When we think about the big challenges facing small business
, we often dwell on the hot button issues that are beyond our control. We consider the condition of the economy, future legislation impacting the country and the state of the nation.
What we often don't ponder, however, is the nature of business itself.
It's no secret that the business world changes quite rapidly. Some changes are more obvious than others. For example, it's obvious that businesses have become increasingly reliant on the Internet over time and that trend will most definitely continue. What's perhaps less obvious, though, are some of the repercussions that arise from such a strong reliance on the web.
What kind of repercussions?
As a result of to the digital age, businesses today are more transparent than ever. The natural question; is this good or bad?
Good for Consumers, Not Always Good for Businesses
Depends on the business. For some, increased transparency may seem like a positive. If you see yourself as running a business that has a seemingly great product, nothing to hide and are open to scrutiny, there's no problem. Yet how you
see your business isn't the issue; it's how others
see your business.
Transparency creates a number of challenges for small business owners, especially if your business is just getting off the ground. While established businesses have years to garner their reputations and followings that transition to the web, newer businesses face a cutthroat environment of users that will drop a business at the first sign of trouble. The newfound influence of user reviews and the emphasis on a business' reputation creates a difficult environment to do business if you aren't well-equipped.
For example, years ago we'd often see numerous infomercials for “as-seen-on-TV” miracle products that would make outrageous claims and promises to potential buyers. Whether it was advertising an appliance, diet pills or something that would “change your life forever,” such products often did not live up to the hype or were full-blown scams. Before the Internet, such products and the businesses selling them had a chance to thrive as reviews of such products and services were not available to the public; the only way you'd know whether or not they delivered was through word of mouth.
There's a reason why the presence of such products has shrunk since the dawn of the Internet; ratings and reviews are only a click away. Scams and products that don't deliver are quickly snuffed out as users are increasingly aware thanks to sites and blogs committed to consumer protection.
Likewise, businesses that offer poor service are much easier to identify and avoid thanks to the presence of sites such as Yelp
. Restaurants, for example, cannot simply rely on location and foot traffic if their corresponding online reviews say that the food stinks and the service is lacking. Even worse for such businesses is the fact that users can pull up such reviews on their mobile devices at the business' doorstep and make a decision right then and there. If users are skeptical or feel that a business isn't up to their standards, Google is there to affirm their suspicions. Such businesses can easily be avoided and therefore will eventually falter.
Taking all of this into consideration, transparency is great
for the consumer. At the same time, it also creates a particular set of challenges for the businesses which these consumers frequent. While customers can easily find what is generally considered the “best of the best,” it's easier for businesses to get pushed to the wayside. Foot traffic and “random” customers will slowly dissipate as users continue to meticulously pick which businesses they'll frequent based on what they've read online. Furthermore, competition is fierce as fewer businesses are able to dominate a niche market. Finally, although there are measures in place on review sites to take care of libel, there's still a chance that your business falls prey to black hat tactics.
Consumers are picking their businesses very
carefully, and businesses are doing whatever they can to get on the good sides of these buyers. On the flip side, these users are also being relentless when it comes to reviewing the businesses that they feel aren't up to par.
These rules are not going to change and this environment is not going to go away; small businesses will have to either adapt or face the consequences. Like it or not, your business is out in the open for the world to see. Just about anyone is free to write a review of your product and service, good or bad, and there's little control you have over such reviews. As businesses live and die by their reputations, what can entrepreneurs do make sure their futures remains bright?
Secure Your Reputation
Your business must secure it's online reputation. Easier said than done, right? Of course, but oftentimes having a pristine online reputation is more about what not
to do as a business. There are plenty of online reputation mistakes your business can make
, but by avoiding such mistakes your company may avoid negative feedback.
How so? Firstly, customers are more likely to complain about your business than sing its praises. This is especially true online; more people will go out of their way to say something negative rather than positive. Therefore, it's crucial for you to give such customers as little reason to complain as possible. This means that you should adhere to the traditional rules of positive customer service by being courteous, mindful and truly interested in the needs of your customers. We often see businesses get hammered online for customer services complaints; don't let your business fall prey to such reviews. Make sure that you and your employees understand the importance of the customer experience in today's competitive economy.
Additionally, your business needs to look
the part in addition to offering stellar service. Whether your business has a physical location or you run solely online, ensure your business' appearance is in order. Whether this means cleaning up your store or the broken links on your company website, make the effort to look professional in every sense of the word. Looking and acting professional will help keep problem customers at bay; even if they disagree with you, they'll be inclined to at least respect your professionalism.
On actual sites where customers offer ratings and reviews, sometimes you may have a chance to respond. Once again, professionalism is key. There's no benefit in getting into a war of words with complainers; this will only make your business look petty. Instead, address concerns with a sense of humility and keep your cool. It's not always the easiest road to take, but it'll certainly benefit your business in the long run.
Target Your Audience
There's no better time than now to know your business' audience.
Many businesses fall prey to poor ratings and reviews because they target the wrong users. If you focus on potential customers that aren't going to be interested in you and your product, negative feedback will almost always follow. Instead, take the time to understand the people coming through your door, what they want and how you're going to give it to them.
This can be done by engaging your customers both in person and through Social Media or perhaps encouraging positive feedback. While you certainly can't please everyone, encouraging satisfied customers to rate or review your business online is rather common today. Of course be polite and respectful in doing so; never look like your begging for attention or accolades. Instead, present yourself as a concerned business that's looking out for its customers and trying to create the best customer experience possible.
Also, always make yourself available to your users, whether through your website's contact page or the social network. This way, feedback may come to you directly instead of ending up as a negative review on a customer complaint page. Courtesy towards your customers goes a long way when it comes to protecting your online reputation.
The Bottom Line
Today's businesses are more transparent than ever; therefore, businesses have the choice either to adapt to the times or suffer the consequences. As small businesses attempt to make an impact this coming year, make your business' reputation a priority both online and off. In a cutthroat consumer landscape where businesses live and die by their online presence, a strong reputation can be one of the most powerful tools your business can possess.