Perception can be reality when it comes to your business’s reputation. Controlling the public perception of your shop is important not only for attracting current customers back to your business, but also for bringing in new clients. Offering quality work at a fair price can go a long way in building your standing in the community. However, thanks to the pervasive nature of social media and online ratings, even a dedicated business can find itself defending against negative online feedback.
What are some of the main things that get businesses in trouble with a bad online reputation?
When businesses don’t create enough of their own content — such as having a Facebook page, Twitter account, blog, videos, etc. — then a bad review will show up very high in the search results because there is nothing else there to counteract it.
How do you parse the inevitable lackluster review from a vocal minority with something that is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed?
The first thing is to look at the numbers. If one person has a problem with something, they may be an outlier. But if you start to see a pattern of reviews complaining about surly service, being kept waiting, or aggressive upsells, for instance, then it’s time to question what you’re doing. Additionally, it’s worth looking at why the situation that they’re complaining about happened. If they said they received slow service last Thursday, it might have been because an employee was out sick and you were understaffed. It’s likely that will happen again, so what is your plan moving forward to have additional coverage in case someone can’t come in?
How should small businesses be monitoring their reputation online?
There are more expensive services available, but a free Google Alert is a very good place to start. You can create an alert for your business’s name, and Google will notify you as soon as it’s mentioned online. So, you can respond quickly — perhaps by thanking someone or by taking action to correct a problem. It’s also a good idea to Google your company, and specifically to look at Yelp, every week or two to see what comes up most prominently.
Do you recommend engaging with negative reviewers, even if the review is coming from someone whose negative experience seems unfounded or is more a product of a personal bias?
If the person seems angry in an obvious and ad hominem way — being vicious and insulting, for instance — then it’s likely they’ve already discredited themselves in the eyes of other readers. But if their gripe seems legitimate, even if they’re blowing it out of proportion (it’s not the end of the world to keep someone waiting for 10 minutes), then it pays to engage in a thoughtful and conciliatory way.
What are the steps a small business should take to rehabilitate its public image?
The best antidote to a negative online reputation is to create lots of original content that will drown out the negative reviews. Create a blog or a video series, for instance, in which you provide helpful advice about common car maintenance questions. You can also make a point of asking your best customers to write Yelp reviews; if they’re real fans, they’ll likely be glad to do it as a favor.
What are some signs a business might have to bring in some outside help to build up their brand equity? Do you have any advice for how a repair shop might go about finding help?
This is really a question of time vs. money. There are paid services like Reputation.com that can do a good job in helping businesses. Everything they offer is something that you can do yourself, but it takes time and effort. If money is not the easiest commodity for you to come by, then you can read up on your online reputation yourself (via books and online) and take action on your own.
Dorie Clark is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the No. 1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, she teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and is a consultant and speaker for clients such as Google, Morgan Stanley and the World Bank. You can download her free 42-page Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook and learn more at dorieclark.com.