Managing Your Reputation

How to contend with both legitimate and deceitful online competition.

Recently, I visited a medical provider I’d found online. Rave reviews, a polished website and quick communication reassured me. Yet, as time went on, I wasn’t receiving the kind of service I’d expected. The provider’s billing office seemed strangely anonymous. I suspect it was an offsite third party. Billing issues popped up and languished. The online scheduling was clunky. The physical location changed, and changed again.

What accounted for this provider’s gleaming online persona? Strategy, it turns out. He’d taken a course in attracting patients online, creating videos, soliciting testimonials and polishing his Yelp presence. 

I watched a nonprofit endure a similar experience: they hired a design firm that seemed too good to be true – and was. Again, tons of rave reviews and a well-engineered online presence. 

Today, a beautiful website and five-star reviews on Google, Facebook and Yelp are a starting place for selecting a vendor, and for being one. Unfortunately, to some extent, these can be manipulated. Some companies reach out and offer freebies to negative reviewers in exchange for removing their reviews, for example. Others simply fake their glowing reviews. 

The problem has so plagued Amazon that “fake detector” sites have sprung up. I like FakeSpot.com, particularly when buying small electronics like a cordless mouse or an iPhone power cord.

So, you’re competing online with legitimate vendors and less truthful reputation strategists who know how to manipulate the system. I don’t suggest the latter; misled customers aren’t good for repeat sales. Manage the basics: respond to online reviews, both publicly and with a private follow-up; maintain an apologetic, non-defensive tone; offer real compensation and remorse; and never say “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Maintain a mobile-responsive website that is professionally designed. 

When selecting partners and vendors, be wary of reviews posted on the same day, or those with similar length and punctuation. Look at how recent the latest review is; service can change over time. Remember that a beautiful website is a baseline expectation, not an extra, so don’t be sold on that alone. Call the office; see who answers the phone, and how. Know that sole proprietors often use “we,” so ask who you’ll be working with. 

And never, ever leave a fake review for a competitor. When you’re tempted, search “Whole Foods CEO gaffe.” Then, move on with your day – and ask every satisfied customer to leave you a review!

Signs of the Times July 2019

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