Start-ups who work closely with their first 100 customers, encourage online reviews and manage bad online reviews can significantly increase their business, according to Fiona Adler, founder of womo.com.au, one of Australia’s leading business review sites.
Adler told StartupSmart that ongoing research by her team identified start-ups and small businesses need a relatively small critical mass of 10 positive reviews before they start receiving significantly more enquiries.
“Online reviews are really important. As more and more purchases are made through or after an online search, online reviews are key to your business’s reputation,” Adler says.
She says the key to getting more reviews was connecting with your customers and asking them for feedback, and encouraging them to review your business.
“Especially when you’re in start-up mode, make sure you look after each customer and work to get as much positive word-of-mouth marketing happening as possible,” Adler says. “Bring online reviews into the conversation on your website and let the customer know there is a lot of good feedback out there.”
She adds that while businesses can be nervous about encouraging and displaying reviews in case they receive a bad one, but says getting a bad review isn’t as important as how you deal with it.
“Take the focus of whether the customer is right or wrong, and appreciate that the customer is not happy. It doesn’t matter if their expectations are out of line, you’ve got an unhappy customer and need to address that by apologising,” Adler says. “You can explain your side of the story, but if you do, do it in a really humble way.”
She says reaching out privately and asking them back, and offering some form of compensation such as a free service, can go a long way too.
According to Adler, too many small businesses assume brand is something they can worry about when they’re big, but the start-up phase of a business has the richest opportunities for brand building and getting positive word-of-mouth marketing.
“Start-ups have the biggest opportunity to build their brand. The first 100 customers you have are the most important for a business because you’ve got the best chance to learn from them and what they really like about, and what they don’t like and you need to change.”
She says start-ups can hone in on the positive feedback and build their brand around their early strengths.
She adds the key to customer feedback for brand differentiation is to remember your offering doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“It’s really important to find out what made them choose you over all the other choices. Ask them what service they were using before and why they switched. If it was a conversation referral, ask them what was actually said,” Adler says. “Sometimes you’ll get contradictory feedback, but over the course the year you can get a great understanding of the minds of your best types of customers.”
As a business grows, founders should celebrate their positive feedback and reviews with their team to instil their brand in their team.
“When you think of the most famous brands, their founders have really shaped the brand, like Apple or Facebook or Zappos. They used their own philosophies to business and customer service and build on that,” Adler says.