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Marketing mastery: How to leverage your online reviews

November 6/13, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 11

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 10.45.16 AMStatistics show nearly 90% of consumers consider ratings and reviews before making purchase decisions. This should come as no surprise in this era of Amazon, Google, Yelp, Facebook, Yahoo, Angie’s List and Home Advisor, to name a few. Let’s face it: These days, everybody is online—especially consumers in the market for floor coverings. This presents a valuable opportunity to be proactive and get out in front of the customer by not only boosting your web presence, but also interacting with potential—and existing—customers in a meaningful and timely manner.

First, it’s important to understand the customer’s mentality when it comes to researching and buying products online. Not too long ago I was on Amazon to purchase individually wrapped computer screen cleaners; I was trying to decide between a dozen options. I read several reviews to help me make a decision on what turned out to be a $19 purchase. How many times have you done the same thing for minor purchases? For that matter, how many times have you checked reviews for larger purchases such as choosing a restaurant, booking a hotel or hiring a service business? Most of us do it on a regular basis. More importantly, your prospects are increasingly checking reviews prior to purchasing flooring.

Here are some statistics to consider:

  • 92% of consumers today read online reviews vs. 88% in 2014.
  • 94% of consumers would rather use a business with a four-star rating.
  • 88% trust reviews as much as personal recommendations vs. 83% in 2014.

These stats highlight the importance of getting positive reviews for your business. However, it’s also important that you have lots of reviews, and that new reviews are being posted regularly.

So, how can a dealer generate a steady stream of positive reviews and get the most marketing leverage out of them? There are three things to consider when it comes to reviews. The first is review acquisition, which means actively seeking reviews from your happy customers. Most review sites allow you to solicit reviews, so it’s generally OK to ask. However, be careful about offering incentives for positive reviews, as this is against the guidelines for many review sites.

Conventional wisdom states the best time to ask for a review is after a successful installation—providing the customer is pleased with the products and services you have provided. Get into the habit of sending each of your customers an email asking for a review, and include links to several popular review sites.

Here’s a word of caution: Don’t have your customer use your store’s computer or tablet to write reviews. It’s easy for review companies to detect these kinds of “kiosk” tactics using incoming IP addresses and browser cookies. It’s best to email the request and let the customer give the review from her home.

Next, make sure you are monitoring them properly. If you get a bad review, reach out to the customer and try to correct the issue quickly.  Depending on the site, you may be able to comment on the review and explain what steps you have taken to make things right. Don’t panic if you get the occasional bad review. Studies show consumers are skeptical when they only see 5-star reviews, so a couple of less-than-perfect reviews can actually make you seem more real.

In future columns I will provide more tips on how to get mileage from your positive reviews.

 

Jim Armstrong specializes in providing turnkey marketing strategies for flooring retailers. For a free copy of his latest book, “How Floor Dealers Can Beat the Boxes Online,” visit BeatTheBoxesOnline.com.

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Marketing Online: Turning negative reviews into positive outcomes

July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.34.03 AM

The above exchange between a would-be customer and specialty flooring retailer appeared on Yelp in June. While the complaint was relatively benign it nonetheless resulted in two dissatisfied customers walking away from a potential purchase.

The flooring retailer in question usually receives favorable reviews on Yelp, so the complaint was out of character. Still, even the best flooring dealers can receive negative online reviews no matter how great their intentions.

In this case, many social media experts say, the retailer responded appropriately.

“Nobody likes getting negative reviews,” said Taylor Cutler, demand-gen specialist for Podium, a company that specializes in social media and online marketing. “In fact, it can be hard to not get upset when a customer leaves a bad review. That being said, a small number of negative reviews adds to the authenticity of all your reviews. Consumers know that no business is going to be perfect, so they will be understanding when they see one pop up from time to time.”

The key to dealing with negative reviews, Cutler explains, is to view them as an opportunity to improve your business. “When responding to negative reviews the first thing you should do is remain calm. Lashing out at customers is never going to end well, even if you think the review is unwarranted.”

Here are a few tips from social media experts on dealing with negative reviews.

Be responsive. The age-old retort, “I am not even going to dignify that with a response,” might be a way to handle certain situations but not online complaints, experts say. It may be tempting to delete negative feedback. However, responding well to negatives can actually turn into a positive when other customers see a thoughtful and respectful response. “Typically when people come to social media with a complaint it is a result of some sort of miscommunication,” said Frank Chiera, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, Flooring America/Flooring Canada. He recommends flooring retailers reply as quickly as possible and do whatever they can to help the customer out. “Good service and a prompt response can go a long way to make that customer happy. In most cases, his members have already worked directly with the customers to resolve the issue they are experiencing, and they are a result of things outside of our store’s control—like subfloor problems or issues with independent contractors who installed our product. If you’ve done everything you can already to please the customer, we recommend you briefly recap the steps you’ve taken in your response and invite the person to get in touch directly if she would like to discuss it further.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.34.22 AMFlooring America’s F.A.S.T. (Flooring America Social Tools) program, for example, provides comprehensive monitoring across all social media platforms so the buying group is able to find and address these complaints quickly as they come in. The My Floor Story creates a place for reviews to live on all member microsites.

Don’t wait too long to act. Numerous surveys have found that a high proportion of customers regard online reviews as credible. While negative reviews still make up a relatively small portion of all reviews posted— according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, only one in 26 customers will take the time to complain publicly—when you do get a bad review you should take it very seriously.

Research the incident. If necessary, speak to your staff to get their side of the story, and communicate privately with the reviewer to find out more details. If you’ve joined a review site, you should be able to message reviewers privately. If you haven’t joined, you can post a public message asking the reviewer to contact you offline (i.e., by phone or email) to discuss her concern. If the negative comment is on a blog, Facebook page or Twitter, you may have to respond publicly and ask the writer to contact you privately. The last thing you want is a public he-said-she-said argument. You can respond to inaccurate reviews to set the record straight about facts without getting into a tit-for-tat conversation.

Learn from it. Successful business people learn from negative reviews, improve their business—if need be—and then move on.

Offer a solution. According to Podium’s Cutler, apologizing to your customers is great but what they really want is a solution. He recommends including a detailed plan of action to remediate the problem as part of your response.

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Technology: Podium places online reviews front and center

May 22/29, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 25

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.25.11 AMPodium, a customer interaction platform, is looking to make it easier for flooring retailers to manage their online reviews and customer interaction. The company, which was founded in 2014 by Eric Rea and Dennis Steele, allows businesses to not only build and manage online reviews, but also drive interest with potential and existing customers through channels like text message. By collecting reviews, businesses can improve their local search optimization, which generally means they rank higher in search results to ultimately drive more business.

“We compare online reviews to the new word of mouth,” said Matt Boyce, director of demand generation. It is with this focus, he notes, that Podium has developed its platform and features.

Not to be confused with other platforms, Podium is not a traditional marketing company. What separates Podium from other platforms is its focus on helping businesses communicate and interact with their customers to get reviews and in-depth feedback.

“Podium offers a customer interaction platform that focuses on making the exchange of collecting customer feedback on key websites really easy,” Dallin Palmer, sales director, home services, explained. “We use a three-stage program to help retailers get found, get chosen and get insight into their business.”

One of Podium’s key features is its text messaging system that allows businesses to ask customers for reviews with a push of a button. By using this feature, businesses are able to request a customer review—to any device—seconds after a service is performed. According to the company, this increases the business’ probability of gaining more reviews.

Podium takes this feature a step further by generating an easy-to-use, interactive text message that allows the customer to choose which review site she would like to use. The list of review sites the customer sees is completely customizable by the business sending the text message. Podium has found that the top two platforms most businesses target are Facebook and Google. In addition, while the company doesn’t generate reviews on Yelp, it is an official Yelp Knowledge Partner, which means it can pull Yelp data for a business into the Podium platform, according to Palmer.

While the platform is available to all types of businesses, flooring retailers can really benefit from Podium’s products, Palmer explained. “For most flooring business owners in most areas you’ve got really stiff competition. We’ve found in situations where you’re selling a commoditized product, people are looking at the reviews and past experiences of others to learn about the services they will receive. Consumers leverage these reviews to make buying decisions.”

The ultimate goal, according to Palmer, is to change the paradigm. “We want to revolutionize the way local businesses go about communicating with their customers. It’s all about identifying the needs within this area.”

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Marketing mastery: The power of social proof

March 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 20

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 10.45.16 AM“Wow,” I thought to myself. “If I ever need tax help I’m calling this guy.” I was in the waiting room of a local CPA, looking through a very plain, white binder filled with letters from his clients thanking him for getting them out of tax trouble. They raved about how he got their tax bills cut by 90% or more, in some cases; how he saved their businesses; how he gave them their lives back. This was more than 12 years ago, and the impact of those letters was such that I still remember it clearly. Since then I’ve referred a number of people to him.

That’s the power of social proof. Many times during my live speaking events I’ve polled attendees in the room and asked the dealers if walk-ins are more distrusting than they were 15 years ago. At least 90% of the hands always go up. Consumers have been lied to by the government, spied on by the NSA, had their financial world rocked by Wall Street corruption, etc. What you and I think about these things is irrelevant; it’s what consumers at large think, and they are more skeptical and distrusting than ever. The good news is dealers who get very good at providing social proof can gain a big advantage over competitors who can’t or won’t. Here’s a list of social proof strategies that will help you be a “beacon of trustworthiness” in your market.

Written testimonials. Train your salespeople to ask for testimonials after every completed installation. These serve as multi-purpose social proofs that can be used everywhere—your website, in your showroom, a binder (like the CPA), your printed advertising, social media, etc.

Photos. Train your sales team to take photos during the post-installation follow-up visit. Get photos of your client standing on her new floors. Do before and after shots.

Videos. When you get a raving fan, ask her if you can do a quick 3-minute interview about her experience. Interview questions should include: What made you choose Jimbo’s Floors? What did you like about working with us? How do you like your new floors? Would you recommend Jimbo’s Floors to a friend? Post videos on your website, Facebook page, YouTube channel or any other social media you’re using.

Online reviews. My last two columns (FCNews, Feb. 27/March 6 and Feb. 13/20) went into this topic in depth, so I won’t repeat it here except to say reviews are extremely important for dealers. Positive reviews can be repurposed in all your marketing vehicles, both online and in print.

Monitors on your closing table. Your best testimonials and photos can be edited into a video or built into a PowerPoint presentation. Have a monitor on your closing table that faces the client with the video or PowerPoint playing in a continuous loop.

Testimonial brag wall. Install a large corkboard on a wall in your showroom where every walk-in will see it. Cover it with testimonials, reviews, letters from clients and photos.

Review booklet. Hire a graphic designer to compile your best reviews, testimonials and photos into a full-color booklet. Make sure every walk-in gets a copy.

Quotes. When you’re bidding on a commercial job or putting together a quote for a residential remodel, be sure to include testimonials with the quote.

Links. Build a “review” page on your website that has testimonials, photos and videos of raving clients. Post links to this page in your email signature line, e-newsletters, quotes, Facebook, YouTube channel and any other social media platform you use.

 

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Marketing Mastery: Inspiring 5-star reviews

February 27/March 6, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 19

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

(Second of two parts)

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 10.45.16 AMIn my previous column (FCNews, Feb. 13/20) I discussed why online reviews are so critical to a retailer’s success. I also listed several highly effective, proven strategies for creating a fantastic experience for your clients. In this column I share some best practices for requesting reviews.

Let’s assume you’re providing phenomenal service for your clients. They love you. They think the sun rises and sets with you. They send you tons of referrals. Positive online reviews should happen automatically, right? Not so fast. Consider these statistics: 90% of U.S. consumers read reviews, but only 6% write them. In that same vein, bad reviews tend to be overrepresented. According to American Express, unhappy customers tell an average of 24 people about their experience, while happy customers tell only 15. The bad news is if you don’t have a system in place to request reviews from every happy client, you probably won’t get many reviews; thus, bad reviews will be overrepresented. The good news: Since only 6% of consumers typically write reviews, there’s a huge untapped market for positive feedback if you can inspire some of the other 94% to tell others about a good experience they had with you.

The first step is to determine which review sites you’re going to focus on. Here are a few of the major sites to consider: Google My Business, Yelp, Yellow Pages, Facebook and Angie’s List. Houzz can also be effective, especially if you have a dedicated interior designer on staff. Note: Some of these sites might approach you to do paid advertising. This strategy tends to attract price shoppers, so it’s important you have a system in place to quickly filter out bottom feeders and identify ideal clients before you sign an advertising contract. If you don’t you’ll likely have to endure a lot of tire kickers who will waste your time, pump you for information, then buy from a cheaper competitor. Your market area may also have some local review sites that are relevant to your business. If you haven’t claimed your account on these sites, now is the time to do it. Make sure your business name, address, phone and any other pertinent information are consistent across all the sites or your visibility will suffer.

Next, determine the site on which you want to begin accumulating reviews. Ideally this will be the site where your prospective clients are most active. If you’re not sure, I suggest you begin with Google My Business. Start by asking happy clients to review your business. Send them an email explaining how much you would really appreciate their help, by taking a quick minute to post a review for your business. Ask if there is anything stopping them from giving you a 4- or 5-star review and to please notify you to make it right. Include a link to the review site where you want to begin accumulating reviews. After you build up some reviews you can rotate to other sites.

Generating a steady stream of reviews is much better for search visibility than getting a bunch all at once. According to Bright Local 73% of consumers believe a review older than three months is no longer relevant. For these reasons it’s important you request reviews on a weekly basis.

Lastly, do all you can to get the most mileage out of your good reviews. For starters, be sure to post all 4- and 5-star reviews on your website, Facebook page or other social media channel. If you have questions about reviews, or need help setting up a system to automate this process, please feel free to contact me at support@FlooringSuccessSystems.com and I’d be happy to chat with you.

 

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Marketing Mastery: Managing your online review strategy

January 30/February 6, 2017: Volume 31, Number 17

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 3.50.37 PMI was planning a recent business trip and, like I always do, checked the reviews of the hotels where I was considering staying. It was second nature, as much a part of making my decision as checking a hotel’s availability, pricing, amenities, etc. I do this for virtually any new service or product I’m considering to buy. I bet you do, too. And according to a recent survey, 92% of consumers (e.g. your customers) now read online reviews. It is becoming increasingly critical that you have an on-purpose review strategy. It’s too important to leave to chance, which unfortunately many dealers do.

Following are three things to consider when managing your online review strategy.

Aggregate star ratings. This simply means the average number of stars your business receives on a particular review site (Yelp, Google, etc.). For example, let’s say on Google your business has 10 5-star reviews and 10 4-star reviews. This would give you an aggregate star rating of 4.5 stars.

This means every time you have a thrilled customer you should ask her to review your business. This is beneficial because lots of positive reviews help you get more customers. They also help eliminate the effects of negative reviews by keeping your aggregate star rating high. Occasional negative reviews are not necessarily bad for your business as long as your overall reviews are positive.

A good review management strategy will involve asking happy customers to leave reviews.

Recency of reviews. According to a 2016 Bright Local survey, 73% of consumers think reviews older than three months are no longer relevant. This is another reason why it’s important to ask for reviews on a continuous basis.

It’s also important for SEO. Google’s search algorithms favor recent reviews, so gathering reviews on an ongoing basis helps prospects find you online. Also, a steady stream of reviews (two or three a month) is better than 50 in one week. In fact, you can be penalized for acquiring too many all at once. A good review management strategy will produce a steady stream of positive reviews.

Diversity of review sites. Most businesses focus on gathering reviews on Google, Yelp and Facebook. However, industry-specific sites can also be valuable. Having listings and reviews on Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor and Houzz make you more visible to your target audience.

A word of caution: Be careful when investing money into marketing on industry-specific sites. Many dealers have found they tend to attract price shoppers. If you choose to spend money on these sites make sure you have a good filtering mechanism to quickly weed out price shoppers. For example, if your listings are generating phone calls from prospects asking for price, don’t give them one over the phone. Instead say, “Mrs. Jones, I’d love to help you with that. At Jimbo’s Floors we don’t do estimates. We give you a written, guaranteed, no surprise quote. Let me ask you some questions that will help me do that.” Your questions should lead prospects on a logical step-by-step process to an appointment for an in-home visit or a meeting at your store. If after doing this the prospect refuses to talk to you, or insists on simply getting a price, you’re likely dealing with someone who will waste your time and then buy elsewhere once she finds out you’re not the cheapest.

By having an on-purpose plan to manage reviews, you can create a stellar online reputation.

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Mohawk forms industry’s first partnership with Yelp

YelpElevateCalhoun, Ga.—Mohawk has forged a new partnership to provide its aligned retailers an enhanced online presence on Yelp, called Mohawk Elevate powered by Yelp. It’s the first marketing partnership of its kind between Yelp and a flooring manufacturer.

“Mohawk is the industry’s digital leader,” said Mollie Surratt, senior director of public relations, social media and content for Mohawk. “So this was a natural step for us—teaming up with Yelp, the clear leader, to give our retailers additional digital support in the reputation management space. Yelp will help our retailers connect with thousands of consumers who trust the Yelp review process to guide them to quality businesses and products.”

Yelp’s purpose is to connect people with great local businesses. It does this by offering business profile pages so consumers can locate businesses, visit them and then post reviews of their experiences. By the end of Q1 2016, Yelpers had written more than 100 million local reviews.

Visitors access Yelp via their mobile devices (approximately 91 million a month on average during Q1 2016) and their desktop computers (approximately 69 million a month during Q1 2016). Home and local services businesses account for 12% of reviewed businesses on Yelp by category.

According to Yelp, 78% of consumers turn to review sites of its kind to find local businesses, and four out of five users visit Yelp because they intend to buy a product or service. Yelp helps consumers make buying decisions and drives local purchases because consumers trust Yelp reviews as the most influential, highest quality and most trustworthy reviews online. That trust is embedded in Yelp’s recommendation software, which protects consumers and business owners by highlighting the most trustworthy, useful and reliable content on Yelp.

In addition to the Yelp website and mobile app, Yelp reviews are syndicated to a number of major review sites and search engines including Apple Maps, Siri, Amazon, Yahoo, Bing and Mapquest.