I get asked one question a lot by small-business owners: “There are so many ways to market my business today — where do I even start?”

You’ve probably asked that question yourself, because navigating the complexities of marketing your business in today’s digital world can be overwhelming.

Thankfully, the answer is simple: Before you spend even one marketing dollar on increasing your visibility, you need to have a good reputation. It’s your single greatest asset.

Why? Consider this: Before making an in-store purchase, 97% of consumers do research online, and 92% read reviews. That means almost your entire target market will check your reputation to confirm their buying decision before doing business with you.

And that means you need to protect your reputation at all costs.

A Changing Landscapeyelp logo

This used to be easy: If a customer had an issue, they’d tell you about it directly. Then you had the opportunity to immediately make it right. In short order, you could turn a dissatisfied customer into a happy one.

Today, however, that process has shifted dramatically. Thanks to review websites, people can instantaneously (and anonymously) share their experiences, good and bad, with the world.google plus logo

Business owners, consequently, are left trying to piece together the puzzle of who that reviewer was, what actually happened and how to address the problem. And the fact that review sites offer no recourse for business owners only adds fuel to the fire.

Is it any wonder that review sites are a polarizing topic? Business owners trip advisor logo either have been fortunate to build a good reputation on the sites and love the additional business that comes as a result — or they absolutely hate them.

The Way Forward

There’s a way, though, for every (good) business to start loving these sites instead of fearing them. A way to take back control of the conversation. And I’m going to show you the way.

Before we get there, though, you need to understand that review sites aren’t the problem — they’re merely a tool to help consumers make better buying decisions. The real problem is that you don’t have an effective feedback system for your business.

Among my clients, about 5% of their customers are classified as dissatisfied (meaning they rated their experience between 1-3 stars out of 5). But most businesses hear from only 4% of those customers. Do the math — the average business gets feedback from just 0.2% of customers who are unhappy! That’s a recipe for disaster.

We want to hear from every customer who isn’t satisfied, of course. And we also want to flip that number on its head — making sure that the 95% of customers who are satisfied share their experiences online.

How to get effective feedback from all of your customers

To get the reviews you need to grow your business, you need a feedback system that works. Here’s how, in five steps.

  1. Ask new customers how they heard about you.

This is Marketing 101. Their responses will help you determine where to invest your time and resources. If they chose you because of online reviews or testimonials, you now have an opportunity to express your gratitude for the customers who left those reviews. This also signals to your new customer that providing feedback is valuable, making them more likely to do it themselves.

  1. Check in with customers about their experience — during the experience.

This alone can save you an immense amount of trouble, because it will eliminate surprises and provide you with a chance to correct any missteps mid-stream instead of at the end, when the experience has already soured.

  1. Reach out after the experience, too.

When the service or purchase is complete, have your staff let customers know you will be reaching out. This keeps your customer on the lookout for follow-up, and it also tells them that you, the owner, care about their experience. In turn, that makes them more comfortable referring friends and family to you.

This follow-up doesn’t have to be extensive, either — a simple email template that can be quickly personalized will work just fine. That’s what our system does for our clients, and the response rate averages 50%.

  1. Thank customers who do provide feedback.

They took time out of their day to provide you with valuable insight, so be sure to recognize that effort. This also makes you stand out, because very few businesses do it. At the same time, it gives you the opportunity to ask for an online review if their feedback was positive. (If the feedback was negative, you should respond accordingly.)

  1. Respond to your reviews — good and bad.

Almost every review site allows business owners to publicly respond to reviews, so make it a habit. For negative reviews, you want to address the situation, obviously, but you also want to thank customers for posting positive reviews. Both types of responses show that you’re on top of your customers’ needs.

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Virtually every business that puts these five best practices to work will see positive change. So before you worry about marketing, start with your reputation. After all, even good marketing is a waste of money if it’s used to drive potential customers toward a business with a bad reputation. But when your marketing drives people toward your stellar reputation, that makes you the clear choice for them.

Initially, you will get some good feedback and some not-so-good feedback, but don’t worry — that’s precisely what you need in order to grow and improve your reputation and your business.

Because the only thing worse for your business than negative feedback is getting no feedback at all.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear how your business uses feedback. Join the conversation in the comments section below.

About the Author: Chris LolliniChris Lollini

Chris Lollini is passionate about helping businesses deliver amazing experiences to every one of their customers. His passion mixed with over a decade of marketing experience lead him to create a software that does just that: Reputation Igniter. Using this software helps businesses get the online reviews they need to grow their business by letting their customers do all the heavy lifting. To find out more about Chris and how he helps small businesses check him out at:www.Ignite.Reviews