Reputation Management or Just Good Old-Fashioned Customer Service: What Works Better?

April 27th, 2009 by Search Influence Alumni

“Markets are conversations”, states the Cluetrain Manifesto, the online reputation managers’ Bible. And if you sell any kind of product or service today, you must be part of the conversation or get left out.

Crowd Pleaser - The Power of Word of Mouth

Crowd Pleaser - The Power of Word of Mouth

In the days before the internet, reputations were built on word-of-mouth (WOM) and reputation management was a term that referred to damage control and crisis communications. The growing reach of the internet means that online business is now a two-way conversation.

Consumer-generated product reviews play a big role in online purchasing behavior. 55% of US internet users indicate that they check other people’s opinions online before making purchases. A study by Deloitte & Touche USA reports that 18% of customers purchased a beauty or grooming aid based on reviews posted by other consumers.

The fact that reputation matters online is beyond debate. At Search Influence, we believe that business is not just about putting a positive spin on your product or service. It’s also about creating value for your customers. And the value you provide is what will create good buzz online, with positive reviews and comments from happy customers.

Very Satisfied Customer

Very Satisfied Customer

Customer reviews are not only useful on blogs, forums and review sites. They’ve also been reported to improve site conversion, retention and customer loyalty, and boost search engine results by increasing on-site content.

eBay was one of the first web companies to harness the power of Consumer Generated Media (CGM) feedback. By using user generated feedback ratings, it helped other users make purchasing and selling decisions.

Unfortunately, many businesses are still in reactive mode today. This includes even big brands, such as McDonald’s, KFC and Coca Cola. Few have woken up to the fact that consumer reviews and opinions are playing an increasingly important role in word-of-mouth marketing online. It’s only when they get negative buzz that they go all out to clean up the mess.

One example of how negative buzz can play havoc with your brand is the recent Domino’s Pizza YouTube video fiasco, that resulted in criminal charges being filed against two members of the staff at a Domino’s outlet, for posting a video that shows a staffer shoving cheese up his nose.

To minimize the backlash Dominos uploaded a video on YouTube addressing the issue. Not exactly the most effective way to salvage their reputation. You can bet a lot of people (us included) will be avoiding those pizzas for a while!

In the long run, the best approach is to take a proactive stance on creating and maintaining a good reputation online. Here are some steps we recommend to help you create more positive buzz for your products or services.

  • Provide value: The #1 rule of thumb for brick-and-mortar stores or offline businesses is also what works best online. Customers appreciate businesses that offer them quality products and services, whether they operate online or off.
  • Ask for feedback: Are your customers unhappy? Do you get complaints about your systems, processes, staff or services? Ask each customer to fill in a form with feedback and reviews, no matter how inconvenient it can be.
  • Take action: View your customer’s complaints and feedback constructively and take the steps you need to improve what you’re offering. It’s easier and cheaper to offer a refund or a replacement than it is to clean up the bad press and damage to your business reputation created by an irate customer.
  • Monitor your online reputation: You could do this yourself using Google Alerts, but if your online reputation matters a lot to you, it makes sense to hire a reputation management firm to monitor buzz about your company.
  • Participate in the conversation: If your business generates a lot of positive feedback from customers, ask them for permission to use their reviews and testimonials online. Participate in industry forms, social networks and consumer review/opinion sites.
Be Part of The Conversation

Be Part of The Conversation

Even if your online reputation is suffering, it’s not too late to change the negative perception of your business. You can syndicate articles to industry newsletters and article engines. Put up a blog on your own website and post your articles there. Allow visitors to post comments and reply to them.

Learn about social networking and how to make it work for you. Build a mailing list and keep your subscribers in the loop with an email newsletter. Send out press releases on recent developments in your industry.

Rules of the road for creating visibility online:

  • Get personal. Build relationships with potential customers.
  • Be human. Use consumer-speak, not corporate-speak.
  • Don’t advertise blatantly. A link to your website at the end of a forum post is acceptable.
  • Be patient and consistent in your efforts. It takes time to build trust and see results.