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I am very surprised to read these tips on “guarding” your online reputation.  I think it’s important that readers hear about some of the business-building opportunities that online customer forums present.  Yes, the internet has handed a megaphone to customers, but to think that the affects are mainly negative tells only a small side of the story.

 

As one of the founders of www.womow.com.au (Word Of Mouth On the Web), I can tell you that over 90% of our business ratings are positive – and many businesses are growing dramatically thanks to the broadcasting of their reputation online.   Likewise on eBay, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, giving consumers the confidence to conduct millions of transactions with parties they know little or nothing about.

 

The internet has truly changed the playing field for businesses – it now provides a means for businesses to promote themselves based on merit, rather than the size of their advertising budget.

 

For instance, Lee Davies, the proprietor of Salon Lavan, says that her business is growing thanks to the feedback her customers have written on the web.  This small hairdressing salon is fielding calls and acquiring new customers from all over Melbourne – simply because people have heard that they provide a brilliant service.  Based in Elsternwick, Salon Lavan is getting calls from Essendon, Emerald, Keilor, Croydon and even further afield.  Who’d have thought that people would travel 40km and more just for a haircut!  But this business demonstrates just how powerful word-of-mouth – and the promise of a good haircut – can be.

 

Davies says to us that; “The best advertising comes from my customers – they write what they think of my services and suddenly I’m getting enquiries from all over town! I’ve built this business on word-of-mouth with WOMOW. ” Having customer ratings at an independent source is extremely convincing for people that value good service. These days she says the salon is averaging 12 new clients a week that find them on www.womow.com.au.

 

There’s also plenty of research to back up Salon Lavan’s experience with word-of-mouth marketing.  One study showed that almost two-thirds (62%) of consumers read consumer-written reviews on the internet to make purchase decisions (Deloitte & Touche, 2007).  While another showed that 78% of people trust other consumers’ recommendations above all other types of advertising and marketing (Nielsen, 2007).  That’s pretty powerful stuff – especially when you consider that the cost is almost nothing.

 

Another case is Misty’s Diner in Prahran.  Misty says that “In one night alone, new customers from WOMOW accounted for almost a third of our revenue!  It gives me goosebumps when I read some of the great things our customers are saying about us.”  (And isn’t that why business owners get into business in the first place?!)

 

Many businesses think it’s a bit scary to have customers out there discussing your brand in an uncontrolled way, but the reality is that these conversations have been happening long before everything went digital.  With the internet and social networking sites in particular, it means that there are some key differences about the conversations customers have;

1. Now businesses can tell what’s being said about them (making it easier to find out about customer issues and address them)

2. Customer comments are reaching much larger audiences

3. The comments are permanent and searchable records of how your business stacks up

 

The result is that the impact is much greater – but more often it’s amplifying positive sentiment rather than negative.  Businesses that genuinely provide good service and value their customers have absolutely nothing to worry about.  Yes, it’s true that every business has unhappy customers from time to time, but the questions that viewers (potential customers) ask are;

a) How does the business react when something does go wrong? 

b) What is the weight of customer opinion?  One bad comment in ten good ones is really nothing to be concerned about and can actually give your feedback more credibility.

 

The only businesses that have real cause for concern about the affects of customers sharing their experiences online are those businesses that are out-of-touch with their customers, or worse, have been able to ignore poor feedback (often, but not always, the larger corporate are guilty of this). 

 

Online forums provide a fantastic opportunity to gain market-share by leveraging your good-will and letting your customers become the best possible sales force.   What can be more convincing than a happy customer?

 

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