According to consumer reporting agencies up to 90% of consumers will consult online reviews before making a purchasing decision. Additionally, the latest marketing research shows consumers' behavior and opinions about a business' brand are becoming increasingly influenced by social media, so much so that your bottom line can be greatly impacted. Online reputation management has become critical to the success of businesses large and small.
Yelp, Urban Spoon, Foursquare and Google Reviews are just a few of the current online review tools that give consumers the ability to affect your bottom line. Their opinions and experiences are immediately published for the entire internet to read. Do you know what your patrons are saying about you? And more importantly, are you losing business before customers ever set foot in your establishment?
In the past, many businesses would whisk unhappy patrons to a back room away from the ears of others who are present on the premises. They did this in an effort to address the disgruntled customer quietly. The staff would be trained to keep them quiet, avoid a scene at all costs and then deal with resolving the matter privately or at a later time, hopefully over the telephone. Every savvy business owner understood that there would be no greater harm to their reputation than to have an angry customer in the middle of their establishment loudly expressing the reasons for their dissatisfaction. So if nobody ever found out, then the negative experience didn't happen and there would be no negative reputation to be broadcast keeping others away.
With the aforementioned consumer tools it is now impossible to ignore unhappy customers. To do so is akin to allowing the angriest customer to continue screaming in the middle of your establishment totally unaddressed. No one would do this. So why do so many small businesses fail to monitor and maintain their online reputation?
The answer is two-fold. One reason is that they simply haven't been able to adapt to the changing behaviors of their customers. They feel that if they ignore the negative online reviews, then so will everyone else. Even with the best trained staff and highest quality product there is no such thing as pleasing all of the people all of the time. Small business owners mistakenly think that the majority of consumers will also think this way when reading online reviews, that is, if they even read them. The other reasons are fear and ignorance. Small business owners are so busy trying to stay afloat that many have failed to keep up with the sweeping changes that technology has prompted.
As an industry consultant, I can assure you that this fear and ignorance will cause your business to lose immeasurable numbers of customers before those people ever give your product or service a try. Proper online reputation management is paramount to success.
*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a small business story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.