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Online reviews

Does a strategic approach to online reviews help drive business growth?

29th Jan 2016
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For many SMEs, getting your businesses off the starting blocks and driving growth is the main focus. Reading and responding to online reviews from customers may not be high up on the list of priorities, but recent research shows that this is an area that warrants increasing attention.

For instance, statistics from Invesp tell us that 90% of consumers read online reviews before approaching a business and 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Therefore, cultivating positive feedback can help generate sales.

Engaging with customers via online review platforms is a great way to demonstrate that you value their opinions and are passionate about knowing what makes them tick to ensure you deliver whatever that may be and satisfy their expectations.

“Our research has revealed that companies who make customer engagement a top priority are the ones who are experiencing the most growth,” says Laura Runham, SMB audience marketing manager for Dynamics at Microsoft and co-author of the company’s recent research report, Driving Growth Through Customer Engagement.

“This is because engaged customers are more likely to be satisfied, purchase again and recommend the product or service to their peers – this results in more sales, driving higher revenue that lends to business growth”.

Driving Growth Through Customer Engagement found that while 79% of SMEs said they were effective at engaging customers offline, only 55% are confident that they engage with customers as effectively using online channels.

So what does it take to successfully manage this online customer engagement? Sarah Arikan, owner of luxury hotel Berwick Lodge, explains the dedication and commitment that is required to successfully engage with customers who are sharing their views online:

“There’s no half way house when it comes to engaging with online reviews and social media – you have to commit fully once you’ve decided to go that route and make sure that all customers get the same level of service.”

Arikan says that over half her company’s bookings are made online, either via the hotel’s website or third party booking sites.

“Online reviews and recommendations are hugely important to us, particularly as we are a privately owned business. It helps us to know what customers like and don’t like and we regularly use the information we pick up there to review our processes and make sure our offering is as good as it possibly can be.”

Consistent cross-platform service

Websites such as TripAdvisor have become a crucial resource for people when sourcing a hotel, restaurant or attraction, who use reviews from their peers as reassurance to validate their decision about visiting a specific place - more than half of holidaymakers will check online reviews before booking.

“We consistently monitor our online reviews and, particularly with TripAdvisor, we make sure we respond to every one, whether it’s good or not. If it’s good, we always make sure to thank them and if it’s not good then we need to make sure that gets addressed,” Arikan adds.

Negative feedback

A positive online endorsement can generate sales, but what happens when a review is less than favourable?

90% of consumers read online reviews before approaching a business and 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations

“It doesn’t have to mean the end of the world”, Arikan reassures. “When a business is your ‘baby’ and you’ve put a lot of time and effort into it, it can be hard not to take comments personally but try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and remove emotional attachment from the issue. Try to look at online comments and reviews as a fantastic opportunity to ensure you’re always offering the best service you possibly can, and also to learn about what your customers want and need.”

In fact, a whole page of positive reviews doesn’t necessarily engender more trust. Econsultancy research says 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores, while 30% suspect censorship or faked reviews when they don’t see any negative opinions on the page. The key to handling a negative review to result in a positive outcome is all in the way you respond.

“It’s important to strike a balance between valuing the customer’s opinion and making sure other customers who might be reading it are getting an accurate portrayal of your service,” says Arikan. “Tone of voice is crucial here to ensure your message is interpreted in the spirit it was intended.”

“Another important thing in cases where customers aren’t happy is to deal with issues one-to-one rather than having it play out in public view. In some cases the most helpful thing you can do is take the issue offline and speak to the customer directly, either on the phone or via email, to address their complaint and hopefully, by the end of it they emerge a happy customer.” If this is the case, be sure to respond to the original comment to summarise the outcome of the offline discussion to ensure other readers know that it was addressed.

Be more sociable

Once a customer has bought into you and written up a positive review, how do you keep the conversation going?

The Driving Growth Through Customer Engagement report found that 4 out of 5 SMEs have a presence on social media, with the most common platforms being Facebook (69%), Twitter (66%) and LinkedIn (56%) – but are they using these platforms to their full potential?

Despite having a social media presence, 57% of the companies surveyed said they regularly post updates and 52% monitor and respond to questions or comments that could affect their reputations.

By not proactively posting content on social media and effectively engaging regularly with customers through these channels, businesses could be missing out on vital sales opportunities.

“Social media and review sites are great tools for ongoing customer engagement. For example, if a couple had their wedding with us, they may like us on Facebook and then be inclined to come back and stay or have dinner with us later on,” says Arikan.

In order to successfully retain customers and encourage repeat business, using social media to entice customers back is crucial.

“Offers and incentives to come back have worked very well for us, and social media is the perfect platform to share these with our valued customers, as well as attracting new ones,” she adds.

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