Once upon a time, it was fine for brand managers of large, multi-location organizations to deliver great products and services, then cross their fingers
and hope for customer referrals.
It wasn’t a bad strategy. Those trusted, yet anecdotal, personal recommendations were a major way to generate new business.
That was then; this is now.
In this age of star ratings, review sites and social media, traditional word-of-mouth is a dying strategy for attracting customers.
This isn’t to suggest that traditional referrals are no longer valuable, but if you still rely heavily on them, you’re vulnerable to competitors with
stellar online reviews that drive major purchasing decisions.
· An overwhelming 90 percent of buyers say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. (Dimensional Research)
· More than 80 percent of internet users search online for health information, and one-fifth of their searches are about specific providers. (Pew Research)
· According to a survey by Local Consumer Review, nearly 90 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as word of mouth.
Thanks to their exposure to this digital democracy, brand managers for location-based organizations face a marketing predicament which will force them to
The 2017 Social Media Conference for PR, Marketing and Corporate Communicators at Disney World.
Consumers drive brand conversations
The proliferation of online reviews has created a unique challenge for marketers. Here’s what marketers are dealing with today:
1. Every customer has a megaphone.
All of us—whether we go to a physical store or shop online—have the opportunity to virtually rate every transaction with every seller.
Collectively, those client or customer reviews can boost or bust a single business location—or even an entire brick-and-mortar chain.
2. You can’t rely on satisfied customers to proactively share their experiences.
According to a Dimensional Research survey of customers, 35 percent of those who had a bad business interaction were likely to share it through an online
review, but only 23 percent of those with good experiences were likely to post.
As a result, online reviews can often paint a distorted, unflattering picture of an organization that doesn’t reflect actual levels of customer
3. There are too many sites to monitor by yourself.
There are multiple mainstream review sites—Google, Yahoo, Facebook, CitySearch, InsiderPages, Angie’s List and more—as well as industry-specific sites such
as Edmunds, HealthGrades and RateMDs. Even with a goal of constant monitoring and rapid response, it’s tough to show customers that you care with this
deluge of opinion and comment.
Fortunately, these problems have a solution.
Embracing the “new normal”
In order to get ahead of any negative customer sentiment or boost your positive online presence, you must actively manage your online reputation. How do
you do that?
1. Start by asking.
Simply (but systematically) ask all customers to write honestly about their experiences with each of your organization’s locations, and give them two or
three links to the review sites that matter to you.
If you make this a consistent practice, the volume of positive reviews can rise to match the actual satisfaction level of your customers—and your star
ratings will shoot higher, too.
2. Take feedback seriously.
Constructive criticism is important information that can help improve operations—whether through making a process more efficient or by coaching a person to
It’s also a signal that someone from your team should engage each complaining customer in a conversation. Listen to that person’s story without
interruption, then empathize, apologize and swiftly resolve the issue.
3. Use technology.
A good, cloud-based online reputation management platform reduces the difficulty and expense of collecting, monitoring and tracking customer reviews on
multiple online review sites across hundreds—or thousands—of geographically dispersed locations.
Among other benefits, the right ORM solution can show your chief marketing office and other executives your organization’s customer satisfaction levels
across all locations.
It can also show what’s being said about each individual location and each location’s performance as compared to the others—or against competitors—and
enables your marketing team to contact customers via email to solicit additional feedback.
For example, one surgical hospital used ORM software to request patient reviews of itself and each of its surgeons. Within 10 months, it quadrupled the
number of its reviews from 49 to 225. It also increased the number of positive reviews from 75 percent to 91 percent, resulting in an average star rating
of 4.2 for all surgeons and 4.7 for the hospital.
In the process, it identified and resolved multiple issues related to hospital processes and individual doctors, leading to better patient care.
Don’t mourn the demise of traditional word of mouth. Brand managers who use online reviews have far more viable tools for enhancing their organizations’
reputations, improving customer service and driving operating results.
Mark Lange is the chief marketing officer of Reputation.com. Previously, Lange ran product marketing for PeopleSoft and led a $1.2 billion line of
business for SAP. Contact him at email@example.com.