Most small business owners will admit that a large majority of their new business comes from word of mouth. Many of these same business owners will admit that they don’t ask for or promote online reviews or feedback. The typical theory is that a bad review will impact them negatively, so they would rather have no reviews than even one negative review.
Here’s the thing – your customers ARE talking about you. Customers are telling their positive and negative stories about you to their friends and family. They do this at the gym, the dentist office and at parties. Just this morning, I was talking to a friend at the gym who had injured his leg and needed a good physical therapist. I happen to be seeing a PT for my own leg injury, and I was able to give a very high recommendation to my friend. Getting that recommendation from a trusted source (we are similar ages and are both physically active) goes a long way.
I also gave less-than-high recommendations to a few other PT’s I’ve seen in the past, and described why I didn’t like them as much as the PT I see now. All of this conversation happened in person and none of the Physical Therapists will ever know what I said, or that I either gained them (or lost them) a potential customer by my comments. For the PT’s I didn’t like as much, it’s highly likely that my feedback could be valuable to them if they heard it directly from me. But they have no idea – for them it is a lost opportunity!
When running a small business, what you don’t know can hurt you. We have put too much power to the impact of a negative review to your online reputation and your future business potential. Those sensational stories about people getting sued for giving negative online reviews? Those people are telling all their friends about that business offline as well as online. They are likely calling State agencies to file complaints and the Better Business Bureau. They also post negative reviews online because it makes them feel better. But how do you know the impact on your business? Even worse, what about the person who is really upset and does all these things except for posting a negative online review? Is that somehow better for the business owner? Especially if your business is serving a local market, all the people this disgruntled customer is talking to are likely other locals, who will then talk to others, and so on. In other words, negative reviews can go “viral” offline as well as online – but because we can see the online reviews, we are more concerned about them.
The bottom line is that your customers are talking about you. The question is, do you really know what they are saying? If you don’t, that is a bigger issue to your business growth than a negative online review. At least then you know what it is that customer is likely telling other people offline and can respond to it.