The Good, The Bad, And The Unpleasant:

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Tips For Managing Online Reviews

If the first question you asked when you read this article’s title was, “Why should I manage online reviews?” or worse yet, “What is an online review?” you’re most likely missing out on some customers that could help you increase revenue this year.

Online reviews come from a variety of different sources, explains Nick Nichols, a results facilitator with Dal Fort Media and author of “How to Build and Market a Five Star Online Reputation.” “Online reviews are posted by consumers on different local directory sites including Google, Yahoo! Local, Yelp and others,” he says. “There are over 20 different sites.”

According to Moz, an online data site, the company partnered with Google Consumer Surveys to learn how important online reviews are to consumers. The results showed that 67.7 percent of those surveyed said that online reviews are important to their purchasing decisions. Additionally, more than half of the respondents said that online reviews are fairly, very, or absolutely an important part of their decision making process. These results show it is essential to manage your online reviews in this digital age.

Managing Your Online Reviews
Nichols says there are many different sites for different kinds of industries. The three major sites to be concerned with for the storage industry would be Google, Yelp, and Superpages (the online version of Yellow Pages).

Unlike a website, you don’t have to create them; Google Maps and the public do that for you by writing the first review. However, you still own the page and can, to a certain extent, help control the content.

“The first thing you need to do is claim your business pages,” says Nichols. “Many businesses have not claimed them.”  

The page should have your business name, address, and telephone number (NAP) exactly as it appears on your website. This information should be consistent on all platforms. Otherwise, the web crawlers at the search engines may create more than one business, which gets very confusing.

The names and addresses should appear exactly the same; even using “E.” rather than “East” could degrade your online presence.

Nichols suggests to start with Google first, as it is the focal point around which most everything on the Internet revolves. “I had a couple who had more than one listing because their listings weren’t the same across the Internet; and when that happens, it deemphasizes your listing,” says Nichols. “If you already have more than one listing, only claim one and work with it. It’s very difficult to get rid of multiple listings.”

After you’ve claimed your listing and have made sure your NAP is uniform, it’s time to start managing those online reviews.

Acquiring Online Reviews
In talking about how to get positive online reviews, we can first discuss how not to get them. “The sites want these reviews to be trusted, so you cannot incentivize online reviews without the person disclosing they’ve gotten something for the review; and that really nullifies the point of a review,” says Nichols.

Instead, you can encourage your customers to leave reviews on the sites. “Storage managers know who their champions are, the people with whom they have a good rapport,” Nichols says. “These are the people you can ask to put up a review.”

There are some steps your managers can take that will make it easy for your customers to visit your Google, Yelp, and other review sites. The customers who can easily go to Google and leave a review will be easy to spot if they have a Google email address. If they don’t use a Google email address, ask them if they have a Google account. You can also ask if they have a Yelp account. Later, as the relationship develops, and if they are one of the champions of your facility, your managers can send them an email with links to your business’ Google, Yelp, and Superpages sites.

You also don’t want your managers to ask your best customers to do this all at once, Nichols warns. “These have to be naturally occurring events or it looks suspicious to the review sites,” says Nichols. “If you get a bunch of good reviews all at once, it may knock you down in search rankings.”

Handling Negative Reviews
The most successful storage managers in the business knows that it takes more than sales knowledge to keep their facility renting units. “At the end of the day, no one believes how great you are if you have to tell them,” says Peter Shankman, one of the country’s top marketing gurus and author of “Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans”.

As Nichols points out, customers are coming to your facility most likely due to a traumatic event such as death or divorce or moving. “They may be coming because their business is growing or to store collectibles, but most likely they’re in some trouble or under a lot of stress,” he says.

Empathy and respect are of the utmost importance, even when customers are stressed and less than cordial with managers and staff. This is not only the best way to attract and retain customers, it’s the best way to ensure you don’t have negative reviews.

Still, even the best managers and facilities will get a negative review or two. “If you have 20 reviews and all are five star, this may cause some people to discount the review,” says Nick Bilava, director of sales for Storage.com. “A negative review is not a bad thing if you only have a few.”

It’s not so much the review, if you only have a few, but how you respond. “First, take a deep breath; everyone is entitled to his or her opinion,” says Nichols. “Next, ask yourself if the review reveals a pattern; the manager may need more training if it is a pattern.”

The next step, Shankman says, is to ask if the review is factual. “That will determine if you stand up for the employee or make it right,” he says.

No matter what the issue is, whether it is a training issue, an issue with policy, or if the customer is having a bad day, you should never engage in an online tit-for-tat. “Nothing is ever solved in an online fight,” says Shankman.

You may have seen the online review posted by an angry customer about a restaurant and bar in which she didn’t feel like her party was receiving the attention it deserved on New Year’s Eve. The woman posted a hateful review about someone collapsing in the restaurant as the result of what she believed to be a drug overdose.

As it turns out, the middle-aged patron had collapsed as the result of a heart attack. The manager of the restaurant fired back a response to the woman, telling her to never come back. The whole exchange went viral and many people sided with the restaurant.

The restaurant most likely gained more customers than lost because of that exchange, but that kind of self-righteous response can backfire. In another restaurant incident, a still angry owner fired back online at a mother who criticized the owner’s handling of her child. Apparently, she screamed at the mother’s crying baby to “shut up,” and later defended her actions in a response to the review. While most of us can empathize with the restaurant owner because no one wants to eat their meal with a screaming child in the booth next to us, most of us can also relate to the parents of said screaming baby and wonder how we would feel if someone got into our child’s face and yelled at them.

The best course of action is to tailor a response (don’t use a generic response) that is both empathetic and shows you want to resolve the issue. “Whatever the problem, ask them to come back,” says Shankman. “There’s no better lover of your business than a former hater. If you can win them back, they will stay with you for life.”

Even if they don’t come back, your response will show that you care about people’s experience with your business. “If you don’t respond, everyone will see that you haven’t responded,” says Bilava.   

Nichols gives this example as an appropriate response: “Thank you for your review. We have looked into the issue and discovered __________________.” If you need to, explain a policy.

While most businesses pay attention to the independent review sites, don’t discount the review process on your social media pages such as Facebook. “These should be handled with the same care; the difference is you have the ability to delete them,” Bilava says. “You may be tempted, but don’t do it. If you delete it and the customer sees it, they likely won’t do business with you again. Take it as an opportunity to make the situation right.”

Finally, once you have a grip on your online reviews, use them to your advantage. “If you’re the highest rated storage facility on Google in your area, use that in your advertising,” says Nichols. “You can also use the online reviews as testimonials.”

In the end, your online reviews are a reflection of your brand. As with any other aspect of your brand, it takes time to nurture, manage, and grow. “Its hard work and a chore, even, but more and more people are using these reviews; it is a part of your brand identity,” says Nichols. “It needs regular care.”

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a freelance journalist based in the Ozark Mountains. She is a regular contributor to MiniCo’s publications. Her business articles have also appeared in Entrepreneur, Aol.com, MSN.com, and The Kansas City Star.

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