Guest post by Deepankar Rustagi, CEO, Vconnect.

“I hate this company. Their customer service is bad. And their employees steal from you”

Picture someone saying that about your company to a room-full of people.

Let’s go a little further and imagine that all of this is false – your customer service is great, and your employees are simple honest people.

Even a little further. Let’s imagine you don’t know someone is saying this about your businesses.

What then?

There are two possible outworkings that are immediately obvious:

1: Best case scenario: someone in the audience who wants to buy from you will change their mind and buy from someone else.

2:  Worst case scenario: someone in the audience will tell another room-full of people. “I hate [insert the name of your company]. Their customer service is bad. And their employees steal from you]”

The worst part is that you can’t defend yourself.

People are talking about you.

Whether you are paying attention or not, or whether yours is a small business or a big corporation, people are talking about you. A few years ago, all these conversations happened offline. Friends and family gave recommendations to each other on what business to buy from.

credit: pilbox.themuse.com

But since mobile technology penetrated more segments of Nigeria’s population, these conversations have moved online.

People rail against  bad customer service over the internet, most notably on social media and review sites. And they fawn over exceptional service.

The interesting thing about online reputation

The interesting thing about online reputation is that, like word-of-mouth recommendation from family and friends, it significantly affects your bottom line for better or worse.

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Credit: www.audiencebloom.com

Let’s take reviews for example. Here are the facts:

  1. 84% of consumers now claim to trust online reviews just as much as word-of-mouth recommendations.
  2. 88% of consumers read online reviews before buying the product.
  3. 90% of customers say that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews.

The power to convert leads to revenue has notably shifted from smart marketing copy, witty product description, and ads, to the aggregate of what people are saying about your business on the internet.

Reviews is an important piece of the online reputation puzzle because it has the most impact on consumer-behaviour. They are the easiest to collect, and the hardest to manage.

How reviews affect consumers

You cannot control what consumers say about your business. That’s the difficult thing about reviews, and also the opportunity. It’s because reviews can’t be controlled that people trust them so much.

If you combined a good product or service with a smart review acquisition strategy, you can begin to build a reputation that will directly improve your revenue.

Credit: www.businessnewsdaily.com

Often, when people are reading reviews about your business on a review website like VConnect (where I work), they have a fairly good idea what they want. What they are looking for at the point is selecting just the right business.

At that point, their yes or no decision is dependent heavily on comments, reviews and ratings on your business. The decision then is often made almost immediately by a consumer.

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How reviews affect SEO

Meanwhile, an important aspect of reviews that must not be ignored is how it affects SEO.

Search engines, either local ones like VConnect or general ones like Google, Yahoo or Bing, love online reviews. The reason why is simple; people like reviews.

For a business with a lot of reviews in the bag, they are likely to rank in search engine results.

On Google, for instance, online reviews make up 10% of how the search engine determines what to rank in search results, according to MOZ’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey.

Manage your reputation with a review acquisition strategy

7 out of 10 consumers will leave reviews if asked to, according to BrightLocal.

Armed with this information, draw up a review acquisition strategy that will improve the number of reviews on your business. (Although, you shouldn’t do this until you are sure you deliver faultless service. It’s arguably far better to have no reviews, than to have bad ones.)

In Nigeria, there are limited options as to where to get reviews that truly impact your business bottom line.

Lyf.ng, businesslist.com.ng, Google My Business and VConnect.com are few good local options.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention social media. Here is why. While social media is a great medium to get user feedback, conversations on social media are happening far away from the point where a consumer is making a purchase decision. Moreover, it’s hard to navigate reviews on social media.

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Review sites or a search-engine-optimised business website are your best options. Review sites are especially good because they create a simple summary of your reviews and also receive infinitely more traffic than your business website.

When you’ve decided where you want to have your reviews, use these tips to start getting reviews:

1: Register on a business review website. It’s usually free.

2: Use this “Review Handout Generator” by Whitespark to create handouts to your customers on how they can leave reviews on your platform.

3: Bake review acquisition into your DNA. Empower your employees to ask for reviews everytime to complete a transaction.

4. Request a ready-made customizable “Review Brand Aids” from VConnect to remind customers to review your business. It’s free.

With more reviews, you get more trust, more customers, and more sales.

In 2016, it’s a wrong-headed move to ignore your online reputation. There is too much to lose and nothing to gain. I hope this short guide helps you to actively start thinking about your online reputation, the place of online reviews and how they impact your business.

Featured image via Business 2 Community

Deepankar Rustagi is the founder and CEO of vconnect.com, Nigeria’s largest business discovery, and review site. Connect with more than 2 million ready-to-buy customers and build your online reputation for free through ratings and reviews. Register on VConnect to get started.