is that users are becoming impressively adept at spotting them, and businesses that choose to unscrupulously buy these fake reviews end up hurting themselves more than their competitors. As tempting as it may be to have employees, friends, or family leave a glowing review for your company, don’t do it. It’s likely that consumers will be able to read between the lines and realize that there’s something not quite right with the reviews, and it can seriously damage your reputation in the long run.
#2 Customers Will Share a Bad Experience
People are more likely to share a bad experience than a good one. It’s a tale as old as time: a customer who has a great experience with your business and tells maybe one or two people, but a customer that leaves unhappy is sure to share their story with several people, even strangers. This applies to online reviews as well, which can make it extra challenging for companies to manage their reputation. Writing a review requires effort on the part of the consumer, and many simply aren’t willing to put in the time unless they’ve had a terrible experience. That means that you’ll need to focus on encouraging positive reviews as much as possible, using a variety of customer-focused tactics.
#3 A Bad Review Can Be Rectified
Basic math principles factor into your overall online reputation. Even if you’ve received a dreaded one-star review, the good news is that there is something you can do about it. Outside of responding to the review, it’s also good to remember that by nature of the law of averages, continuing to build a collection of positive reviews can eventually help reduce the sting of the negative feedback. A business with a few one-star reviews can still maintain an average of four or more stars, assuming that they have a large number of total reviews – most of which are positive.
5 Best Practices for Your Online Reputation Management
It’s clear that online customer reviews play a serious role in your potential business success, making reputation management a non-negotiable when it comes to your franchise marketing strategy. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when monitoring your business’ online reputation:
#1 Take a Methodical Approach
It can be easy to get caught up in customer reviews, taking certain comments to heart and interpreting it as a personal issue. However, it’s important that you maintain a professional distance of sorts, in order to avoid reacting in a manner that hurts your business in the long run. Look at customer reviews as data to be collected, and develop a smart, organized approach to conducting a big-picture audit of your online reputation. For many business owners, this means partnering with a professional, who can provide a detailed report utilizing an array of tech-savvy tools and software.
#2 Develop a Strategy for Responding to Reviews
ReviewTracker has found that as of 2018, more than 53 percent of consumers expect businesses to post a response to their online review within 7 days, and yet more than 60 percent have never heard back after sharing a negative experience. That might not seem unusual until you consider that the same survey found that nearly half of consumers said they’re more likely to visit a business that responds to its negative online reviews. Showing customers that your business is engaged and interested in their feedback strengthens their trust in you, which means you should be regularly responding to all reviews – both positive and negative. Not only can this help reduce the overall impact of a negative review, but it can also serve to drive further customer engagement via positive reviews and sharing.
#3 How You Respond to Negative Feedback Matters
When you respond to a negative review, always apologize and acknowledge the issue appropriately – don’t argue or try to shift the blame. Properly handling a negative review can actually translate to a growth in business, because it shows customers that you are willing to take responsibility for an issue and make sure the problem is fixed. Be clear and specific about what you’re going to do to fix the problem and end the response on a positive note by inviting the customer back in the future.
#4 Create a Plan for Generating Positive Reviews
Although some customers may take the time to leave a positive review on their own, there are steps you can take to motivate them to share their experience online. Requesting customer feedback should be a standard part of your franchise’s regular interactions, and it should be made as easy as possible for customers to leave reviews. Whether you encourage feedback via in-person conversations or follow-up emails or phone calls, your company’s message should help guide the customer through the review process. Provide information about where they can leave a review (Google, Yelp, etc.), and consider occasional promotions that reward customers for their feedback.
#5 Make Reputation Management an Ongoing Focus
Monitoring your online reputation isn’t a one-and-done task; it requires your regular attention. You should be regularly checking in and responding to reviews, gathering information from top-tier platforms, and getting a clear idea of where your reputation stands.
Take a Proactive Approach to Online Reputation Management with V Digital Services
At V Digital Services, we understand that for many franchises, customer reviews have the power to make or break your business. It’s critical that franchises recognize not only why customer reviews are important, but how to incorporate reputation management as a necessary element of their franchise marketing plan. Our expert team has the tools and know-how to put you back in the driver’s seat when it comes to your online reputation, empowering you to make the most of the power of customer reviews and feedback. Together, we can assess your business’ strengths and tackle its challenges, moving it forward on a path of growth towards marketing success.
Learn more about reputation management and other services offered by V Digital Services and how they can change your franchise marketing approach by contacting our team today.