March 1, 2024

Pace University’s Small Business Development Center recently hosted a webinar examining ways business owners can monitor and improve their online reputations by proactively interacting with customers. Titled “Managing Your Online Reputation,” the webinar was led by Brian Rauer, executive director of the Mid-Hudson Better Business Bureau (BBB) and general counsel of the Metropolitan New York BBB (Better Business Bureau).
Rauer stressed that business owners cannot afford to be complacent or apathetic regarding their online reputations and must actively work to maintain and elevate it. A good deal of his presentation concerned fundamental methods to keep customers satisfied — he stated customers should never be made to feel like they are not being heard, and they must be able to contact a business effortlessly, which should be possible with easy-to-find contact information on a business’ website.
Complaints — regardless of content or tone, and whether submitted via social media, email or by voicemail — must be met with a quick response that is both professional and understanding, he added. This can be done by training employees to deal with formal customer complaints in a consistent manner.
“Give them their five minutes, give them their 10 minutes — it’s very cathartic. Let them get it out, and then talk to them about it,” Rauer said. “If you give them that time and effort and take their complaint as seriously as they do, it makes a huge difference.”
Business owners can also reduce the frequency of complaints by being transparent in their operations, refraining from obfuscating information, like terms and conditions and refund policies, by rendering it in small text.
Rauer emphasized that dissatisfied customers, now more than ever, can easily portray a business as untrustworthy or subpar thanks to the internet. These days, user generated content (UGC) like amateur reviews hold far more sway over customers’ buying habits than professional reviews.
“They want to see what general consumers are saying. That’s the way they’re getting the information,” Rauer said. “They’re more likely to form opinions about your business through (UGC) than any other media platform, and I don’t even think it’s close.”
Rauer cited a Nielson Consumer Trust Index study that showed that 92% of consumers trust user generated reviews over traditional ads. As such, even one negative review can taint a company’s reputation.
Rauer recommended business owners taking active measures in the online space, which includes being in tune with modern web design sensibilities. A user’s experience upon loading a website must be sleek, intuitive and mobile friendly or they may disengage.
“The vast majority of searches of people looking for you are starting on their cell phones,” Rauer said. “If they’re looking at you by cell phone and your website doesn’t convert well to be mobile friendly, it’s going to look awkward, it’s going to be difficult.”
Rauer pointed out that must have a  website visitors positive experience, as they are not likely to leave a positive review if too much effort is required on their part to submit it. Outdated references to expired sales or links to social media accounts that no longer exist must also be excised from a website to make it look more professional.
Social media is especially important in communicating to customers that a business is active, and Rauer emphasized the importance of regularly updating social media accounts and how poorly an account with minimal updates reflects on a business.
“There’s no point in being on social media if you’re not going to be responsive, and actually it’s a negative. It doesn’t help you,” Rauer said, noting how taking a few minutes each day to update accounts can go a long way.
Given a choice between running many social media accounts that, on the whole, are sporadically updated or a handful that are regularly updated, Rauer recommended business owners elect the latter strategy. The task can also be delegated to one or two other people dedicated to maintaining the business’ social media presence.
Maintaining the right level of communications with customers is also crucial in elevating a business’ online reputation. This means engagement with customer reviews and comments, both good and bad, in social media, as well as following up with a customer by email even after a successful purchase.
“It doesn’t just have to end. It’s not just linear, where you make one sale, and it’s done. These are your customers — you’re cultivating those customers, you’re cultivating that relationship,” Rauer advised, though he warned that too much email communication may backfire. “You could end up in the spam folder, they’re going to block you and it’s an annoyance, and it turns a positive into a real negative.”
Rauer also proposed business owners go out of their way to ask customers to leave reviews on their website and on other online platforms. He noted that “a lot of small-business owners are very loath to do that, they’re uncomfortable asking for reviews.”
However, he opined that if “you’re proud of the work you do for your customers and how you treat them and all of what you do, why wouldn’t you ask them to review you?”


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