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We know, everyone on the Internet has an opinion. It might seem like responding to scores of commenters is the equivalent of throwing out your voice into the ether—but it's not a waste. It's actually well worth your time to reply to online reviews. A 2015 survey from Moz revealed that “online reviews impact 67.7 percent of respondents' purchasing decisions," which means that not only does it matter what people are saying about your company, it matters how you respond.

Why Respond?

Here's why it's critical to roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches when it comes to tackling online reviews:

It shows you're an engaged business. Comment cards are pretty much dead, but only in the sense that they now exist virtually. With social media, various review sites, and customer-service communication platforms like ListenPort and Talk to the Manager, customers are as empowered as ever to share their experiences—positive or negative. And this isn't a bad thing. What hurts a business is when these comments go ignored.Gallup indicates that “fully engaged customers are emotionally attached and rationally loyal," so embrace online comments by showing consumers that their voices matter.

It's an opportunity to build one-on-one relationships with customers. Many customers elect to leave their feedback in the form of an online review rather than through direct conversation with an employee or management. Taking the time to respond to these comments provides an opportunity to open a direct channel of communication and address the specific needs of your patrons, building relationships that last.

It highlights your business's ability to meet customers where they are. If customers are choosing to leave their feedback in the form of an online review, then this is where you need to be too. Most consumers are looking for an egalitarian experience that doesn't position a company above them. Show them that you're so willing to keep their business that you'll take the time to scroll through online reviews and respond personally to each one.

It helps customers feel like they've been heard and understood. This is especially critical when an individual's specific issue may not be immediately fixable. Gary Vaynerchuk explains in The Thank Your Economy: “You have to be no less than a customer concierge, doing everything you can to make every one of your customers feel acknowledged, appreciated, and heard." Sometimes simply making the effort to acknowledge a consumer's experience is the solution.

How to Respond

So you've decided to go ahead and dig in. Now what? Here are a few best practice recommendations to keep in mind when responding to online reviews:

Make your responses timely. Just like any other form of communication with your customers, be in touch at your earliest convenience so customers can see that you're available and engaged.

Use a neutral tone. It's easy to become defensive, especially if a review is aggressively negative or contains misinformation. But the ultimate goal is to avoid allowing a conversation to devolve into a he-said, she-said or for it to look like you're attempting to discredit a customer. Instead, stay calm and focused, and don't place blame or make excuses. Customers who regularly rely on online reviews are considering not only what you say in your response, but also how you say it.

Address specific issues from the review and respond as specifically as possible.Customers are looking for meaningful communication. Don't ignore or gloss over the concerns they bring up, and don't throw out vague promises. Explain in concrete details what you're doing to fix a situation, how a process or policy has evolved, and what your timelines are for forthcoming changes.

Responding to online reviews—and responding well—helps customers feel understood and validated, regardless of whether or not you're able to immediately address the concerns at hand. Follow-up through online reviews to show consumers you appreciate that they took the time to leave their thoughts, and build a stronger and more loyal customer base in the process.

 

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