Some tenets of life never change. In the 1st century B.C.E., Publilius Syrus, a former slave turned writer, wisely stated, “A good reputation is more valuable than money.” More than 2,000 years later that observation is even more relevant, since time and technology have brought us hundreds of lightning-fast ways to lose our good reputations.
As business owners, our good name is as important as any other business asset, but it’s the one thing that’s often beyond our ability to control. Angry customers take to the Web to bash businesses they’re angry with, whether that anger is justified or not. Review and ratings sites can be a boon or a disaster, depending on the views (or whims) of customers and clients.
Lately, there’s been a lot of controversy swirling around Yelp.com, one of the most popular online review sites. Yelp is facing three lawsuits (at least one of which is a class action suit) from unhappy business owners who, among other issues, claim Yelp was “extorting” money from them by trying to sell advertising to help mitigate bad reviews. (Yelp has vehemently denied these charges.) Just this week Yelp announced some modifications to its system, which were called a “first step in the right direction” by some of the attorneys involved in the lawsuits.
Whatever the courts decide, it still leaves business owners with the challenge of managing their companies’ reputations. RatePoint.com is a fairly new company that, according to CEO and co-founder Neal Creighton, has created a “new reputation model” that pushes content and information about businesses out to the company’s own Web site, social media accounts, and the major search engines.
According to Creighton, RatePoint essentially serves as a hub, collecting customer reviews and other data (such as surveys, polls, and e-mail marketing campaigns) and then sharing that information with both existing and potential customers.
RatePoint operates under its own set of proprietary algorithms, which ensures that business owners can’t review their own companies and can’t write negative reviews about their competitors. RatePoint publishes both positive and negative reviews, but Creighton believes that all businesses should be given the opportunity to resolve customer and client issues and complaints through a dispute resolution system before a negative review is posted.
One of the aspects of review sites that has long concerned me is that many don’t allow business owners to ask their customers to write reviews. As the daughter and granddaughter of small business retailers, this never made sense to me. I remember my dad taking special care of long-time, loyal customers. Why should a business owner be prevented from asking or encouraging their best customers to submit a review? Why wouldn’t potential customers feel better knowing that a particular business has loyal fans? What sense does it make to keep a business’s happiest customers from sharing their views?
Creighton agrees with that view, which is why RatePoint allows business owners to solicit reviews from their customers. Creighton explains that his background (as co-founder and former CEO of security site GeoTrust) and that of much of the top management team enables them to prevent business owners from gaming the system.
RatePoint doesn’t sell ads. Instead the company has a subscriber-based business model, with prices based on the number of customer e-mail addresses a business has in its system. Monthly member prices range from $10 (for 126-250 e-mail addresses) to $350 (for 50,001-100,000 e-mail addresses). New businesses with less than 126 names in their database can get free services that include collection of reviews and testimonials from customers; automatic posting of content such as newsletters, coupons, and offers to Facebook and Twitter; online surveys to get input from customers; and e-mail campaigns to a list of up to 125 contacts.
Trust has become all too rare a commodity in America today. We no longer accept things at face value and we question nearly everyone’s sincerity and honesty. This tendency will not be disappearing anytime soon. More and more customers are going to look for and rely upon other customers’ opinions and reviews. Business owners today must do everything necessary to create fans and let them spread the good word about you.
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