We spoke to Gabriel Cooley, Co-founder of Rayco Development Solutions, about how to build a positive online reputation. Rayco’s projected revenues for this year are expected to come in around the 8.5 million mark and the company currently employs up to 100 individuals. After college, the entrepreneur began his career as a general manager and quickly worked his way up to become a Vice President and shareholder. Today, Cooley and his business are “focused on finding ways to change the way consumers view the service industry through great customer service, quality products, and ingenuity.”
1. Building A Great Reputation Online Today Is The Most Important Thing A Business Can Do.
- Why is building a strong reputation online the most important thing a business can do these days?
“Other than the phone book, there are really no other ways that people find your business, besides looking you up online. If you’re a four or five star company, you’re going to get 84% of people who are looking for your service, or a company like yours, to click your link. If you have a three star or below; about 15% of people actually click on your service, if they’re looking for your service. That just shows if you add one star, you’re going to attract six times more customers. When I’m looking for services myself, I don’t look at the three stars; I’m only looking at 4, 4.5, and 5 stars because I don’t want to have to deal with the mess of a business with three stars, whether it’s sushi or trying to find a contractor to do something on my house.”
- Without naming specific companies, what stories can you share where you have seen a negative online reputation affect employee retention?
“Your employees are a direct reflection of you; if you have a three star company, that means your employees are three star. If an employee feels like they’re at a higher level than where the company operates, then of course they’re going to leave or start looking for other places to work because if your company is three star then you are three star. In addition to that, employees should contribute to that star rating, there needs to be ownership around that. Everyone in my company contributes and if we get a bad review online, it’s all hands on deck; everybody cares, everybody thinks of something to try to fix that review and everybody takes ownership of it as well because it’s not just one persons fault. Furthermore, getting a bad review is just part of it, it’s how you manage the review once you get them, what do you do, how do you react, and how do you fix it? How do you go above and beyond what should be done?”
- What happens when you get a bad review?
“We have a multi step process to handle bad reviews, it’s natural that you’re going to get them; for every 10 reviews we get, we probably get one that’s negative, it’s normal. Some customers won’t tell you how they feel and there might have been something you overlooked or the product/service wasn’t to their expectations. Therefore, when we get a bad review, it’s all hands on deck to try to fix it; the first thing that we do is privately message the person online. The key is to let the customer know that your goal is to learn from their experience. The reason they posted the review online is because they want to tell other people about it; having them be able to tell you how you could fix your business is exactly what they’re trying to do. Generally, we would say something like, ‘we understand that you’re really unhappy, we’d really like to talk to you and learn from your experience to find out if there’s anyway we can come to a resolve on it; we apologize again, here’s our direct phone number, please give us a call’. That would be if we don’t know who they are, if we know who it is, they’re going to get a phone call and an email. You might get a response and you might not but you have to be persistent, most people out there are nice and care; if you talk to somebody, figure out what mistake you made, and genuinely try to fix it, customers will sympathize with you and probably change their review, provided you fix your mistakes.”
- Have you seen this impact revenues and profitability?
“Absolutely, think about it this way, if you’re going to hire a five star company, what kind of a price are you expecting to pay? A five star price, right? If it’s a two star company, you’re going to expect to pay a two star price. Therefore, if you’re a two star business, that probably means you’re going to have to do more of the work yourself or you’re not going to gain much revenue. As far as profitability goes, the better your online reputation, the more you could charge for your better services over your competitors. You could hire a two star but read the reviews, you’re probably going to get the same type of services as those people; if you decide on a five star, you’re paying for convenience and quality.”
- Why do you think so many companies are behind with this?
“I really think it’s because technology changes so fast. Yelp didn’t have much of an impact four years ago but now it’s a huge part of our marketing budget and how we generate customers. It’s easy for business owners to get behind on it, just like anything; maybe they get a couple negative reviews and don’t take control of it, then they let it run itself. Your online reputation is like it’s own little monster, it’s either going to behave because you’re managing it or it’s going to get out of control. When new companies get a bad review or two and they don’t handle them, they’re now known as a three star company. Maybe they just don’t care about their online reviews; well now their little monster is going to keep getting bigger, the company is probably going to continue to get worse reviews because if you’re not talking to the customers who are writing negative reviews about you and no one is writing positive reviews, you could very well go out of business. Most customers will only go online to write negative reviews, they just want to complain but are not as likely to share their positive experiences; therefore, correcting those mistakes is key.”
- Can you explain what your theories are behind how customers make decisions today versus how it used to be 30 years ago?
“If you look at it from a sales perspective, people still make decisions in very similar ways; for example, buying on emotion while justifying it as logic. Emotionally, I want to be attached to company but I need the nudge over the edge to tell me it’s a good business. Customers want to be educated purchasers in comparison to before when they would probably believe a salesperson; today, most people have done quite a bit of research before they even walk into a store or a restaurant because they want to prevent having a bad experience and why not do that when they have so much information online?”
- What would you say to a company that said “We get most of our business from referrals or traditional methods so we don’t need to worry so much about one negative review on the internet”
“Eventually, all those customers that they used to have, that just gave them referrals by word of mouth, will eventually convert. Those people are just being lazy; laziness gets most of these people because they think the concept of an online reputation is a fad. Some people are just hoping that if they hide behind it or don’t look at it, that it’s going to go away; it’s not going away.”
2. Creating A Great Online Reputation Is All About Hard Work
- What is the step-by-step process to building a positive online reputation?
“The first step is to go on all the different review sites to identify yourself and/or register yourself as a company and to make sure your information is correct as far as your email, website address, location, and services offered. There are companies you can hire that can actually do this for you or you can do it yourself, it takes about a day or two. The second step is you need to come up with a plan to generate legitimate reviews. How do you do this? Get everybody in your company to start pushing your customers to go online and write honest reviews about how they felt about your service. However, you can’t ask customers to specifically write a five star review; you need to explain that reviews are important and if they feel inclined to write one then please do so. Then you need to put a system in place to manage your reputation; you need protocol when you receive a bad review and another for a good review. If someone writes you a good review today, what are you going to do? Are you going to say thank you or are you going to message them, send them a gift card and say, ‘thank you so much for writing us a good review it means a lot’, that’s what we do. For bad reviews it’s trying to change the customer’s perception of us and for good reviews, to reinforce their positive feelings.”
- What things do you do with other companies to help them build a great reputation online?
“For every company that we work with, each strategy is custom; there is no blanket strategy but the key component is to have a rock solid foundation with proven principles that work. We know there are certain things that work for companies in order to create a great online reputation but they have to be custom and they have to be genuine, there’s no quick fix and that’s the challenge. Everybody thinks they’re going to hire a company to create a great online reputation for them but that’s not the way it works, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it but if you do it right, it means tons of revenue. In one of the businesses we work with, we saw a huge shift in the number of leads coming in per week, they went from 12 and increased, almost like clockwork, to about 10% per week, now they’re sitting on about 26 leads per week. They’re also coming in at a total of 1.3 million dollars more in revenue just because they have a better online reputation.”
- What have you found to be the most difficult when helping other companies make the transition to focusing on developing a great online brand?
“Getting through people’s hard shells and having them let go if their egos. There’s always a reason why something is the way it is and there’s always a reason why you’re right and the customers wrong but to be honest, that doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters is that there’s a bad review online about you and you need to do whatever it takes to fix it.”
- Do you have any last gems to share for CEOs who really want to improve but need direction?
“You have to approach this from multiple angles, it can’t just be one person working on it. Try to find an expert who has experience generating good online reputations for companies and is able to coach you. Number two is find the best technology to track and maintain your reputation so you know where you stand online. The last thing is to put a system in place in order to generate some positive reviews.”
3. Taking Care Of Your Customers And Employees Offline is the Key to A Great Online Reputation.
- In what ways is taking care of your customers and employees offline the key to a great online reputation?
“Your employees are a direct reflection of you, they’re the mirror of whoever the company is, and they’re going to feel the weight of whatever your online reputation is. You need to be able to fix whatever mistakes you’re making, otherwise your customers are going to feel like they’re working with a fraud; if you or your reputation says one thing but you do something completely different, you won’t be able to keep customers very long.”
- Where do you think most business owners struggle with this?
“It’s really easy to bury your head in work just to get your daily tasks done. Most people get caught up with working in their business rather than on their business and if they could spend more time working on their business, they would see more revenue. These people are reactionary, they handle their problems as they float in their door or land in their email; it’s really easy to get caught up it it. I can sit down right now and just manage my email for the rest of the day, and that would be amazing, but I wouldn’t get any of my objectives done, besides having my email box cleared out. It’s about being able to manage working on the business versus working in the business.”
- If a company were to develop a brand management strategy, what should they do in this area first?
“You need to find an expert in the field that can help you, someone who has done it before. It’s okay to go out there and recreate the wheel and try to figure it out how do it on your own but it takes a lot of time, effort, and money. Usually, it’s just cheaper to hire somebody who knows what they’re doing. In my company, if there’s any initiative we’re trying to complete, we always look for the person who knows how to do it the best, the expert; I try to find that person to help me so I don’t have to deal with the same mistakes that they had to go through to get to where they are today.”
- Where do you see the future of customer service heading?
“Winning companies are going to have great customer service, period; you cannot be a winning company without customer service. Over time, reviews online are going to become more legitimate because websites will not allow people to write a bunch of fake reviews; it’s starting to happen slowly right now. Fake reviews get companies blacklisted from a lot of sites; Google will even blacklist you if you try to manage or fake your reputation. Long term, companies will have no choice but to offer good customer service in order to stay in business, however, you’re going to have to offer the best customer service to be the best online.”