Leveraging Customer Reviews Online

By Features FOXBusiness

For small business owners, bad customer reviews can spell disaster.

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Add social networking and review Web sites to the mix and small business owners’ reputations can easily be ruined.

RatePoint of Needham, Mass., is trying to combat that by offering small business owners the opportunity to dispute and resolve customer complaints before a negative review hits the Web.  

“Seventy percent of consumers look at reviews before making a decision,” said Neal Creighton - co-founder and chief executive officer at RatePoint. “Whether they are written fairly or not, they have an impact on the reputation.”

While there are a slew of review Web sites on the Internet, Creighton said many don’t give companies an opportunity to dispute a review or even try to make it right with the customer.  

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Take Yelp, the online review startup that’s facing a class-action lawsuit over allegations it refused to remove a negative review that violated its guidelines. The lawsuit, filed by a veterinary hospital in Long Beach, Calif., alleges Yelp sales reps offered to hide any negative reviews if the hospital bought advertising from Yelp.

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RatePoint works with small businesses to create a platform to collect reviews from customers and once the reviews are validated get them published on major search engines including Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO) and Bing. 

The service works like this: Let’s say you own a hardware store. On your receipts will be a Web site that customers can go to and rate their experience. If you own an e-store, the customer would be solicited for a review after the purchase. At the review site, customers provide basic information and their review. The reviews are then pushed out to the search engines and Twitter and Facebook.

To protect the credibility of the positive reviews, RatePoint will validate the customer information to ensure it’s an actual review and not coming from the merchant. In the case of a negative review, RatePoint will give the merchant a period of time, typically 24 to 48 hours, to resolve the conflict. If the customer isn’t satisfied, the negative review will be posted online.

“It’s a great benefit for consumers because they get their issues resolved versus posting a rant,” said Creighton, noting the majority of the time a negative review will turn positive once the company intervenes.

The service starts at $10 a month and includes a survey system that sends out detailed surveys to customers. 

For Anthony Robinson, employing RatePoint for his company Relectric was a no brainer. After all, as a consumer he checks reviews before making purchases. Since starting the service last summer,  Relectric, which sells electrical parts to companies, has received around 400 reviews.

While some customers started out angry, after the company was able to resolve the issue, most left happy, becoming potential repeat customers, said Robinson. Prior to using RatePoint, customers that were upset ended up walking away.  

The service is working so well for Relectric that it is now built into the customer service department. As soon as Relectric gets a negative review, a dedicated person looks into the situation and does an analysis. Of the negative reviews it received, Robinson said only one ended up leaving unsatisfied.

“The nice thing from the business perspective is we have the opportunity to start a conversation we wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Robinson.

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