Do online reviews matter to your existing customers?

This is an easy question, right? I know I thought so. Sure, small businesses (or any size business) must be vigilant about all posted customer reviews, because they are the first impression that a potential new customer gets of your business. But existing customers? They already know you and they have chosen you. Surely your online reviews don't matter to them. Yeah, well, that is what I thought, too, until a friend of mine related a story that taught me otherwise.

I was talking casually with a friend of mine who owns a small business and he wanted to know how important online reviews are for existing customers, but the reason he was asking was prompted by something that he did when he was acting as a customer to another business.

As he related the story to me, he wanted to buy some mulch to be delivered to his home, something he does at the same time each year. He always uses the same business because he knows they have a low price, but because he uses them only once a year, he never remembers their phone number. He used to look them up in the Yellow Pages, but this year he searched for their name online to get the phone number.

Local Search Results for Couches

Image by yipit via Flickr

He isn't sure what site he landed. It might have been Yelp or a Google Place Page or something else, but he remembers what he saw: a long list of scathing reviews along with the phone number. He started reading them, and as he did, he said to himself, "Oh yeah, that has happened to me." And, "Yeah, he has a low price but he always delivers a few days late." And, "Yeah, I have sometimes had to call him to remind him about my order."

And as he sat there, he asked himself, "Is the lower price really worth it?" It was one thing when he thought that he had perhaps just caught them on a bad day a few times, but when he gets confirmation that what he has experienced is the norm, and that he very well ought to expect to happen again this time, he asked himself if it was worth it.

And then he decided, "No, it's not worth it." And he called someone else.

I had frankly never thought through this kind of scenario, but I have to admit it sounds very plausible to me. As more and more people use Google as a phone book, and as the ratings and review sites land at the top of the search results, it is easy to see how even existing customers will be swayed by ratings and reviews.

So, add this story to your list of reasons why ratings and reviews are important. Remember that the way you treat your customers matters every single day, and that you must pay attention to what is said online and make improvements to retain your customers as well as to attract new ones.

October 11, 2010

Mike Moran