When customers leave negative reviews or complain about a brand or business on the internet, they just want to be heard, express their frustration, and want some sort of resolution. Businesses that take the time to reach out to unsatisfied customers can make things right. But how can they do that consistently and at scale?
Today’s guest is Dave Lehman, President and COO at Birdeye, a platform that allows local businesses to collect reviews, run surveys, and get referrals to better engage with customers. Dave talks about how businesses should make online reputation management a top priority and do it the right way.
Ben: Hey, Dave, how's it going?
Dave: Great. Great to meet you, Ben.
Ben: Yeah, and you as well. I understand you had a lot of excitement around the company and you might have thrown your voice out earlier this week getting fired up.
Dave: Yes, we had a big product launch. We launched our payments product so that our customers can collect payments from their customers and like always, you want to get everybody hyped up, fired up, and excited about it and so we did that. On Monday, we did a Squid Games analogy and played out that. We figured to take something pretty hot in the news right now that gets people's attention usually.
Ben: Sure, yeah. Well, congrats on the launch.
Dave: Thank you.
Ben: It's always exciting and in some ways, I feel a little bit of a relief once you have a large-scale product launch kind of get out the door, so congrats on that.
What we're going to be talking about is online reputation management. I understand that you or your team has recently conducted some research that you published that showed that 57% of the marketers that you polled said that online reputation management is more important than advertising. What do you think that this means for marketers?
Dave: For your audience who aren't familiar with Birdeye, I'll give you a 30,000-foot view. Overall, Birdeye works with over 60,000 businesses to help them grow through happy customers. What does that mean?
We help them attract new customers, bring in new people through having the right listings, getting the right reviews, and referrals directly. We help them convert customers, so once you've got somebody who's looking at you, talking to you, how do you make them a customer with things like one-to-one chat, or texting back and forth with the business, payments like we just launched, appointments, and those types of things.
Then finally, how do you take care of them, delight those customers through surveys, getting that feedback directly from them, understanding the insights, operationally setting up ticketing, and the rest of it? Then again, you take those best customers that you have and use those to promote your brand.
We call it a flywheel. We say this is the way businesses are really going to grow versus sort of the old school of just hey, throw a bunch of people in the top of the funnel and hope the best ones come out the bottom. When we look at the spend and we look at the focus that marketers have, what they're realizing is that customers are no longer, I hate to say it this way but they don't trust them anymore. The buyer behavior has shifted dramatically.
If we think 20 years ago, it was all about ads, put out your billboards, the ultimate was the Superbowl commercial. That's what people thought was marketing. Then companies like HubSpot came along and it was a little bit more of like, hey, let's put out good content. Let's put out thought leadership. We'll send great emails and then when somebody is ready, they'll come to us. That’s again, inbound marketing.
Where we really think things have evolved is into experience marketing. Into a place where people trust the shared experiences that their friends, their network, and their community has had. It really changes how marketers need to think about things, which is why again, they're looking at things like reputation over ad spend to drive their businesses.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. Speaking anecdotally, I think this makes sense because I know when I'm comparison shopping or doing research for any kind of product or service, a review that someone left, a placement maybe on an influential blog, those things have way more sway than a pay per click ad, a pre-roll spot on a YouTube video, or something of that nature. I think that makes sense, even though it is kind of surprising to hear that many marketers actually say that it's more important than advertising. I just think that's super interesting.
In the same survey, the same research that you published, it shows that 88% of the marketers that you polled saw a direct connection between reputation and revenue. A question I have is, generally speaking, how do you see marketers actually quantifying that correlation? I think that we can safely assume that our revenue was connected to our right to exist in the market. I don't think that's too controversial or difficult to understand, but what I do think is a bigger challenge is how do you quantify it. How do you actually tie a dollar amount to what your reputation is worth or can you?
Dave: The answer is yes, you can. What's great is when you think about it, and I know I'm talking flywheels, but marketers still do think in funnels. Do you think about how do I get somebody to purchase with me? Well, you got to get them at the top of the funnel, you got to get them interested, you got to attract them. They've got to be aware of your business.
There are really clear ways to say, hey, where am I ranking in SEO? Where am I coming up in terms of Google or either a map pack ideally if you're showing up there or just that ranking? To your point, most people will skip the first three ads. It's almost become the default behavior. I'm waiting for Google to change that because maybe enough people are still clicking on the ads, but to me, people and myself, just jump below the ads and say, hey, what's naturally coming to the top there. You can definitely start measuring that placement and that behavior.
Then when somebody lands on your site again, what are the conversion rates like? Are they getting that first taste of a really good experience themselves when they start engaging your brand, whether they come to your website or even, again, say they do find you on Google and you do show up number one on that map pack, are they clicking driving directions? Are they clicking message the business and having somebody answer that directly?
You've got ways to look at both the volume of leads that you're getting into the business and that conversion rate. Look, high level, we've seen customers just as they've grown their reviews, there's a direct line of their revenue going up.
One of our great customers, Blaze Pizza, they've got about a little over 100 different locations of their pizza place. They've been using Birdeye for about three years and they saw by listening to all the reviews, responding to reviews, asking their best customers for reviews, through that process, they actually grew their reviews by 175%. It's just a massive amount.
Again, you or I come to a site searching for the best pizza near me, and all of a sudden we're seeing a volume of five star reviews, we're going to pick that thing. They also tripled their revenue at that time. As they saw that go up, not that we're taking credit for every single one of those dollars, but certainly that tight correlation is there as well.
Ben: Sure. You know that you're having an impact on it and you have some concrete actions that you can see consumers taking that indicate that you're having that impact. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think that data from that survey is fairly powerful, but what are the potential costs or missed opportunities that might be associated with ignoring statistics like the ones that we're talking about, or just ignoring reputation management in general and failing to attack it proactively?
Dave: If you're not thinking about this stuff, you're simply missing out on customers because this is where so many customers are starting their journey. They're going online and searching, especially post-pandemic. People aren't just driving around looking for a restaurant or looking for urgent care. They're getting online and they're searching and that's the behavior.
Again, I don't want to get too simplistic on this or too detailed on the basics of how Google works, but essentially, they're looking at three things. They're looking at relevancy. What are you searching for? Is that in line with what we have? Two, is the distance, especially if you're doing a local search where you want to try and find something near me or the area, so they're looking at those two. Then third is prominence. That prominence factor is completely driven unless you're some historical monument, some well-known establishment like an arena, or something like that.
If you're looking for that prominence as a business, it's all about two things—review count and review score. That's what you can control. That's how Google looks at a business, and what is Google trying to do? They're trying to mimic human behavior to give the best possible answers, so you, as a business, if you can push for those reviews both in terms of the volume, the count, and the stars, it's important.
One of the things our customers really focus on is asking everybody for reviews because what happens is that people who usually leave reviews, it's the pissed-off people. It's somebody who had a bad experience who's going to take their time and go blast you. Most businesses that we work with, most businesses around the world are pretty good businesses and take care of their customers and all the rest of it, but they don't make it easy for the happy people to leave them a review.
That's one of the things that Birdeye really focuses on. How do we either automate or send out campaigns? How do we make it a real democratized system that talks about how your business is doing by making it super easy for everybody to leave you a review and engage with you directly?
Ben: Sure. I think it's so true and almost is commonly accepted as just common knowledge at this point that the people who leave reviews are people who are pissed.
Dave: Unless you make it easy. You have an option, which is to make it easy for everybody. People try and do things like let me put a little traffic light up on the exit at the door and let people push those things. That'll get you some feedback internally, but that's not going to get you the external that you need. The best way to do it, honestly, is the mobile because I'm already logged into Google, I'm already logged into Facebook, I'm already logged into TripAdvisor on my phone, so if you send them a text message at the right time, it's three clicks away and they're giving you that five star review. It works.
Ben: Sure. The more that you can minimize or eliminate friction, the more likely somebody is going to do something like that. Whereas people will jump through a lot of hoops to tell you how pissed they are. Just kind of a fact of life, I suppose.
If marketers or listeners of this show are sold on the idea of making reputation management a priority for their business, where would you recommend they begin? If they've never really actively paid attention to any of this stuff, where should they start?
Dave: There are the basics of listening and centralizing all of your reviews, being able to manage them, and making sure they're all in one place. Really where I tell people to start, especially these days, is to start with the experience that you're giving your customers. Everybody today expects and deserves that Amazon-like experience.
It's got to be super easy to engage with you as a business. The stats are crazy on, essentially through the pandemic, we've accelerated digital transformation that we've been talking about for decades. Some of the stature is seven years faster than anyone expected because every single business had to get digital. Every single customer expects every business, no matter how big or small you are, they expect to be able to text you, they expect you to answer their phone, or get back on a message that's coming to them. That's what people expect.
The first thing we actually recommend before you start messing with your reviews, just get on a platform where you can engage your customers on the channels that they prefer, which is mainly texting or any of these messaging fronts. We've seen just an explosion in that since the pandemic. I wasn't texting a restaurant before the pandemic of like, hey, can my kids use the bathroom? Do I still have to wear a mask inside? All these things, but that's just what you do now. Just because you've got that digital connection.
Then once you have that foundation of, okay, I'm taking care of people, I'm working with them in that messaging and framework that they like and that they prefer, then you got to stick to the basics. You got to start listening, you got to start responding to people, especially those super angry ones. You'd be surprised how many customers we see where they respond to the negative ones and people will either see that they’re been responded to or give them the benefit of the doubt. Google also, by the way, recognizes that when you respond to these one stars, they give you credit for that as well.
Then oftentimes, people will take their bad reviews down, they don't have a problem backing out. All they want is to be heard. Then when they get that, it's amazing how many of them will change their review.
Ben: Yeah. I think that last point that you made I think is really important to keep in mind. People don't really enjoy (I don’t think) being seen being angry in public. It really is, I think in a lot of cases, a matter of people just leveraging what little power they have to get a business's attention. I think that's super important to keep in mind that if you just make a little bit of effort, you can actually turn somebody who's coming in hot and maybe actually win back to their business. I just think that's really important.
Dave: One of our customers, and I'm not allowed to mention their name but their CEO would get on every single one star review. He would respond directly. He had about a 70% hit rate on getting people to change it. Now I'm not saying every CEO needs to go do that, but that's pretty powerful when it can happen. Obviously, you need the tools to do it. He's not sitting there on Yelp, Facebook, and Google all day long. You want a system that says, hey, one star review, angry customer, and boom, make it easy for the CEO as well to respond. Those types of workflows are pretty important as well.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. Once marketers have the rudiments of a reputation management system, process, or practice in place and they've made it just a part of how they operate, how would you recommend they go about measuring whether those efforts are paying off? We've touched on this a little bit already, but I'm curious if you could go more in-depth into how do you set goals? How do you select metrics? How do you actually measure progress toward actually driving improvement in this area?
Dave: There's always the leading indicators of, hey, I got more five star reviews and that simple reputation, that goes up. Your SEO improvements are going to go up and the awareness of your brand and business are going to go up more leads, all that.
What we look at with our customers, especially the ones who are getting a little bit more advanced and understanding the value of this, is that reviews are one piece of the conversation in measuring sentiment, in measuring customer engagement and happiness on that is great. But you can actually look a little bit more holistically, right.
We, besides reputation management, also have a survey platform where you can go and ask directly for feedback and do things like NPS, Net Promoter Score, and say, hey, are you a detractor? Are you a promoter of my business? Ask all sorts of different questions. To me, they're really smart marketers. What they're doing is not just looking at one of those signals, but looking across that entire voice of the customer, if you will. What are they saying, externally on reviews? What are they saying on social? What are they saying in the surveys that they respond to?
Even some of the most advanced ones that we have, they're looking at the text messages that the person is sending in or the voicemails that they're leaving. Somebody starts screaming at you, well, you kind of know they're pissed off if they leave you that voicemail, or better yet, if somebody refers their friend and you see that in the platform or they just refer their friend, I probably don't have to send them an NPS survey and say, hey, are you a promoter? I know you're a promoter. You just actually promoted me out there.
Those implicit signals are also valuable. We actually have in our platform, it's all AI-driven and smarter people than me sort of put this whole thing together, but essentially it'll normalize all of those signals and give you what's called an experience score.
You're given one score for the person that's a real time sentiment analysis of all the different places that you could be listening to them. You can bring that together and see how that experience score looks at an individual level, a location level. You can do it at a regional level, or a brand level, or the whole company level. You've got a really smart way of listening beyond just one little individual signal.
One of the big things marketers are dealing with right now is the fact that Google and everybody's getting rid of cookies. There's no more this idea of let's go snoop on everybody, see how they're doing, see where they're hanging out? Can I implicitly learn about them that way? No, you can't do that anymore and people don't want that with the current privacy mindset.
What they do want and what they expect is everywhere they raise their hand and they leave you a comment, mentioned, or something, they expect you to know that and while you're dealing with them, not ignore the fact that again you just blasted me on Yelp and, oh, by the way, I'm kind of trying to sell you something else. That doesn't work either. You got to look at it a little more holistically.
Ben: For sure. The last question that I'll throw your way is, are there any common mistakes that you see marketers making when it comes to reputation management that they should maybe be mindful to avoid?
Dave: I think we've talked about these things, but to me, it's really two things. The one is I'm not going to respond. I'm not going to respond because what if that pisses them off more, gets me into a battle? By the way, don't ever do that, don't start a battle. Just say sorry and here's a coupon or say, hey, happy to talk offline. It's a lose-lose to try and go into things on a social level like that. But definitely respond and what's nice is you can set up smart tools and smart automation like with Birdeye where you can respond to every review.
Again, you can bucket them. By the way, I'll have like 10 or 15 of these things queued up and rotated through so it doesn't look like I'm just answering the same thing each time. But you can automatically respond to those five stars.
The one star with a comment is different from a one star without any comments. The one star with a comment, someone actually has a problem that wants to be fixed. Someone who just puts a one star without anything, there's not a whole lot you could do. Again, you can still respond and go with it. Between automation and humans getting involved where needed is really powerful to make sure you're responding out there.
Number two, ask. Ask your best customers, ask all your customers for reviews online, make it easy for them, and don't be afraid. I hear a lot of people, oh, well, what if somebody said something negative? They're already going to go out and say something negative. If you ask everybody, assuming you're not a terrible business and if you are, you got other problems you got to go fix, understand, and probably even better to get that feedback.
Now maybe if you're really bad at business, send out surveys instead of sending out review requests to begin with to fix the things that are wrong, but really, I think if you have that opportunity to go out and ask your customers, make it easy.
The other thing is like I said, this is all about a measure and a follow-through to the experiences that you're giving your customers. Where you can, make those experiences easy, seamless, digital, and on one platform. Again, I don't know about you, but I hate calling in and they pass you to three different people who have no history of who you are, where you've been, or all the rest of it. Again, businesses of all sizes these days have the ability to have technology like this that makes it feel good to engage with them.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. There's almost no excuse anymore at this point with how easy it can be if you want to make it easy.
Dave: I hear this a lot, I have customers who are like, Dave, I'm supposed to have somebody manning the webchat? I said, well, only if it gets you more leads. But what if a lot of people come on there and ask me a lot of questions? I'm like, you're telling me your problem is you can't find somebody to man it because you're getting too many leads? That's a problem.
You're a marketer and your job is to get leads and you're saying I'm giving you a channel for it, and you're telling me well, I don't have anybody to respond to that? Find somebody or change someone's job because like how we started this thing, it's not about the people spending on ads. It's a lot more about how do you engage people and get people through that funnel the right way that is really impactful?
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Dave, this has been awesome. Thanks so much for coming on the show. If people want to find you or Birdeye on the web, where would you recommend they go look?
Dave: Just birdeye.com. Come find me. I'm firstname.lastname@example.org as well if you want to send me anything directly.
Ben: Awesome. Thanks again for coming on the show. I think this is a super valuable conversation.
Ben Sailer has over 14 years of experience in the field of marketing. He is considered an expert in inbound marketing through his incredible skills with copywriting, SEO, content strategy, and project management.
Ben is currently an Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic, working to grow WordPress.com as the top managed hosting solution for WordPress websites. WordPress is one of the most powerful website creation tools in the industry.
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