By Peter Shenk
Ask local merchants what their top business headaches are, and their list will almost always include "marketing" or "online reviews." And for small businesses, these are synonymous. Why? Because 97 percent of today's customers read online reviews for local businesses, and nearly nine in 10 trust those reviews as much as recommendations from friends or family.
Indeed, today's consumers trust random people on review sites like Google My Business, TripAdvisor, Facebook and Yelp to tell them which businesses to visit and which to avoid. For brick-and-mortar merchants suffering from outrageous online reviews, navigating this new digital marketspace can feel like a trip to the Twilight Zone.
Smart merchant level salespeople (MLSs) help merchants comprehend that their online star rating, or "reputation score" – calculated by reviews – is the first contact most of their potential customers have with their businesses. If customers don't like what they see there, they will buy from someone else – no matter how good a merchant's products and services are.
Star ratings matter. A recent Harvard study found that restaurants with a 2.5-star rating (out of 5) were 25 percent more likely to close. For restaurants with 4.5 to 5 stars, the risk increase dropped to 0 percent. It gets crazier. Even if a merchant's marketing message reaches its intended audience and motivates potential customers to consider purchasing, they will almost inevitably check online reviews for social proof before deciding whether to visit a store. So unless merchants own their online presence, advertising efforts inadvertently will drive customers to spend elsewhere.
It may seem unfair that review sites have so much power over merchants' bottom lines, but unfortunately, every business must deal with this in the digital age. It's vital that merchants consistently monitor what's being said about them online, and actively work to get more good reviews and minimize the damage done by negative ones. This is the essence of online reputation management for small businesses.
Small businesses have three ways to approach online reputation management: do it all yourself; hire an online reputation management firm; or use reputation management software that automates and/or simplifies the process.
It's vital that ISOs and MLSs move into a more consultative role with merchants. If you can offer solutions that solve merchants' core business problems, they will sing your praises – and stay in your portfolio.
Peter Shenk is vice president of partnerships at Womply, a leading software partner to the payments industry and the top provider of front-office software to small businesses. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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