July 6/13; Volume 30/Number 2
By Amanda Haskin
Building and upholding a business’ online reputation is as important today as ever. Like it or not, online reviews, ratings, testimonials and recommendations now define a business and are usually the first things consumers look for when making buying decisions.
“A lot of people are waking up to the fact that [online reputation] is important,” said Seth Arnold, residential brand director, Mohawk Industries. “It’s the air we breathe. If you’re not engaging your customers, you’re losing.”
In fact, according to BrightLocal’s 2014 Consumer Survey Review, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Online reputation management is simply word-of-mouth marketing for the digital age.
Online reviews and recommendations include posts on sites like Angie’s List, Yelp and Google Plus; social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and services or paid accreditations like Customer Lobby and Better Business Bureau. Positive reviews can often help attract more potential customers by appearing prominently in search results and affecting search ranking.
“You should let the voice of your customer speak for your business,” said Frank Chiera, vice president of marketing, Flooring America. “When you, as an independent retailer say how great you are and how many years you’ve been in business, people don’t actually believe you until they either experience it or read what other people say about you.”
But acquiring a stellar online presence takes hard work, an understanding of these platforms and, of course, exceptional customer service. The first step is to engage customers on a human level as they place a higher value today on a company’s transparency and honesty. A customer will not be driven to write a positive review of a company she has not connected with on some personal level.
“If you don’t have an active plan to go out and engage customers, all you will ever get are negative reviews,” Arnold said. “The only thing that comes in organically is a negative review. People are very willing to share their positive experiences but you have to make it easy for them and you have to do it on their terms. Once you have that connection made, it’s just people being people. It’s doing the right thing, taking care of the consumer, following up when [she has] questions—the basics of customer service, just being done in new ways.”
Todd Callaway, director of digital content at Shaw Industries, explained, “Our industry provides such a unique service that takes great care, expertise and multiple interactions. Because of that high level of service, we find that when retailers genuinely seek out reviews from their consumers, they are more likely to get reviewed than other, less service-oriented industries. The same word-of-mouth that helped them build their businesses for decades can help fuel their future growth if they tap into the power of online reviews and social interaction.”
Abbey Carpet of Mounds View, Minn., stands as a perfect example of how a business can find online success both organically and by proactively asking for reviews. The company has won the Angie’s List’s Super Service Award five years in a row, and is on its way toward the sixth, according to John Kopas, the store’s owner.
He attributes these accolades to good, old-fashioned customer service. “With Angie’s List, the customer has to send in the report, so we can’t really control that. But I’m in the store a lot, and I make sure every customer is satisfied. We’re not perfect, but if something goes wrong, we take care of it. You have to take care of your customers because customer service is now more important than the product itself.”
As for the testimonials on his website, which are listed alongside photos of happy customers, Kopas said he “goes out and asks for them.”
The most important step in asking for reviews and testimonials is collecting email addresses. Retailers can then send their customers emails thanking them for their purchases and encouraging them to get online and spread the word. For retailers who are uncomfortable taking this step, Chiera said, “If you can ask someone to write you a $3,000 check for floors, it’s easy to ask for an email address.”
Several groups have made this step even easier for their members by creating specialized tools that facilitate this process.
“We’ve created a platform for our retailers,” Chiera said. “Once a salesperson tells us [he has] sold a customer and the sale is complete, Flooring America corporate automatically sends out an email, text or phone call and asks that customer if she will provide us with a review or recommendation. We’ve operationalized it so that we’ve garnered, in the last two years, probably 9,000 reviews across our 500 stores, and our average rating is a 4.8 out of 5.”
As part of Mohawk Industries’ 5-Star Retailer Reputation Management program for its aligned dealers, the manufacturer also offers an automated system to seek online reviews. Emails are sent to customers thanking them for their purchases and encouraging them to share their experiences on both retailers’ websites and social media platforms. “We’ve built the system; all [retailers] have to do is collect the email [addresses] and make it a business practice that’s hard-wired into their daily routines,” Arnold explained.
For dealers reaching out on their own, one valuable method is to create an email signature that says something similar to “How did we do?” or “Share your experience,” and include icon links to all major sharing platforms.
There are still many retailers who are wary of opening themselves up to online comments for fear of the unavoidable negative review. Experts assure that bad reviews are going to happen—how they are handled is what truly defines a business.
“Every consumer realizes that at some point there will be a mistake,” Chiera said. “The important thing is owning up to the mistake and confronting it. A bad review is a really good opportunity to let other customers know that there is a human being on the other end who’s watching to make sure that his business is represented in the best way possible.”
Having an active dialogue with the disgruntled customer is also imperative. “Don’t hide or delete comments, but be proactive,” added Mollie Surratt, senior director of public relations at Mohawk. “Say, ‘I’m sorry you had a negative experience. If you email me at this address, I’d love to work with you to make it right.’ Really try to get that conversation offline and out of the public forum. Then after it’s resolved, encourage the customer to go back and post a positive review.”