In a perfect marketing world, consumers would trust what a company is selling, believing in the maxim "You get what you pay for."
But trusting a brand's word is no longer the final say in consumer decisions. Consumers increasingly are turning to social media and user-generated review sites to make purchasing decisions.
The greatest friend to a business is a happy customer. That person often spreads the word through Facebook status updates, Twitter shout outs and reviews on sites such as Yelp. But that same customer also can be the worst enemy of a business' reputation with scathing reviews.
Should a business sit back and hope more of its satisfied customers take care of spreading the brand's happy song and, while at it, drown out those bad reviews? Or is it more important to take steps to counter the bad with a response that shows customer service is important?
It can be tricky, but if done correctly, owning the bad with the good and answering those scathing reviews can go a long way in establishing a real commitment to customer service.
Just as it is important to respond to negative reviews, it's also vital to answer the positive. If someone is happy with an experience, thank them for their support.
Consumer-generated reviews don't affect every sector. But any business that is part of the service industry should consider keeping track of consumer reviews. Restaurants, hotels and smaller retailers can be especially harmed by poor reviews.
TripAdvisor changed the game for the hotel industry when it was founded in 2000. An early adopter of user-generated content, the site features forums on specific destinations around the world as well as restaurant and accommodation reviews. The more good reviews and star ratings, the higher a business will be ranked. Users depend on the rankings, but also read the reviews to learn about a hotel before booking.
When responding to reviews, it's important to stress a commitment to service. Own whatever issues the commenter is concerned over, whether it appears to be valid or not.
Unfortunately, fake negative reviews do exist. It's important to not accuse a reviewer of being inauthentic, and never tell them they are wrong.
Accept full responsibility, tell them you are addressing the situation, and offer to take the conversation offline. Always leave an email address, preferably of someone in a leadership role, where they can send additional concerns or comments.
A business can use these negative reviews to learn from customers what is and isn't working and how to make improvements.
Find more advice at www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).