10 Tips to Improve Your Online Reputation

Sharpen your social media skills to soften the blow of nasty comments and start seeing more stars.
10 Tips to Improve Your Online Reputation
Writer Judy Kneiszel has operated her own small business for 20 years and is familiar with the many rewards and challenges of business ownership. Write to her with questions, comments or topic suggestions at thewordhouse@ameritech.net.

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If you were operating a restaurant, you’d be accustomed to having your business reviewed all over the place ­­— newspapers, magazines, travel websites, online review websites like Yelp, you name it. Some restaurant chains have full-time employees tasked with monitoring social media and review sites in order to respond immediately to comments and reviews, especially negative ones.

As a plumbing contractor, your company probably isn’t being reviewed daily, but more and more people are reviewing all kinds of service businesses, from restaurants to roofing companies, lodges to landscapers, and, yes, plumbers.

And online reviews do matter. A 2013 survey from research firm Dimensional Research, which included responses from 1,046 consumers in the U.S., asked how reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor and other online review sites impacted their buying decisions. According to the survey, 90 percent of consumers who read online reviews said positive reviews influenced their decision to buy. Conversely, 86 percent said negative reviews had influenced buying decisions.

Negative Nellies rule the Web

If you haven’t seen any online reviews of your operation, here are excerpts from actual Yelp reviews to give you an idea of the kind of comments a plumbing company may be subject to:

“Is this a real business? Even one star is too many. I am very disappointed.”

“Would definitely contact this company again if we had future plumbing needs. He’s a very hardworking guy!”

“He was in and out in about a half an hour. Communication with me was outstanding via text. I’d call ’em again in a heartbeat.”

“Although I thought he was nice enough and timely, it was a total rip-off for the job.”

While these quotes read like a tale of two plumbers, they were all written about the same company. That’s the fly in the ointment for users of review sites. Just when a consumer thinks he or she has found a company that’s got it all together, they read an account of a terrible experience someone had with that company, making them question whether or not that business can be trusted. Which is to be believed? The glowing reviews or the bad reviews?

While good reviews might influence people as much or more than bad reviews, it’s also a fact of life that people are more likely to write an online review when they have a grievance, so it’s possible a quality company that makes an occasional mistake could have more bad reviews than good. This might even out over time, but if a company has only a handful of online reviews, it’s likely some will be negative, making their average “grade” somewhat low.

What to do with a bad review

As more people feel compelled to share their opinion on everything with the world, something negative will probably be said about your company at some point. Here are some tips on how to deal with getting a not-so-good review:

1. Know it’s out there. You can’t do anything about a review you don’t know about. But what you don’t know can hurt you, so create a Google Alert to monitor the Internet for mentions of your company name so you know when someone has posted a review.

2. Don’t freak out. After you read the review, resist the urge to immediately write an angry retort. Consider if the customer actually has a legitimate complaint. Talk to the employees who were involved to get the true story.  

3. Craft a brief, kindly worded response. Do not belittle the reviewer for lacking in understanding how your business operates. Don’t write a laundry list of excuses. Just say something to the effect of: “We are sorry you found our service to be unsatisfactory. We aim to be prompt, courteous and always provide quality solutions.” Also, it helps to use a friendly and personal greeting, like: “Hi, this is Joe from ABC Plumbing …”

4. If mistakes were made, own the mistakes. Apologize and accept blame. For example, you might say: “We realize we were an hour late arriving for your service call, and for that we are truly sorry.”

5. Offer to make it right. Word your response something like this: “ABC Plumbing has successfully served countless customers with similar plumbing issues and we sincerely hope you will give us another chance to meet your expectations. Please contact me at 555/555-1212 to discuss how we can make things right.”

6. Don’t engage. If the complainer responds to your offer to make it right by going on a tirade about it being too late now, and how you’re the worst company in the world and you probably kick puppies and pull the wings off butterflies in your spare time … just let it go. As my teenagers say about bullies on the Internet who look to pick fights: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

7. Don’t post fake positive reviews. If you get caught posting good reviews to offset the bad ones, you’ll further tarnish your online reputation. And it’s becoming more and more likely that you will get caught since many review sites use algorithms designed to determine the legitimacy of a review. There’s nothing wrong, however, with asking a legitimately happy customer to write a review of your company.

8. Look for a pattern. Are negative reviews more likely to come from service/repair jobs than new installations? Is the same employee on the job site every time someone has a problem? Do all your negative reviews come from one gender? Reviews can point out problems you weren’t aware of.

9. Head off a bad review before it’s posted. If you know your company screwed up, don’t sit around waiting for the customer involved to post a negative review. Be proactive. Call and apologize, explain your side of the story, and offer to make amends. This might prompt them to write a review praising your customer service, or at least prevent them from writing a review of any kind.

10. Don’t try to get a bad review removed. Most review sites refuse to arbitrate disputes, so don’t waste your time lobbying for that.

Raise your online grade

Consider a bad review or two an opportunity to improve … like a midterm report card. Responding in a positive manner shows that you care about customer service and may earn you an “A” for effort.

If you’ve received a spate of less-than-glowing reviews recently, look for the cause and find a way to fix it. If all negative reviews came several years ago, maybe you had staffing issues or were just starting out in the business but have since gotten your act together. Readers will see that and not hold past mistakes against you.

When I look to review sites before making hotel or dinner reservations, I look for patterns as I read reviews. If there were dozens of negative reviews a few years ago but not a single bad review in the past year, I assume the business has addressed the issue through remodeling, staff training, new management, greater attention to cleanliness or whatever else was needed to stop the complaints.

I also note if the random negative review has gotten a timely, polite, apologetic, personal response from the company. Often the response explains the situation and makes me want to give the company a chance.

And finally, if you get what you consider to be an unjustified nasty review that you’ve kindly addressed and the writer just won’t be appeased, chalk it up to “some people are just jerks.” Most rational people understand that and won’t give much heed to their opinion.


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