Technology can be a conductor or a barrier. Everything we do to market local businesses is meant to culminate in a human encounter. When we get our part right (and external forces smile upon us), technology connects us. When we get our part wrong (or external forces impede us), technology can have the frustrating effect of sundering local brands from their customers, with everybody losing out on the deal.
The modern phenomenon of local search exemplifies the concept of a “mixed blessing”. Loss of control over significant parts of the customer journey can be a source of legitimate stress for owners and marketers. Stress isn’t good for us, of course, and that’s why I’m hoping this message brings some welcome relief: control of the most important aspects of the consumer journeys remains strongly on your side, and you can thrive without the parts you have to give up. We’ve got data to back this up, thanks to Moz’s recent report, The Impact of Local Business Reviews on Consumer Behavior, and I’m hoping today’s column will lift some burdens that may have been weighing you down.
Let’s start out by taking a moment to really reflect on what it means that 96% of adults read local business reviews. Basically almost everyone in your community is perusing this content, making it the widest possible road to your front door, but the truth is that it exists in a space you only partially control. Given that only 11% of review-readers trust brand messaging over public opinion, reviews matter greatly, and it’s a tough reality that they mainly happen in digital spaces you rent rather than own.
If something goes wrong with your reviews on third party platforms like Google, Nextdoor, or Yelp, such as a spam attack, or the random disappearance of your reviews due to a bug or update, or a single irate customer shouting half-truths or downright falsehoods through a megaphone amid a small number of reviews, you have limited direct recourse for resolution. Platforms may or may not respond to your pleas for help, and some customers may ignore even your best offers to resolve their complaints – the sense of lost control is not imaginary.
Here is the good news: for 91% of your potential customers, the very next step they take after reading reviews will land them in spaces you own. 51% will head to your website, which you fully control, 27% will visit your place of business, which you also fully control, and 13% will contact you, and it’s you who control your phone and text lines, your email, forms, and live chat. Apart from the 8% that will move from reviews to the profiles you rent on social media platforms, management of customer experiences is almost all on your side and in your house.
Barring mishaps like your website being infected with malware, a temporary closure of your premises due to illness, or a power outage bringing down your phone lines, it turns out that you remain in charge of key customer/brand experiences during nearly all of the post-review consumer journey. Great news, indeed! But it carries some big responsibilities with it.
Converting on the next step after reviews
The wide funnel begins to narrow as consumers transition from reading reviews to their next steps. Winning maximum conversions from their next actions depends on having the right welcome in place in all three of these spaces:
The local business website
Whether customers click from the review profile to your website homepage, or to a landing page your listing is linked to, prepare this welcome for them:
Highly visible information on every way in which the customer can contact and visit you, including phone, text, chat, messaging, email, forms, hours of operation, maps, and written directions.
Additional first-party reviews to provide further proofs of your good reputation and tide you over in times when bugs make your third-party reviews go missing.
A unique selling proposition to seal the deal.
Your place of business
Whether your place of business is your physical premises, or your clients’ locations, you can shine on this main stage with the following:
Exceptional customer service based on the training of your staff and good management of the entire customer service ecosystem. With 65% of review writers saying they’ve written negative reviews because of experiencing bad or rude customer service, building an employee-centric company that radiates both happiness and helpfulness is your best bet for building an excellent reputation.
Careful guardianship of your supply chain. 63% of review writers say they’ve written negative reviews after purchasing bad products. The quality of your inventory supports both repeat purchases and high ratings.
Accurate online local business listings. 52% of survey respondents have written negative reviews after encountering incorrect business information on the Internet. Use of listings management software like Moz Local can ensure that what’s published about your business online (like hours of operation, addresses, and key services) matches what the customer will experience in the real world, preventing inconvenience and disappointment.
Your contact options
Whether a review reader turns next to your phone line, text line, live chat, website form, or email, assist them towards a next conversion by:
Reducing on-hold times on your phone line to the bare minimum
Ensuring all public-facing representatives of the business are well-trained in your products, services and policies
Providing realistic estimates of when a customer will hear back if they are required to leave an email address on chat instead of speaking immediately to a live person
Reducing the number of form fields the customer is required to fill out before reaching you
Offering an after-hours support option
And, of course, for the 8% who will visit your rented spaces on social media platforms as their next step after reading reviews, be sure your full contact information is included on your profiles.
Despite the market disruption of the Internet, so much about local businesses remains the same
While technological innovations are ongoing, it’s apparent that deeply-rooted consumer behaviors continue to follow a traditional pattern that’s existed for hundreds of years. In summary, people in your town want to know what others say about your business >>> people want to connect with your business for a possible transaction >>> people then tell others about what they experienced with your business. All of this cycle has always happened offline, and the only real change is that the means for some of this communication has partly transitioned online.
Just as business owners always had to do without the ability of controlling the word-of-mouth reputation their community was creating for them on front porches and over fences, modern business owners can live without directly controlling the online brand sentiment that exists in spaces they have to rent rather than owning. While it’s true that traditional PR may have had more power to shape public perception before online local business reviews made individual consumer voices so loud, the not-so-secret ingredient to brand longevity and loyalty remains unaltered: great customer experiences at and around the time of service are the foundation of success.
What every local business needs today is a thoughtful plan for managing the digital assets that now contribute to these positive consumer experiences. The winning recipe, then, is developing high standards for the spaces you own (your website, place of business, and most contact methodologies) and being as hands-on as possible in the spaces you rent (the online profiles containing your local business information, reviews, and social content). With a workable strategy and good quality tools for managing this ecosystem, the development of your good name in the community you serve will follow.
Knowledge is power; read Moz’s full survey report: The Impact of Local Business Reviews on Consumer Behavior