Why you should take online reviews seriously

James McCusker

James McCusker

What should you do if you find out that your business is getting bad reviews on the Internet?

You could do nothing, which is the option that many companies choose.

And unless the review was written by a major influence on public opinion — if the president says your software doesn’t work or the Kardashians say your pizza stinks — usually one bad review can safely be just filed away, especially if it is a simple rating.

If the review contains details and refers to specific aspects of your product or service, though, it is best to look into it because it could reveal some weaknesses in your product or in your service. And if they occurred once you can bet your business that they will show up again and again.

Smart, successful businesses take customer reviews and feedback seriously. The treasures in this area are, of course, the letters or emails that people take the time to write — sometimes with a complaint and sometimes to share a good experience with your company’s product or service.

The most effective way to approach Internet reviews is systematically. That means collecting the information so that reviews are read, sorted, analyzed, integrated into management decisions, and saved in some systematic way — just as you would approach any data that had a direct effect on your bottom line.

As a practical matter, you should include these steps:

Start a list of each Internet site that contains mentions of your company, your product, your service, or your prices, and, most importantly, those sites that provide ratings or evaluations of your products and services. Making and maintaining a list isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Internet is a fluid not a solid and sites come and go without warning. Some are updated in real time, some daily and some rarely or never.

It is important that in the initial stages of developing this list you assign your top people, not only to make sure that they are involved and “buy into” the project, but to add some experience and perspective as the system is developed. Later, much of the work can be delegated.

Build an indexing system based on the categories of ratings that best apply to your business.

This system does not have to be complicated, and many of the best and most usable ones resemble the kind of keywords used to describe books and articles in newspapers and magazines.

The general categories might include such things as “interaction with sales staff,” “interaction with customer service,” prices, product quality, return policy, payment or accounting issues, etc.

The selection and naming of subject categories depends on the nature of your business and its market, of course, but many of the basic problems that arise show up in customer reviews of all businesses.

Develop a ranking system that indicates the credibility and value of the review. As your collection gets larger, this becomes more and more important and you will need a way to sort out the reviews or comments that obviously do not apply to your business — your restaurant has never served escargot, with or without socks, for example, and most certainly has never carried socks on its menu.

The Internet, while a glorious river of information, also is filled with misdirected communications.

Design a follow-up system to ensure that the more significant reviews, good or bad, are addressed. In some cases some effort to contact the customer would be in order.

Others might be followed up by reviewing the records of the transaction (customer order, return, accounting entries, etc.) and making sure that the matter was settled — internally and externally — in some satisfactory way.

Integrate the system with any existing or planned manual methods of collecting information about customer satisfaction and the array of quality measures that apply to your business. Again, don’t ignore overall scores or ratings but written or spoken comments are the treasure gold.

In addition to being very useful, implementing a system to review and evaluate customer reviews will have beneficial side effects.

Your entire organization, top to bottom, will know that you think the customers, their experiences, and their opinions are important.

Without further effort this will lead to workers’ taking more care with customer help issues and ensure that they are not filed away and forgotten.

You can accelerate the good effects of the system by getting personally involved in resolving some customer issues.

This will correct any misunderstandings about “company policy” that the staff may have, and it will energize and transform your customer service function, and, best of all, it works every time.

If you want better Internet reviews, that’s one good way to get them.

James McCusker is a Bothell economist, educator and consultant. He also writes a column for the monthly Herald Business Journal.

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