First impressions matter. That is why you pay careful attention to the curb appeal of your home, you have well- dressed greeters at the door and you make sure that all who enter feel welcomed into your beautifully appointed home. But many of you are missing a critical first impression that happens well before any family or potential customer even crosses the threshold: your online presence. I’m not talking about how amazing your website looks, I’m talking about the star ratings and reviews that everyone sees when simply looking up directions online to your home; the star rating that I know many of you aren’t paying enough attention to.
I travel to funeral homes all around the country and get to know their staffs. On a recent trip to one of my favorites, I Googled their address on my phone since I was heading there from an unfamiliar part of the state. Right next to their name was a giant black-eye; a one star rating! This is such a great home, how could this be? Of course I had to click to find out more, but for most patrons, they’ll just see that one star and generate an impression, and in this case a very wrong one.
The review was not even from a direct family member and was frankly, really petty. The review was for an offsite service and this patron complained that one of the directors was supposedly wearing a mismatched suit and in her opinion there were not enough staff to direct everyone in the parking lot. Did that “offense” really deserve a one star? In our online world, it doesn’t matter. The reviewer has every right to put it there and now the business needs to deal with it.
That review sat there for over two months unchecked and unanswered. It was their only review so that one bad complaint made up their entire ranking. This is a very busy home with thousands of guests attending services during that time and I bet many of them looked up directions just like I did and saw that same awful rating. Bad reviews scare potential and even existing customers away. The worst part of this story is that when I talked to the ownership about what I discovered, they had already investigated and discovered it wasn’t even about them! Yet that black eye remained because they simply did not know what to do.
These reviews can also affect you in other ways that you may not even realize. Google takes star ratings into consideration when ranking search results. A prospective client could be looking for you and google buries your listing father down the page, while your competitor with a higher star review, rises to the top.
The internet is filled with horror stories of small business being completely brought down by bad, and in many cases, undeserved poor reviews. Since only 14% of consumers would consider using a business with a one or two star rating, you need to learn more to protect yourself and how to deal with negative reviews.
CHECK YOUR GOOGLE AND YELP REVIEWS DAILY
It’s critical your stay on top of your home’s reviews and ideally check your social media profile daily. You wouldn’t let offensive graffiti remain on the front door of your home for months and do nothing. Know what’s being said publicly about your home and be able to address it. Automate the task by making your google listing your home page on your browser so you’ll see it every day.
Sadly, customers are more likely to take action and write complaints about bad experiences than good ones, and with the very emotional nature of the service you provide, patrons can be very sensitive; giving you a black mark you may not truly deserve. One review I found gave a one star rating because a director was watching a football game in his office during a service. Another was actually giving an extremely positive written review, but said he could only bring himself to rate the home 3 stars because he was “reviewing a funeral and funerals are sad”. (Seriously?!)
We all know that the best defense is a good offense. Don’t let a single review be the sucker punch that knocks you down because you don’t have positive review to offset the occasional complaint.
Though many patrons might willingly compose a review of a great dining experience, most people will simply not think to write a review of a funeral home, so they need to be directed. Therefore, you need to ask. If a family has sent you a thank you note or has expressed to you personally that they were happy with your service, let them know how much you would appreciate it if they would go on Google or Yelp and write about their experience. Most won’t know how, so consider printing something thanking them for their help that will let them know exactly how to find and review you.
I have provided a template, as well in depth directions with links that cover all of the recommended actions discussed in this article at: PersonalizedMemorialArt.com (Scroll down to the Business Support section).
Another proactive measure, is claiming your business online with both Google and Yelp. You must identify yourself as the rightful owner to have the right to respond to all reviews, positive and negative, and take action if necessary.
Customer reviews aren’t the only online impression your business can make. Promote yourself and your good works by updating your website frequently touting your accomplishments and by getting recognition with awards from within your industry. The NFDA has their Pursuit of Excellence Award Program and you can get endorsements and commendations with images you can include on your website or social media from organizations like Funeral Homes of Distinction (FuneralHomesofDistinction.org). Go ahead. Brag about yourself.
RESPOND TO ALL REVIEWS
Of course we are all sensitive and possibly defensive to a negative review. Take a deep breath before you respond and kill them with kindness. Consider reaching out to the person directly and ask them to remove or modify their review. If the review is untrue (not just their opinion), fake, or in other ways violates Google or Yelps terms of service, there are procedures in place so you can easily flag a review hopefully get it removed.
If a review is great, reply to it as well and thank them! Carefully craft a response that might further communicate some of the wonderful services you might provide. For example, “Thank you so much for your review. We are honored that you took that time to let us know how pleased you were. We want to personally invite you to our support group that meets Sunday nights at our home.” Now the reader knows about a good experience of another patron and may be interested in attending some of your future events as well.
As I was working on this article and traveling across the country, I made a point to look at the reviews of the homes in the area I was in. They seemed to fall into two categories. Homes either seemed aware of their social media presence and clearly had solicited reviews to build up their rankings, or they had zero or very few reviews. Be the informed and proactive business that takes control of their online reputation.
Remember, prevention is the best medicine. Bad situations can often be avoided (or at least substantially mitigated) by ensuring you are tuned into your online presence at all times-not just when there’s an emergency. Cultivate your customers to proactively share their experiences and recommendations online. Consumers are smart enough to separate out and ignore the rare negative review in a sea of positive ones. FBA
Dawn Wagner is the co-founder and owner of a print-on-demand, memorial tribute company along with her husband David Wagner. Together they bring their years of marketing and leadership experience with Fortune100 companies to the funeral industry. They are available for a free personal marketing consultation – 802.431.6263. Resources mentioned in this article can be found on their website – PersonalizedMemorialArt.com.