Retailers' DIY approach to online reputation management pays dividends

Two retailers find a DIY approach to online reputation management pleases customers and helps address underlying business issues.

The rise of social media has done more than spawn a DIY Pinterest craze. For small businesses like Wixon Jewelers, DIY social media entails managing its online reputation and ensuring that the expanded word-of-mouth awareness that comes from social media remains positive. The Minneapolis-based company is hands-on when it comes to responding to reviews and social media posts, actively responding to positive and negative comments from customers on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other channels simply by manually monitoring social media and setting up Google Alerts.

"One thing that many business owners overlook is the opportunity to respond to positive reviews. We try and respond to each review that we get, even the good ones as a way to thank the client for taking time to share their experiences," said Jayme Pretzloff, director of marketing at Wixon Jewelers. Pretzloff also lets customers know that their feedback will be shared with the team, which in turn lets them know their opinions and experiences are valued. Moreover, in the case of positive feedback, sharing customer opinions boosts employee morale, he added.

We try and respond to each review that we get, even the good ones as a way to thank the client for taking time to share their experiences.
Jayme Pretzloffdirector of marketing, Wixon Jewelers

Part of managing Wixon Jewelers' online reputation also involves keeping an active Facebook presence and blog. The retailer uses Facebook to engage with customers and showcase different pieces of jewelry; its blog answers questions from people, sometimes in an "Ask Amy" format that offers advice on trends or suggestions for Mother's Day gifts and other must-not-forget holidays. The blogging is good for search engine optimization (SEO) results and it also builds credibility for the jeweler and establishes its expertise to a broad audience, according to Pretzloff.

However, bad reviews do happen. Most of the time, the feedback is on Facebook and is more often about a piece showcased as part of the Facebook feed than customer service, Pretzloff said. Still, the company responds to every piece of feedback promptly. "We try to get to the bottom of it just to make sure it's not a misunderstanding," he said. The criticism is never taken lightly, he added, especially in this era when consumers have a myriad of tools at their disposal for expressing displeasure.

Removing negative online feedback counterproductive

Wixon Jewelers' quick response to online reviews and the investment in ensuring its business processes incorporate social media power is spot-on, according to Shaun Walker, creative director and co-founder at New Orleans-based marketing firm HEROfarm. "Any time there is negative criticism … it presents an opportunity to evaluate the company and see if there is something you could be doing better," he said.

Jayme Pretzloff Jayme Pretzloff

While small business owners may be tempted to hire a reputation management firm to remove negative feedback, Walker doesn't recommend it. Removing the criticism buries underlying business issues that may need addressing and annoys the customer in the process, according to Walker. "Erasing all that negative criticism isn't going to help your company improve," he said. Instead, he advises companies to answer the comments calmly and constructively to demonstrate their professionalism. "Address the issue, thank [the customer] for the feedback and offer to correct the issue however you can -- and leave it at that."

Ballwin, Missouri-based Goedecker's takes online customer feedback one step further. The furniture and appliance retailer proactively seeks customer reviews, encouraging its customers by email to leave comments either for the testimonials section of its website, on third-party review sites like Yelp or on social media.

Goedecker's has seen a tremendous increase in customer feedback as a result, according to Matt Davids, the retailer's director of SEO and reputation management. The company does not ask for positive reviews outright, leaving the door open for candid assessments. "We simply ask our recent customers to post an honest review on a major review site or on the products they purchased through our online store," he said.

Some businesses may worry that by asking for reviews, they're opening up the floodgates for negative comments. However, that hasn't been the experience for Goedecker's. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Davids -- and more positive than before the company began soliciting feedback. "That was a big change for us when we first started asking," he said. "Occasionally we do get negative feedback, but it just helps us address [the problem] quicker."

Asking for reviews can definitely help boost a business' online reputation, according to HEROfarm's Walker. Most happy customers won't provide reviews on their own, but if companies follow up with a call to action to post a quick review, customers are likely to provide a rating and comments like, "Great service -- would definitely use again."

Shaun WalkerShaun Walker

Still, no matter how good a business is, it will receive negative reviews, Walker added, but knowing about the problem and taking steps to correct it is just good business practice. "If you're scared of what a customer's going to say, you probably shouldn't be in business," Walker said.

Neither Wixon Jewelers nor Goedecker's has engaged the services of a reputation management firm, but that could change for Wixon. While the jeweler currently is able to manage its online reputation effectively, Pretzloff said it might consider a firm further down the road. "As the Internet continues to change and evolve … it could be something beneficial," Pretzloff said.

Goedecker's, however, is not interested in a firm that would only improve its customer ratings. The company wants to improve its business processes, according to Davids. "In-house, we're able to be really on top of things," he added.

Ultimately, the best prescription for online reputation management is for companies to address problems head-on and for the business owners to address online feedback objectively and constructively  -- and try to avoid taking it personally, Walker said. That's not always easy.

"People tend to be naturally defensive, especially small businesses because it's hard to take criticism," he said. But a calm, rational response to online criticism not only helps resolve underlying issues but also sends a message that the company cares about its customers. And that kind of attitude pays dividends for online reputations and in real-world sales.

About the author:
Christine Parizo is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. Contact her at christine@christineparizo.com.

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