Online comments make a big impact on whether you get more customers.

Life is so strange. If you’re like me (and I hope you’re not), you have to wonder if you’re walking through a house of mirrors. Or maybe just stepped into a parallel universe.

Take the impact of the Internet on who exactly is your company spokesperson. It’s as if customers are running the companies these days, and CEO now stands for Customer Engaged in Opinions. In other words, butt-insky alert: Customers are all up in your business.

Remember those nice little postcards we used to see in restaurants or hotels with that ever-so-soft, “Your opinion matters to us, call for feedback”? Yeah. Thanks, 1990s. That was helpful. But now we’d have to edit that to: “Your opinion can make or break us.”

Welcome to the parallel universe - aka the real world - where customer reviews are a driving factor in how or whether you get more customers.

So maybe you’re asking, “Was that mycustomerin the attic installing a new water heater in 110° temps?” Well, no, not quite. But his review of how you performed that service did reach those searching your market for plumbing contractors and influenced how they feel about you doing the same job for them.

What's the deal with reviews?

Confluence, a digital marketing company, released a report last year on “The Power of Online Reviews for SEO,” which made these points:

1. Online reviews increase trust.They go beyond the well-developed list of benefits, risk-reducers and guarantees in your marketing to reach consumers on another level. Marketing is best served by helping the customer answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Customer reviews, you could say, help the customer answer, “What’s in it for peoplelike me?” Consumers are looking for the commonality of experience, where they can react to someone else’s experience with: “I have a problem like that. What they did for them, they can do for me.”

It doesn’t even matter who these other people are. As Confluence noted in its report, 90% of online consumers trust reviews from people they know, yet 70% trust reviews from people they don’t know.

2. Online reviews increase local search rankings.Review sites will often allow you to add your website URL to your listing, but even if not, Confluence says the mention of your business in several locations across the Web confirms your geolocation in local search and helps you rank higher in map listings. Even the occasional negative review increases trust because it gives credibility to the positive reviews and affirms that the opinions are given freely and are not engineered by the company’s marketing VP.

How to get started

  • Request reviews after a service call or installation in person. For example, ask, “Was our service today good enough to earn a positive review?” Then hand the customer a card with the URL of your listing plus short, sample, positive comments.

  • Add a QR (Quick Response) code to your invoice that customers can scan with a smartphone and takes them right to the Reviews section on your listing.

  • Include customer review links in a follow-up email.

  • Include review sites in customer satisfaction surveys.

  • Add review sites to your email signature to keep them top-of-mind.

  • Post reviews on Twitter or Facebook.

  • Keep asking for reviews: the more recent, the better. No one is impressed by a two-year-old review.

  • Keep track of what’s being said. A couple of free or subscription-based services can help you keep track of reviews, such as Google Alerts.

  • When anyone can say anything

    So now that your customers are running your communications department - or at least it sometimes seems that way - what can you do to maintain your image when anyone can say anything?

    1. Work to move customer complaints offline.When someone posts a complaint about your company online, a lot of people are watching to see how you handle the situation. If you see “the tech was late, the price was too high and my energy bills are worse than ever…,” proceed with caution. Open with, “I am sorry that you are having this problem.” Then say, “Please email or call me, and give me your phone number or email address.”

    From here, take your response offline, directly to the person. In particular, don’t air your dirty laundry in social media. For complaints on Twitter, for instance, you can ask the person to follow you so you can send them a direct message.

    2. Don’t overreact to negative comments.If it’s about you, you may react more personally and see something as negative that wouldn’t bother a customer or prospect at all. The perfect example? Suppose someone says, “Those service trucks are the ugliest color yellow I have ever seen.” You don’t want to hear that someone said your trucks are ugly, but it has nothing to do with the quality of your work. And are you seriously going to reply, “Studies show that the color of our trucks is one of the most well-respected selections on the color wheel”?

    Know when to let it go.