How often have you changed your mind about going to a restaurant or using a particular service because the company had an overwhelming amount of negative reviews? In a 2011 study of online purchasing behavior, four of five consumers changed their minds about a purchase based on negative information they found online. So what’s your web reputation and is it affecting sales?
In the same study — the Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker — 87% of respondents said that a favorable review confirmed their decision to make a purchase. The car rental industry is not immune to this growing trend.
What is ‘Online Reputation’?
Your online reputation is simply what is being said about your company throughout the Internet.
With a myriad of review websites available to consumers — Yelp being one of the most popular — word of mouth is no longer the only opinion consumers rely on. And this is true whether in the U.S. or abroad.
“With the rapid growth of social media and the ability for a brand to be tarnished very easily online, it is clear that all companies, not just car rental, should be actively involved in as many online forums as possible,” says Brad Aldroft, IT and special projects manager for Redspot Rent a Car, an independently operated and privately owned company in Australia.
Having a bad online reputation can cost company sales as more and more consumers use the web to search for and to write reviews. For example, The Harvard Business Review found in a 2011 study that each added star on a restaurant review translated to a 5-9% increase in revenue.
“This is not a fix it and then walk away type issue,” says Brent Franson, vice president of sales for Reputation.com, an online reputation management company. “This is something you need to start doing now and then you will probably have to always proactively manage it.” He says that 5-9% is a conservative estimate and has seen clients experience as much as a 30% difference in revenue for every star added to the company’s ratings.
For MPG Car Rental, based in Venice, Calif., customers who made reservations after viewing the company’s Yelp page make up around 25% of its customer base, according to Steve Vahidi, owner of MPG. “It’s huge,” he says.
So how do you manage your online reputation?
The Do’s and Don’ts
The first step in managing your online reputation is to start tracking reviews. For example, what are customers saying about you on Yelp? If you haven’t already, be sure to claim your Yelp page so you can add information and more easily reply to reviews on behalf of the company. Become familiar with Yelp and other review sites and what they offer businesses (such as Yelp’s business center at https://biz.yelp.com).
From here, make a game plan. Be sure that the person or people who monitor and respond to the reviews have the tools and resources available to work issues out with the customer. Your “game plan” should provide a guide on what your general protocol is when responding to customers — and remember that responding publicly should be part of this plan.
“You should read and be aware of and make a decision on all reviews,” Franson says, adding that making a “decision tree” could be helpful. For example, when do you reply to negative reviews and how? And should you ever respond to positive reviews?
Here are some guiding principles:
If a positive review goes above and beyond, you could respond publicly to the review, but responding to each positive review is not recommended. “It can appear cheesy if you respond to all your positive reviews, but it is a great way to personify your organization,” Franson says.
MPG doesn’t respond to any positive reviews. “We want things to happen naturally,” Vahidi says.
Franson advises that if the review seems reasonable, and the person isn’t irate, you should always respond to negative reviews publicly as well as privately. It’s important to acknowledge the complaint on the public forum, so that other viewers of the site see that you followed up with the customer.
“You also limit the odds that they will go onto other sites and publish more negative reviews,” Franson says, adding that consumers can be unforgiving when ignored.
Responding to negative reviews should be considered an extension of your customer service and relationship building. “By [responding online] we reinforce to other potential customers who happen to read our response to a bad review that we actually care about our customers, and will go above and beyond to sort out any issues, no matter how big or small,” Aldcroft says.
So what should your public response say? Franson suggests not getting too specific in the response, and that it’s important to state you will follow up with the customer privately.
Before the private follow-up, the rental transaction must be examined. “In most cases, the issue will need to be investigated further from our end, and so we comment publicly saying that and give them a timeline for a resolution,” Aldcroft says. “We aim to have all issues resolved within the first 24 hours. In all cases we attempt to turn a bad situation into a good one, publicly admitting fault — if that’s the case — and admission that we’ll fix the issues, and sometimes a form of compensation.”
Realizing that compensation may be necessary is important and should be part of the private follow-up conversation with the reviewer.
However, be cautious in your public response. “Sometimes when you get yourself too involved, then people start writing negative reviews just to get free stuff,” Vahidi says. That’s why it’s important to investigate each review on a case-by-case basis and respond to the reviewer privately after making a public acknowledgement of the review.
Getting and Tracking Reviews
While more people are leaving comments and reviews online, many companies have a low review volume.
“The more online reviews you have, the more likely you’re going to appear in Google’s local searches,” Franson says, adding that generally speaking, consumers tend to trust the company with 50 reviews over the company with only one review, even if it is positive. As well, having no reviews can be damaging.
To get more reviews, it’s OK to encourage customers to share their experience online, but don’t ever fabricate reviews or get friends and family to leave reviews. Websites like Yelp have filtering mechanisms that remove fabricated reviews and don’t include them in the overall ratings. It’s also not a good idea to post emails that customers sent directly to your company.
Franson emphasizes that it’s about getting honest opinions. “Create a culture where you ask for feedback from everyone,” he says. Feedback can be encouraged through follow-up emails to customers or at the counter when they return the vehicle.
In his encounters, Franson says it’s rare for customers to be bothered when asked to share their experiences, but that either way, be prepared for customers to share good and bad experiences. “You’re going to increase the volume of positive and negative reviews, but as a percentage of the total, negative reviews will decrease,” he says.
For MPG, Vahidi says positive reviews have become “contagious” now that the company has established a good rapport online. The company even has a direct link on its website to its Yelp page, which helps in tracking the amount of customers Yelp brings in the door. Through Google Analytics, MPG can see how many people come to the homepage, click on the Yelp link and still make a reservation, and can also track how many customers are coming directly from the Yelp page.
Redspot also tracks its reviews. The company uses a mix of tools to keep track of reviews, but through internal software, the company manually keeps track of reviews online and offline. The company benchmarks its complaint percentage within those reviews. “[Tracking complaints] allows us to filter specific criteria to inform us of potential troublesome locations, as well as allow us to review our own internal policies if the same issue seems to be recurring,” Aldcroft says. “Nationally our complaints ratio is under 0.5% and we strive to better that year over year.”
Companies like Reputation.com also help with this process, offering services to help increase your review volume, as well as tools that allow you to systematically respond to and track reviews. “Our goal is to give you visibility,” Franson says, adding that online reputation management should not be a 30 minute task at the end of someone’s day.
And regardless of whether a review is positive or negative, Vahidi points out that any feedback is good feedback. “It’s nice to have a customer’s perspective of what’s going on instead of your employees,” he says.
Online Reviews By the Numbers
- 78% of consumers believe it is very important to look up information and/or businesses online before deciding to interact or do business with them. (Harris Interactive for Intelius)
- 74% of consumers claim they would most likely refuse to interact or do business with a person or company if they found negative information about them online. (Harris Interactive for Intelius)
- Each ratings star added on a restaurant review translates to a 5-9% effect on revenues. (Harvard Business Review)
- 70% of people trust recommendations from unknown users online. (Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey)
- 4 out of 5 consumers have changed their minds about a recommended purchase based solely on negative information they found online. (Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker)
- 87% of consumers report that a favorable review has confirmed their decision to purchase. (Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker)
The Reputation Score
Reputation.com has been awarded patents for its “reputation score.” The score looks beyond star ratings and looks at the context of the review, such as the length and where it appears, as well as the volume of reviews and other factors. More information can be found about the score and the company’s services at www.reputation.com.
To read more stories from Auto Rental News' 2013 How-To Issue, click here.