Online marketing is no longer an option if you want to succeed in business, it is critical to your success.

Incorporating your online presence into your customer service strategy and management of your online reputation is an essential piece of the puzzle.

Greeting customers when they walk into your establishment, answering questions or concerns promptly and empowering your employees to make decisions are all core reputation management concepts.

But how do we translate the core concepts of reputation management into an internet age where one bad review can spread online faster than a Southern California wildfire?

Why is it important to monitor and manage your online reputation? Well, because in today’s fast-paced society of instant feedback and constant connectivity, it is more important than ever to maintain good customer service for businesses of any size.

Studies show that a satisfied customer will tell three friends about his/her experience, whereas an unhappy customer will tell nine or more. Providing excellent customer service, both online and offline, goes a long way in establishing and maintaining a good reputation for your business.

Your Reputation Management Success Formula

The company “personality,” so to speak, should be reflected through every single person in the organization. It is reflected in the quality of your product, how it is created, and how the employees that come into contact with customers represent you and your brand.

So to ensure your success, it is wise to not only know your customer but proactively create a customer service strategy; hire the right people for the right job; employ customer service training; implement standards and track progress; provide positive reinforcement for your staff and keep your employees happy.

Excellent customer service is part of the lifeblood of your business. You can offer rock-bottom prices or the deal-of-the-day to bring in all of the new customers you can handle, but unless you have a system for getting those customers to return and buy from you over and over again, your business will not be profitable for long.

You don’t simply want customers. You want happy, repeat customers who spread the message about your product or service and in turn refer other people to you who become happy, repeat buyers as well. Essentially, you want an army of brand ambassadors and raving fans.

And even when you encounter a customer that is unhappy and voices their displeasure, there is still an opportunity to salvage that relationship. If you deal with the issue immediately, you can often turn the customer around and now you have a raving fan eager to tell the world how great it is dealing with your company.

Complaining Customers Are Your Best Asset

Did you know that complaining customers can be one of your greatest assets? Their complaints show you where your service is breaking down, how you can improve and it can also be an opportunity to make additional sales via up-sells and cross-sales.

Customers really want a seamless experience. They could care less about your company protocol or department divisions. When they call, what they ultimately care about is that their problem gets resolved and they would really prefer that the first person they speak with to be the one to solve it.

Reaching Out to Your Customers

First, it is a good idea to reach out to your customers and solicit their feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for fear of uncovering a problem. There is a saying that goes, “customer complaints are like medicine, no one likes them but they make us better.”

The truth is that most people will not voice a complaint, but rather go somewhere else to fulfill that same need. So it is better that you ask. Make it comfortable and convenient for your customers to let you know exactly how your product or service can be improved.

Doing so will help you build an invisible fence around your customers so that they only want to do business with you. Be sure to survey your customers on a ongoing basis as a regular part of your customer service strategy.

Once you have learned from your customer’s feedback, make it your priority to resolve the customer’s complaints on their first contact with your company. Their time is valuable and so is yours. Besides, it is very costly to revisit the same issue multiple times.

Managing Online Conversations

Definitely look into one of these sites to help you manage the online conversation about your company. After all, you’ve spent all this time and energy building your reputation both online and offline, you don’t want one fanatical upset customer out there dragging your name through the mud.

Some sites allow you to remove disparaging comments or at least respond to them via the same methods they were originally posted. But it is not always possible to remove damaging remarks about you from the internet.

If you run into a situation like this, then you can implement Plan B, which is to use simple Search Engine Optimization strategies to push those negative comments further down in the search engine results.

Data tells us that most people do not browse beyond the first page of search results anyway. If there are more positive comments about you online than negative ones, this can help to offset any disparaging remarks.

Super Simple SEO

See the overall online conversation about your company as an opportunity for free exposure and raising awareness about your company’s products and services.

Search engine optimization, or SEO for short, happens off of your site as well as on your site. It includes a variety of methods used to make a site more visible in search engine results.

It’s not just about when someone types your company name into the search engines to find your website. The purpose of SEO is to expose your website and get found by people who DON’T know about your business yet.

For example, if your business is called Sticky Fingers Candy Shoppe, it is not enough for your listing to pop up if someone searches for “sticky fingers candy.” You also want your business to be listed prominently (i.e. on the first page of results) if someone searches for “candy shop,” “candy store,” “nostalgic candy” or “twizzlers bulk” and localized searches like “sweet shop chicago.” Search engine optimization makes all of that possible.

Be Social

If you’ve been trying to fight it, just give up the losing battle now, social media is here and a force to be reckoned with.

As the world continues to move online and further into “the cloud,” the reality is that your current and potential customers are talking about you online whether you are aware of it or not. A lot of those conversations are happening everyday on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

This may seem daunting for some, but quite the contrary is true. You have the opportunity to connect with your ideal target audience while they are talking about you. This is valuable market research at your fingertips that you would otherwise have to pay big bucks to large agencies for.

One of the keys to success is to be responsive, engaging and positive. Your fast action to customer questions and/or complaints will show that your company cares about its customers and uses all available channels to provide a level of service that exceeds their expectations.