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User Ratings and Reviews: Join the Conversation

stewart-gregg
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In "Local Search Lives or Dies by User Reviews," we discussed how social media and ratings and reviews were beginning to meld with local. Consumer usage of ratings and reviews continues to grow (22 percent in 2007 to 24 percent this year), as well as their importance to everyday local business information (56 percent of consumers think reviews are important).

Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective ways to sell a product/service, and that's exactly what consumer reviews provide online. Even though some businesses may be hesitant to allow consumer reviews, the 2008 TMPDM-comScore study found that many consumers (49 percent) submit positive reviews because a product/service was exceptional.

Many sites offer ratings and reviews as a one of many features on of their local search product, including Yellowpages.com, Superpages, and Citysearch.

A new breed of Internet yellow pages (IYP) sites, who's primary business model is focused on ratings and reviews, has transformed this information from anonymously provided information to focus on the social aspects and community formed around specific reviewers.

This has created an extended network of trusted word-of-mouth recommendations, such as Angie's List and Yelp.

Yelp's progression over the past several months makes it an emerging site to keep an eye on and test. Yelp couples a simple local search interface with local content and reviews to help users pick merchants and services based on the experiences of others. Word of mouth has long been one of the viral tactics that marketers' seek to leverage. Seek out the influencers to spur early trial and adoption. They tell two friends, and so on, and so on...

Yelp has spawned a small army of "Yelpers" who have created more than 4 million local business reviews. Usage is based on initial penetration of the top 20 major metro markets.

"Yelp is generating in excess of 14 million unique visits to the site," according to Jed Nachman, VP sales at Yelp. "While we are available to users throughout the U.S. we are focused on building deep content of user reviews in the top 20 U.S. markets."

Business owners are provided the opportunity to proactively monitor and respond to customers who leave feedback.

Yelp's advice to business owners is to watch, listen and, when ready, join in the conversation. Additionally, they provide the following simple, but effective, tips for business owners.

Do:

  • Login regularly to keep track of your business page.
  • Make sure your business information is correct (e.g., opening hours, brands carried, etc.).
  • Thank those customers who have reviewed your business.
  • Update business photos and announcements to keep customer interested.

Don't:

  • Review your own business or solicit reviews from employees or friends.
  • Spam Yelpers with promotional messages.
  • Overestimate the impact of a single negative review. It happens to even the best businesses.
  • Lash out at people that have written negative reviews about your business. Remember, "the customer is always right."

While these tips are mostly common sense, the best advice usually is. All too often, advertisers are frustrated by a response an individual attaches to their local listing. Yet, when I ask these advertisers if they have a strategy and business process for responding to the input, the answer is a resounding, "no."

Customers and prospects are volunteering information on their purchase and service experience in real-time. Many companies invest thousands of dollars in customer satisfaction surveys and here is free diagnostic information.

Having access to this customer satisfaction information is good, but marketers need to spread the word internally within their organizations. So, here's a checklist of some of the folks in your organization to share this information with:

  • Customer service reps who answer the phones or greet the customers when they walk in.
  • Department heads responsible for the particular aspect being commented on, e.g., dispatching, service, etc.
  • Advertisement creators; areas of weakness that are overcome tend to become areas of opportunity for messaging to customers to increase sales.

Finally, make sure you create a process for actioning negative feedback and a scorecard or database of input to measure your progress as you improve your consumer sales/service experience. As consumers seek out today's newest form of electronic word-of-mouth referrals, you want to position your firm to be a leader in taking customer good and bad input, and incorporating it into your business improvement plans. Remember: that which gets measured can be optimized.

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