Online Reviews… Fact or Fiction?

 The short answer is…mostly both.

As business owners, everything is personal when it comes to our business. We are 110% vested – our time, our money, our reputation, you name it. After all, we were so passionate about something (a product or a service) that we gave up that cushy salary and risked it all by going out on our own – and all was right with the world. We’d offer a great product and/or service and be recognized for the wonderful work that we were doing. That was until social media and review sites took the liberty of bursting our bubble and then, BOOM. You come across a post on the internet where someone has bashed your company.

While I get the fact that customers are going to complain, and will use social platforms to post their complaints, the issue for me really is which ones are ‘legit’. Sometimes you have no idea who these people are that are posting something about your company.

The question becomes, how do you respond? Do you respond? Should you get into an electronic tete-a-tete? Is it better not to say anything? After all, an ‘attack’ on your company becomes a ‘personal’ attack on us.

Social media can be an empowering channel for customers and gives many of them a voice, often anonymous, that they would not otherwise have. But, for every valid complaint, there are the ‘fake’ complaints – people who have never been our customers posting untrue, crass comments about companies and, in some cases, their employees. What makes it harder is that since they may not be legitimate customers, there is no way to contact them to validate the complaint and resolve the dispute.

Recent studies suggest that online reviewing is a broken system. For example, researchers at Yale, Dartmouth and USC have found evidence that hotel owners post fake reviews to boost their ratings on the site – and might even be posting negative reviews of nearby competitors. What’s disconcerting is that for the consumer who is searching for companies that provide a certain service, these online reviews (valid or not), provide insight on a company and how they do business.

As a result what we, as business owners, need to recognize is that social and digital media should play a unique and increasingly important role in protecting both our reputation, our businesses brand equity, and customer loyalty since today’s socially savvy customers trust online reviews more than any other form of advertising. Therefore, we too need to find ways to use these venues as a means to uphold our reputation.

So what is a business to do? I suggest to (at the very least) create an online reputation management strategy. Ours involved applying for accreditation by the Better Business Bureau. Since we take great pride in how we operate our businesses and treat our customers, having BBB Accreditation is just one more way we can demonstrate to our customers (current and potential) our commitment to customer satisfaction and to our brand promise. (even though we take it personally, it’s always all about the brand!)

The BBB serves as another online review forum for our customers. Complaints registered by a company on the BBB are ‘real’ complaints made by ‘real’ customers. For us, this allows us to respond and resolve the dispute (BBB is available to mediate if we cannot work it out) and both the complaint and resolution is posted on our company page on the BBB web site. It’s all about being transparent.

Not all companies are accepted by the BBB, and those that do must operate with integrity to keep their accreditation, and this makes it more meaningful to potential customers.

For us, becoming accredited and featuring the BBB logo on our web site and other materials gives us the opportunity to showcase our level of commitment to being a company that our customers can trust – thus staying true to our brand promise (and personally, it makes me feel better).