This review first ran in the March 16 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
By Bill Tancer
Portfolio / Penguin
Founding Farmers in Washington, DC tops my list of favourite restaurants. The farm-to-table meals are outstanding, the service is always friendly and the bill won’t bust your credit card.
I never travel without first doing my homework on OpenTable and TripAdvisor. I rely on review and reservation websites to steer clear of tourist traps and discover great restaurants like Founding Farmers.
And I’m not alone. By one count, 80 per cent of us now check online reviews before we buy. That’s good news if you’re a small business owner with a small advertising and marketing budget but a big value proposition for customers. It’s bad news if you’re selling a lousy product and service and coasting on brand recognition to bring customers through your doors.
“Online reviews represent the first acquisition channel that is merit-based versus cash-based,” says Bill Tancer, author of Everyone’s a Critic and the general manager of global research at a marketing services firm.
“For the first time in business history, aggregate opinions of quality can trump brand, marketing and advertising spend. A small start-up retail business, restaurant, hotel or product manufacturer can vault above its competitors in customer acquisition simply by providing excellence.”
Online review sites deliver more than customers. All that feedback offers a blueprint for success. What are you doing that wins over and turns off your customers? What’s the competition doing to earn five star reviews? And what business gets lousy reviews but has customers lined up out the door? Deliver a better product or service and you’ll win dissatisfied customers who are waiting and hoping for something better to come along.
Not every business owner is a fan of online reviews. Yes, there are fake reviewers, extortionists and one-star assassins. Reading a bad review can ruin your day. But dismissing online reviews could put you out of business, warns Tancer.
“While all these issues might provide a justification for you to ignore what customers are saying about your business online, the fact that 80 per cent of consumers are reading your reviews and trusting this imperfect channel before making a purchase decision should give you pause.”
Tancer offers five rules for earning five star reviews.
The first rule is the most important. Passion drives positive reviews. “Having a passion to deliver an excellent product or service is very discernible to the customer,” says Tancer. “Those customers who benefit from your passion are most likely to write a five-star review of your business. The secret to delivering on your passion is to make the end point of what you want your business to be as vivid as possible. ”
Build power through transparency. Tancer profiles Lockbusters, a locksmith company in New York City that earns high marks from customers. “With review sites, I have a whole page that allows me to be transparent,” says owner Jay Sofer. “I put up a link to my page with all my prices, there’s no hidden fees and nothing to hide. I love the fact that I’m held accountable for every little thing that I do. I know that my competition is held accountable as well, and my competition sucks.”
Make reviews central to your online and face-to-face conversations with customers. Savvy businesses are posting and tweeting excerpts to expand the reach of online reviews. Some businesses are even winning customers by putting one-star reviews front and centre.
Leverage reviews for insight and motivation. Yes, the truth can hurt. But ignoring tough reviews will cost you your customers. “You need to come to terms with one of the first imperatives of online review analysis: bad reviews happen, and you need to deal with them, learn from them, and, if possible, leverage them, or else move on.”
And finally, give us something to write about. “One of the most effective antidotes to commoditization is to provide something that falls outside the equation, something unexpected and memorable.”
Every business is in a war for customers. Tancer makes a compelling case for why you need a strategy for online reviews.
“There is an amazing opportunity for businesses to raise their level of service now that they are armed with what they know about customers,” says Tancer. “The businesses that will win are those that know their end point, embrace transparency and go the extra mile to earn their fifth star.”
Everyone’s a Critic should be required reading for every small business owner in Hamilton.