The Worst Response is No Response: 'Ghosting' is a Real Problem for Businesses Today

Most people today are familiar with the term ‘ghosting’, but for those who may not be, this term refers to people who suddenly and without explanation vanish without further response.



Why are customers and businesses ghosting each other more than ever?

Believe it or not, ghosting is a real problem for businesses today - and it goes both ways. Customers who once seemed so interested vanish and unsubscribe - in other words, they’ve ‘ghosted’ and you don’t know why. Or worse, an upset customer decides to leave a seriously negative review about your company online without ever talking with anyone from your team and it goes unanswered for months raising a red flag to anyone who finds it. There are countless other examples of how both customers and businesses are ghosting each other in the modern age.


Ghosting is a really common woe echoing throughout the dating world today, but it has made its way into other areas of our society as well. Particularly in online businesses, which may be struggling with personalization to begin with. The rise in ghosting breaks down to the fact that many people have socially and psychologically changed to adapt to communicating through modern technology and now we have a new communication challenge to overcome.


There is a massive amount of information to deal with on a daily basis vying for our attention with mobile phones connecting many of us 24/7 to the digital world. There are also many more options accessible to us than ever before, which leads to the “Swipe” culture. If people don’t find exactly what they want with your company quickly and easily they will just move on to the next competitor, the next result is only a click away.


So, If people are vanishing and swiping more easily when considering personal relationships, it is no surprise that they are doing the same with businesses. The 2011 Harris Customer Experience Impact Report showed that 50 percent of customers give brands a week to respond to a question before they stop doing business with them. More recently, according to ReviewTracker, 1 in 4 are more demanding, expecting a review response within 3 days, while 21% expect brands to have a response time of 24 hours or less.


Which leads us to a problem, so many companies are struggling with:


How to convert leads and retain more customers in the face of all the new challenges found in online marketing and communications today.

I am going to reverse the idea that it is the customer’s fault for ghosting and ask these questions instead, to share ways your business might be part of the problem:

  • Is your business accessible - is it easy to find, reach and connect with your business online?

  • Is your business currently supporting your customers with online resources to help them answer questions or troubleshoot problems?

  • Are you actively engaging with your audience on your website and do you have a presence on social channels?

  • Is there any way your business may have failed to show your commitment to building a relationship with your customers or other stakeholders in the way you communicate with them internally or externally?

  • Have you neglected your business reviews on any channels online?

  • Is your data privacy policy clear and GDPR compliant?


So, with these questions in mind we are going to tackle one of the most common challenges:


How to properly manage your business reputation and communications online to engage your audience and please your customers.


In 2019, you can’t afford to ignore online reviews anymore. Consumers depend on online review sites like Yelp, Google Maps, and TripAdvisor to give them advice. In fact, online reviews influence the purchase decisions for up to 93% of consumers surveyed. Mishandling your reputation online may cause your audience to leave you before they convert or turn away before they even make it to your website because of something they saw somewhere else online. Many companies simply lack a strategic PR plan when it comes to online reputation management.

In the past, we often referred to reputation as something earned through “Word of Mouth” marketing - and it related to what customers said about your business to their friends, family and network. Flash forward to 2019. The same is still true - but now thanks to the scale of mass communication and technology, what customers say about your business has the potential to be positively exponential and go viral or it has the potential to become a PR crisis if it’s negative.


Your business can and will be talked about online. This is not a question anymore, it’s a fact. The question is - Are you taking part in the conversation?


The Value of Positive Reviews


  • A one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue. (Harvard Business School)

  • Customers are willing to spend 31% more on a business with excellent reviews. (Invesp)

  • 92% of B2B buyers are more likely to purchase after reading a trusted review (G2.com)


The Cost of Negative Reviews


  • 94% say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business. (ReviewTrackers)

  • Only 13% of consumers will consider using a business that has a 1 or 2 star rating. (SearchEngineLand)

  • Four out of five consumers have changed their minds about a recommended purchase after reading negative online reviews. (Cone Communications)

  • Businesses risk losing as many as 22% of customers when just one negative article is found by users considering buying their product. If three negative articles pop up in a search query, the potential for lost customers increases to 59.2%. (Moz)

There are countless PR challenges and threats to business reputation presented on the internet. But, here are a few examples of key channels, conversations and tactics to pay attention to:


Negative Reviews Left By Former Employees. You need to address these, because people assume that someone who has previously been a part of your organization has more knowledge than any outsider. In general, most readers, consider employee reviews as a very valid source of information. Plus, these public comments may also prevent other talented employees from ever applying to open positions in the future - continuing to hinder your business growth even further. “A bad reputation costs a company at least 10% more per hire.” (Harvard Business Review)

Negative Customer Reviews Posted on Social Media. You need to address these, because social media profiles, posts and business pages are public on large networks and may come up in search engine results as well. This means things said on these channels both good or bad have the potential to go viral or be seen by thousands of

people. Oberlo reports that 54% of consumers use social media to research products.


It’s also a best practice to respond and engage with positive comments and reviews. Replying to these comments provides a simple way to interact with and show your appreciation for your customers. It shows the rest of your audience and the general public that you care about your customers as well.


Ratings and Reviews on Recommendation Sites & Travel Guides. There are many sites who provide users with ratings and reviews of local businesses. Yelp is one of the top examples. Here people can compare your business side by side with your competition to see what people have to say. It’s a good practice for any business to manage their presence on channels like this, but restaurants and other industries particularly those impacted by tourism, need to pay close attention to these types of sites. Travelers are more likely to use these types of sites to make decisions on the go.


Negative Comments Posted on Google Maps or Business Listings. These postings are some of the most critical for your reputation. If a customer searches for your type of business locally or searches using your business name in a search engine like Google, your business map listing - connected to your business listing page - may come up before your own website in the search results. This means a customer has the potential to see reviews left on your map listing side by side with your competition before they even make it to your website.


Overlooked negative reviews on a critical channel like Google, could cost a business thousands of dollars in missed opportunities or failed conversions -- if a potential lead comes across something like this before buying they might drop you from consideration completely. Organic traffic from Google accounts for the bulk of website traffic on the internet. You really can’t afford to miss this fundamental - and free opportunity to manage your business reputation online


No response is the worst possible response to negative comments online. It leaves room for nothing but doubt in the mind of anyone reading it. By not engaging in what may be a somewhat uncomfortable conversation businesses leave nothing but the negative comment with their audience. What kind of impression does that make? It says either that a) “your company doesn’t even look at your reviews”, or it says that b) “your company knows about these messages but has chosen not to respond to them”. In either case, it does not leave a positive impression.


In the case of negative comments and reviews, the best option is to mitigate the comment with a thoughtful response. In the event that it is a bogus/baseless claim or slanderous - in some cases you may have the comment removed entirely for violating community standards on some channels. One or two star reviews can really hurt your rating over time and may even lower your position in search results if left unaddressed.


When deciding how to craft a response to negative comments and reviews - you should begin with identifying the individual commenter. You need to find out if this is a legitimate person or ascertain if it could be a fake account used to post negative reviews and comments. In some cases, it may even be a bot spamming a ridiculous comment as click-bait with a link used to phish for user information. There are many ways people can potentially abuse the comment and review sections on social media pages, business listing pages and even map listings. This is a real threat businesses have to consider when developing their digital marketing strategy. In order to overcome this, you need to actively monitor channels where your brand could be mentioned and pay attention to all comments on your owned media pages. Moderate your profile pages to remove or respond to any inappropriate comments.

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Next, you need an outline for how to develop your response. If the negative review is made by a real person with a tangible relationship with your business - it is crucial that you reply. Here’s an idea of what a good response looks like:


  • Begin, by thanking them for commenting. You have to be willing to show your audience that you appreciate all forms of feedback - both positive and negative.

  • Next, either accept or refute their claim. If it is true - admit it - if it is not - state the facts instead. Transparency & Authenticity are the key to relationship building online.

  • Address their concerns and if appropriate offer potential solutions, condolences or other options. All of this is to show them that what they say matters to your business and that you care. But, most importantly your response, also shows the rest of your audience - that what they have to say matters as well & that you also care about what they think.

This is how you build lasting relationships online through managing your business reputation and effectively communicating with your audience. You have to relate to your customers and have real conversations on the channels they are choosing to use.

Bad reputations can break businesses. And it is hard to recover after too many cracks. But you can take a proactive approach to mitigate many issues in advance.


You can help prevent many potential problems with these steps:


  • Begin with a clear Communication Plan. Review your communications both internally and externally to consider where you can improve the experience for your customers or any other important stakeholders like employees or investors by identifying any potential gaps and updating any outdated information.

  • Make customer support easily accessible online. If it is easy for your customers to reach out when they have a problem - they are more likely to use support than to post a negative review. If your customer service or support process is long or too complex - they may bypass your business and tell the internet instead.

  • Really get to know your audience. There are many ways to learn more about your audience today like analytics, user surveys, and industry reports. Aligning your communication and content to match your audience's needs and interests will help you increase engagement and build better relationships.

  • Mitigate bad experiences before they happen by designing a better buyer’s journey to begin with. Consider all the ways your customers may come into contact with your brand or business on and offline. Are you managing all those touch-points effectively and consistently?

  • Keep user data safe. Customers won’t convert or will leave if they think they can’t trust your business with their data.

  • Monitor all channels customers may be using to talk about your business online - this includes social media pages, business listings, map listings, association websites and any media coverage about your brand.

  • Manage your business listings and map listings on search engines. This step is crucial for managing your reputation and may impact organic traffic for your website.

  • Finally, really join the conversation. You need to actively take part in the conversations about your business online - and in doing so you will not only take back more control of your reputation online but you will also be building better relationships with your customers at the same time.

The bottom line:


No response is the worst response. If you don’t want customers to ‘ghost’ you - Make sure you are showing up for them!


Businesses still have to lead the relationship building process with their customers. You can’t expect to just sit back and automate your way into lasting customer relationships. Automation is designed to help you scale marketing and sales efforts more effectively - but it is not intended to completely replace the human aspect of relationship building. Many people seem to have rushed in with the new tech and forgotten the basics of relationship building in the process, which are the same as they have always been.


Businesses still need real people who are ready to serve their customers. In the digital age, we seem to have slipped away from this. An Inbound marketing approach may be the answer to balancing your digital presence with a more human touch. By aligning your marketing efforts and content to match your audience’s needs and interests with better personalization, you can create more opportunities for relevant conversations. In the end, marketing boils down to how well you communicate the value of your business to your customers. Starting the right conversations helps you build relationships that turn into revenue.


You still need the right people to represent the voice of your business. You need to be honest, authentic, and transparent in your communication. You still need to show a commitment to your audience and show appreciation for your customers. You still need to add value and offer solutions to their problems. And, finally:

You need to listen to your customers now more than ever before - because everyone else online is listening too.