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How SMEs can strengthen customer loyalty and trust through online review management

How SMEs can strengthen customer loyalty and trust through online review management

As scepticism towards advertising rises, consumers are increasingly turning to online reviews on platforms like Google, Meta (Facebook), Yelp, and TripAdvisor to find the products and services they need. Indeed, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as recommendations from friends, and 89% of consumers read reviews before making a purchase. 

The influence reviews have on customer trust and loyalty should not be underestimated. In addition, reviews and ratings heavily influence search rankings, so ensuring they are optimised is imperative for online discovery. 

Business owners generally understand the importance of online reviews, with more than 90% of SMEs concurring that online reviews are critical to their success. However, many businesses find managing online reviews daunting, as opening the door to positive customer reviews may also let in negative ones. Yet negative reviews bring their own opportunities for customer engagement and constructive feedback, not to mention a wealth of data that can provide ideas for innovation and improvement.

Strengthen brand reputation through responsiveness

As the old adage goes: reputation takes years to build and minutes to destroy. With the influence of social media, this has never been more true. This is something businesses must take into account when interacting with reviews online — especially negative ones.

It may seem easier to ignore negative or critical comments, but in doing so businesses will only further damage their reputations. Instead, they must look for a streamlined and productive way to handle this feedback.

The best way to build an online reputation, even in the face of negative reviews, is by getting local teams to be more proactive, and ensuring that communication across the whole business is timely and consistent. For businesses with a variety of locations — where negative reviews can come from a range of localised problems, such as understaffing or key products being out of stock — it’s vital that local teams and management alike be aligned on how to approach negative reviews.One way to do this is to  create and enforce a clear, easy-to-follow process and make certain that the tone and messaging of replies is in line with your brand identity and guidelines. Employees that know how to respond to negative reviews are invaluable to building a business’s reputation and keeping customers on your side.

Improve search visibility and rankings 

A healthy review score is crucial for establishing trust. Beyond that, a review star rating improvement of just .1 could create a 25% increase in store footfall. And having a well-established review management process will improve the chances of getting higher ratings.

You may already know that reviews are a major ranking factor in local search. Every time a potential customer searches using terms like ‘best,’ ‘top,’ ‘great’ and ‘highest rated,’ Google will generally show businesses with 4.0 ratings or higher first. So the better the review score the more likely the business is to be found online by ‘near me’ searchers. Review volume also matters in search rankings. 

While responding to reviews isn’t a ranking factor, Google encourages businesses to respond because it creates an engagement cycle that can translate to higher scores, which do impact rankings. It’s important to reply to negative reviews within 24 hours and sometimes much more quickly, depending on the complaint or problem. 

Leaving a negative review unanswered, where it is visible to potential customers, will damage retention and potentially bring down your overall star rating (depending on how many reviews you have). Some critical reviews are inevitable and, paradoxically, add credibility to your overall score so they shouldn’t be feared. But the best practice is to respond to all reviews and negative reviews much more quickly.  

Because review volume and recency matter, businesses should be proactive in encouraging customers to leave reviews across the major platforms. However, if you’re in a category or geography where Yelp is important, you must pay close attention to its policy; Yelp discourages and will penalize review solicitation. Other platforms permit it and Google even enables it

Analyse reviews to identify patterns

Hopefully, negative reviews are infrequent outliers. But when they occur, they can be valuable in improving the customer experience. For example, if customers are reporting repeated bad experiences at a particular branch, that should trigger an investigation together with mitigation – and of course reply to the review and explain how the issue is being addressed. 

Noticing patterns of positive feedback is also useful for spotting potential avenues for growth. For example, are customers regularly saying that one new aspect at a particular branch, like self-checkouts, should be replicated at other locations? Do they prefer different opening or closing hours? Are there suggestions of new products and services? Mine such comments for clues to future growth opportunities and insights to improve the customer experience.

Make online review management a priority

Effective review management requires consistent attention and a personal touch; and while the process can be time consuming, as your business grows larger it is entirely possible for multi-location brands to maintain the same responsiveness as the corner shop. Digital tools can enable local managers and their teams to engage with customers in real-time via a centralised platform, allowing personalised responses within brand guidelines.  

The key for all SMEs is to put an effective review management system in place that both captures insight and enables maximum responsiveness – allowing businesses to reap the rewards of increased customer loyalty and trust.

Tijs van Santen, Chief Customer Officer, Uberall

Tijs van Santen is Uberall’s Chief Customer Officer. He brings an extensive history of building go-to-market teams for high performing tech and SaaS companies, including HP, Forrester Research, Impact and Button. Tijs is recognised as a customer-centric leader with a focus on always delivering value for the customer.

Tijs van Santen