By Lee Gientke
These days, the financial services industry is a bit like the U.S. Congress: Everyone loves their congressman but hates Congress as a whole.
This situation has created a need for advisors to go the extra mile when it comes to bridging the gap between the negative perception of the industry and the great work that individual advisors are doing every day. One place in particular most advisors need to spend some time is with their online presence and, in particular, getting clients to provide reviews.
The numbers don't lie when it comes to the power of online reviews and a consumer's decision. Here are some statistics about online reviews and their power:
Eighty-one percent of people use consumer reviews in their purchase decisions. [Source: Nielsen via BizReport, February 2009]
Ninety percent of online consumers trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust unknown users, 27% trust experts, 14% trust advertising, 8% trust celebrities. [Source: Erik Qualman, Socialnomics, via Search Engine People, July 2010]
Ninety-two percent have more confidence in information found online than they do in anything from a sales clerk or other source. [Source: Wall Street Journal, via Search Engine People, July 2010]
Seven in ten who read reviews share them with friends, family and colleagues, thus amplifying their impact. [Source: Deloitte & Touche, via Search Engine People, July 2010]
Fifty-one percent of consumers use the Internet even before making a purchase in shops. [Source: Verdict Research, via Search Engine People, July 2010]
The data goes on and on about the power of reviews upon consumer buying decisions. Clearly, dedicating time and resources to managing reviews is in an advisor's interest. Just don't let it be a source of angst-let it be a source of opportunity.
The first place every business should start with their customer review management is to hop online and find and claim the listings related to it. The critical sites every business needs to be addressing during this process are:
Google Places (www.google.com/places)
Yahoo Local (http://listings.local.yahoo.com)
Bing Local (https://ssl.bing.com/listings/ListingCenter.aspx)
The process of claiming one's listing on these sites typically begins with searching for a business at these sites. Usually, there is a link that says something to the effect of "claim listing," "update listing" or "change your listing." Most of these sites will require basic business information, such as logos, address, hours of operation and a description of services provided.
Once you've has claimed your listings, the next trick is to think about driving your clients to your listings on these sites. With a little self introspection, you probably can identify dozens of daily interactions with clients where you could be soliciting reviews. Perhaps you can send them a postcard following a consultation. Perhaps during a quiet time, you can call clients and ask for reviews. There are limitless ways of communicating with customers and asking them to leave a review. The trick is to just ask, and ask consistently.When it comes to compliance issues, it's important to provide clear and specific guidance to your clients about what they shouldn't do, such as disclosing their returns or specific investments. Instead, get your clients to focus on customer service issues like responsiveness, knowledge and so on.
There is a great chance that during this process a couple negative reviews will appear. Don't fall into the trap of writing a blistering response. Instead, look at it as an opportunity. Negative reviews should be dealt with in two ways. The first way is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Every firm should have an outlet such as an e-mail address or phone number for a customer to provide feedback before airing their dirty laundry on the Internet. Second, if the reviews are already in place, take a deep breath and respond candidly and apologetically. Look for the potential truth in the complaint and wait to respond until you have recovered from the sting of the negative critique.
Ultimately, social proof and the Internet are powerful ways to add credibility and visibility to the solid work that is being done across the country. Just remember, managing your reputation and garnering reviews online comes down to integrating it into your client interactions and never forgetting to ask.
Lee Gientke is the managing partner of Webmix Marketing, a marketing agency that helps small- and medium-sized businesses stand out from the crowd. He is a noted online marketing speaker and lead generation specialist. He resides in Salt Lake City and is an avid golfer, Bikram Yoga practitioner and Crossfitter. For a free guide to making social media sell, please visit www.webmixmarketing.com/cobuzz.