Today, your company’s reputation is influenced by what customers say about your products and services online. Taking into account how your business is discussed online is critical for success, since it affects your company’s overall online identity and SEO/search visibility and, ultimately, whether a customer calls for your services. Never before has it been so important to monitor search engines, online directories, and social media and to reply to customers about their respective experiences.

According to Opinion Research Corp., 84% of Americans say that online reviews influence their buying decisions, and many consumers are tapping online resources more for research activity prior to purchasing a product or service. This means you need to have a positive and consistent identity across online platforms. Here are a few tips for identifying and addressing online reviews.

  • Monitor for online business references. You need to know what customers are saying about your company online. Checking Angie’s List, Yelp, and other social media and directory sites should be a routine task. Online reputation management tools can help scan the Internet for your company name and provide reports or sentiment about posts. You can also set up Google Alerts, a free tool, to track mentions of your company.
  • Establish business pages on Facebook and Google+ and then monitor interaction and engagement. Many prospects select businesses that can show a robust dialogue with customers on social media. Creating these online profiles can help you manage your online reputation, as you receive email notifications when someone leaves a comment on your page. It also boosts your online search visibility, since profiles create additional links and more opportunity to land in consumer search results.
  • Encourage customers to write reviews. Having no online reviews is potentially as damaging as having several negative reviews, since customers like to read testimonials to substantiate a business before making a call. Without reviews, they might choose a competitor that received high marks. To encourage customers to provide reviews, after a service, present them with a printed card that gives basic instructions on how to post a review. Providing an incentive such as a discount or coupon can also encourage customers to spread the word about your business. Always be gracious and show appreciation for the reviews.
  • Respond to positive and negative reviews. Negative reviews have the potential to stay online for years. Addressing a customer’s issue with an action to resolve the problem shows prospects that you keep your word, handle your business professionally, and value your customers and their feedback. You can also take the conversation offline by calling the customer to make amends. As long as the majority of reviews aren’t negative, people will value your professional approach. If you think a review is false and has been created by someone you haven’t done business with, take steps to flag that review so it doesn’t negatively affect your online reputation. Also, don’t forget to reply to positive reviews. Engaging with customers to thank them for positive feedback is important for online visibility and for maintaining existing relationships.

How you approach online reviews is becoming more important since customers are conducting more background/due diligence research about service providers before calling them. Ultimately, your in-person customer service skills should translate to your online communications. Building a positive reputation online takes close monitoring but can help to increase your online visibility and give prospects the confidence they need to select your services.  Chris Marentis is founder and CEO of SureFire Social, a local Internet marketing company.