The Most Important Review Site for Small Businesses

Love them or hate them, online review sites are an important part of small business.

Customers use sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and others to search for businesses like yours, read customer reviews, and even leave feedback. In fact, a 2018 study from BrightLocal found that 86 percent of US consumers use online reviews to help find local businesses.

The challenge is there are so many review sites that it's hard to know where to start. And you have a small business to run, which means you don't have a lot of time to mess around.

Fortunately, I've done the research and found which one site customers rely on the most. Here are the results along with how you can easily take advantage of these insights.

Website with customer ratings.

The Most Popular Review Site

I surveyed 1,004 adults in the United States in January 2019 to ask which online review site they rely upon the most. Google is by far the most popular.

Graphic showing the most popular online review sites. Google has 60% of the market.

There are two caveats to be aware of.

The first caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be overinflated. I used Google Surveys to do this study. It gives you a fairly random demographic sample, but in this case it also increases the likelihood that respondents would prefer Google, since they found my survey on Google. That's a huge grain of sand to keep in mind as you look at the data.

Just to check the results, I conducted an informal survey within my own network. And guess what? Google was still tops, followed by Yelp and then Facebook.

The second caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be underinflated. Think about how you naturally search for a business. I recently went to a used furniture store to look for a new table for The Overlook. When I got there, the store was unexpectedly closed so I needed to find somewhere else to go.

Instinctively, I opened the web browser on my smartphone and Googled "used furniture store." Google instantly gave me a list of stores near my location along with their ratings.

According to HubSpot, Google owns 70 percent of search engine traffic. That number jumps to 85 percent for searches on mobile devices. In other words, Google is how customers search for reviews when they don’t realize they’re searching for reviews. 

What Can You Do About It?

The first thing you should do is claim your free business listing on all the major platforms your customers use to look for you. While Google is the most popular, the other sites get their fair share of traffic, too. Womply has published some helpful guides.

Make sure you respond to every review a customer leaves you. Keep in mind your response isn’t just to the reviewer; it’s a signal to other potential customers that you care about service. BrightLocal's data reveals that 89 percent of customers read business's responses to reviews. 

Now here's where focusing on Google can pay off. Remember how I quickly found a highly-rated used furniture store by searching on my smartphone? 

Google uses reviews to help prioritize which businesses it shows when potential customers search for businesses like yours. So you can improve your search rankings without hiring an internet wizard. All you have to do is work on getting a lot of good reviews for your business. And here's the kicker—unlike Yelp, Google is perfectly okay with you encouraging customers to write reviews!

The company even provides this helpful guide.

More Resources

Here are a few additional resources to help you drive more customers to your business with online reviews.

You may also benefit from my LinkedIn Learning course, Serving Customers Using Social Media.


How Fast Should a Business Respond to an Email?

Email is a critical customer service channel.

A 2017 study from inContact revealed that just 43 percent of customers were highly satisfied with their most recent email customer service interaction. Those who were happy cited speed as a top delighter.

The average company takes 12 hours and 10 minutes to respond to an email, according to a 2018 study from SuperOffice. That's certainly better than the old one business day standard, but is it fast enough?

In April 2018, I surveyed more than 1,200 consumers to learn exactly how fast they expect businesses to respond to emails. The survey also examined response time expectations for Twitter and Facebook messages.

You can read the analysis below or browse the data yourself.

Customer typing an email message to a company.

Study Overview

This is the first time I've done this study since 2015, when those results revealed the new email response time standard was just one hour.

The 2018 study surveyed more than 1,200 consumers to see if this has changed.

Participants were asked how quickly they expected a response when contacting a business via email. Response time expectations for Twitter and Facebook messages were also assessed.

Finally, the study examined whether response time expectations varied by age group. For instance, do Millennials expect a faster response than Baby Boomers?

The age groups were defined using definitions from the Pew Research Center. One note, too few members of Generation Z (ages 21 and under) and the Silent Generation (ages 73 and over) participated to include their perspective in the age group portion of the study.

 

Email Response Time Expectations

Businesses should target a response time standard of one hour, with 15 minutes representing world-class service..

Email response time expectations

This conclusion comes from looking at the response time that will meet the expectations of at least 80 percent of customers

This can be a little confusing at first because the top choice was one day, with 43 percent selecting it. But one day only meets the expectations of those who selected one day or 2+ days, which is a total of 56 percent. You pick up 14 percent of customers if you can respond to email within four hours, though that's still just 70 percent of the total.

A one hour email response time will meet the expectations of 89 percent of your customers. Companies aiming for world-class customer service should respond within 15 minutes or less.

The study looked at response time expectations by age. The responses were fairly close together, but there was a mild surprise. Baby Boomers want the fastest response.

Email response time expectations by generation

A smaller group of 206 respondents was asked an additional question: How quickly do you expect a response when emailing a coworker?

Chart of email response time expectations for coworkers.

Response time expectations for this group are very high and arguably unreasonable, with 41 percent of people expecting coworkers to respond to email within one hour. 

The pressure to respond quickly causes many people skim and scan emails from colleagues. They then send partial responses which generates a lot of unnecessary back and forth. One study found that the average email conversation at work includes 4.5 messages.

Which generation has the highest expectations for coworkers? Generation X leads the pack on this one.

Chart showing how quickly each generation expects coworkers to respond to email.

Twitter Direct Message Response Expectations

Businesses should target a response time standard of 15 minutes.

Twitter response time expectations.

Anything slower that 15 minutes risks disappointing a large portion of customers. This can present a challenge for businesses as Twitter is not as popular as more traditional service channels such as email, phone, or even chat. There may not be enough volume to justify staffing for a 15 minute response time. 

Once again, Baby Boomers have the highest response time expectations:

Twitter response time expectations by generation

One note from the study is only 40 percent of participants message businesses via Twitter. That percentage is only slightly lower for Baby Boomers, with 35 percent saying they use Twitter for customer service.

 

Facebook Message Response Time Expectations

Businesses should target a response time standard of 1 hour, with 15 minutes representing world-class service.

Chart showing Facebook message response time expectations.

A one hour response time may be adequate for most customers, but 17 percent still want to hear back more quickly. For Facebook, it's Millennials who want the fastest response.

Chart showing Facebook message response time expectations by generation.

Only 50 percent of participants message businesses via Facebook. Millennial Facebook usage is slightly higher than the group average, with 55 percent saying they have contacted a business via a Facebook message.

 

Get More Insights

I hosted a webinar where I shared some more granular data from the study along with several tactics for meeting customer demands for fast responses. You can watch the webinar replay.


Is it fair to take shots at a service when its free?

The American Customer Satisfaction Indexreleased its first-ever social media satisfaction scores last week, and Facebook has taken some heat for finishing with a 64% satisfaction rating. Traditional news outlets and social media sites such as Twitter were ablaze with commentary about Facebook's relative poor showing.  (Interestingly, Twitter was not rated in the index.) 

I understand the desire to rate companies when people are paying for their products and services, but what about companies like Facebook whose service is free?  Shouldn't we expect less than amazing service since it's free?  And, are we really customers since it's FREE? It strikes me as odd that Facebook faces so much criticism since, ahem, IT'S FREE!

OK, I guess there are a couple of sides to this.

On one hand, it's natural for us to expect a lot out of an organization as influential as Facebook. Certainly, they've taken notice of all this discussion and will work to improve their perceived level of service in the future as part of their growth strategy.

On the other hand, there should be a limit to what people expect from a free service. We're not forced to use Facebook. I even know several normal, well-adjusted people with active social lives who don't even have Facebook accounts! (Which reminds me, I don't know what they've been up to lately.)

Perhaps as a middle ground we should reserve the right to offer constructive criticism while tempering the amount of expectations we place on a free service. So, the next time you have a gripe about Facebook (or Gmail, Yahoo, or Twitter for that matter), just remember that you get what you pay for.

 

Social media strategies (3 of 4): the Forum

This post highlights the third of four social media strategies I uncovered in my experiment to learn how companies use this medium to engage their customers. I highlighted the first two strategies, the Placeholder and the Sell and Tell, last week. Today's strategy is called the "Forum". All the strategies are a function of how much 'social' and how much 'media' is used.

 

The Forum

This strategy is high on social, but low on media. It is generally used to engage in direct dialogue with your customers.

When to use it

The Forum is a great strategy when your customers have something to say. I've uncovered two general ways you can use it effectively. (There may be more, but I didn't see them in my own experiment.)

  1. Customer service. If a customer is going to rant, make a suggestion, or sing your praises online, why not join in on the conversation? This strategy reaches beyond Facebook and Twitter to include any forum where your customers might congregate, such as Yelp or Trip Advisor. Best Buy is an amazing example of how to use this strategy effectively on both Facebook and Twitter.
  2. Technical support. This strategy involves using social media as an extension of your support team. It can also encourage customers to help each other resolve technical challenges. Home Depot helped me find an answer to a product question I posted on Facebook by actually researching it and getting back to me!

How to use it

There are three basic steps to effectively using the Forum social media strategy.

  1. Clearly state why your customers should participate. Encourage customers to participate and help each other. On Facebook, it's a good idea to post a few rules of engagement. Best Buy provides a wonderful example of how to do this.
  2. Monitor and respond. You'll lose customers fast if you fail to check your messages and respond. Assign someone to monitor social media channels and give them the training and authority to respond quickly. Don't forget to look anywhere your customers might be ranting and raving, such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc. Active participation is a great way to amplify the positive comments, lessen the impact of negative comments, and spot emerging trends in your service levels.
  3. Help in public, resolve anger in private. Best Buy provides a great example of when to answer directly and when to take it off line. In general, it's a good idea to respond to compliments and requests for help in public so others may benefit. If someone is using social media to vent in anger, respond to their post quickly and offer a private way for them to contact you (email, Twitter Direct message, etc.) so you can resolve their issue. This way, all the public sees is that you are responsive and caring.

As always, your comments and suggestions are appreciated! 

State your purpose when using social media

The most basic definition of customer service is how well you meet your customer’s expectations.  If you meet their expectations, that's good. If you fall short of their expectations, that's bad. If you exceed their expectations, that's great.

Telling your customers up front what they can expect from you is a great way to avoid disappointments and misunderstandings.  That’s why I can’t figure out why so few companies in my social media experiment are clear about why they are using Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook was a total strikeout.  Nobody in my experiment explicitly states “here’s what you can expect from us on Facebook”.  Best Buy comes the closest with a set of ‘House Rules’ that you have to scroll down the page to find:

    

 

Twitter is a little better.  Here you can see the difference between Best Buy (clear purpose) and Starbucks (some guy named “Brad”):

   

As always, your comments and suggestions are very much appreciated!