If you are sitting comfortably under the umbrella of your marketing plan with your toes in the sand, beware: A tidal wave of change is coming. Triggered by growing use of the Internet for purchases, this change will not only disrupt how service companies get customers, but also, how businesses are run. This new system establishes a “winner takes all” environment for the industry, which might be good news if you can learn how to surf it.

Social review sites form this approaching tsunami. They threaten established water treatment companies and provide opportunities for startups to rocket to the top-ranking positions. The first companies that adapt to this change will ride a wave of success that can establish their dominance in the industry for years to come.

 

Disruptive nature of social review

Consumers are shifting to social review sites for help in choosing service companies. Yelp, Google Plus and Angie’s List have already staked their claims as the leaders in this new world of marketing. Some companies have felt the sting of a bad review and responded emotionally with frustration. Instead of embracing this change, business owners have complained and halfheartedly attempted to play the game, and many businesses are hoping that the shift towards review sites will just go away.

This exasperation stems from losing control over how consumers perceive companies. Until now, businesses controlled their public image. Only positive praise was presented to the general public. In general, dissatisfied consumers did not openly express their feelings.

In the past, well-designed websites had the power to persuade people to choose companies that actually provided horrible service. Clients were unable to confirm the reliability of advertising messages. Review sites have changed all of that. Consumers now have a powerful voice. They are empowered to express their opinions to the world.

 

Warning signs of change

Just as you would note the impending devastation of a tsunami when you see a receding waterline, you must now heed the signs of this coming wave of social review.

The wave that started in California and swept to the East Coast before finally flowing to the South is beginning to cover every place. There are still places along the way where no reviews have been written for water treatment companies. But we all know that trends in social media can sweep the country almost overnight.

Social review sites are taking over the rules of search engine optimization (SEO). For example, the Google Map listings are given to companies with the most Google Plus reviews. If you perform this test in major cities across the country, you will see this trend follow the same path.

Only a year ago, social review sites had no placements on the first page of a Google search. The crash of this wave is already disrupting existing marketing.

 

What’s so great about review sites?

Growing numbers of consumers are deferring to social review websites due to convenience and reliability. According to Pew Research, 58 percent of adults in the U.S. carry a smartphone. Social reviews are literally at people’s fingertips. These social media sites offer your customers as well as prospects many benefits, including:

  • Speed: It takes only seconds to retrieve names and relevant information on local service companies. A similar search engine produces many distracting results which confuse and slow the process.
  • Narrower search: Many review sites make choosing easier by creating a prioritized list. By looking at the top listings, 90 percent of the options are instantly eliminated.
  • Easily compared: Several top companies can be viewed with just a few clicks. Since the same format is used, comparisons are easily made.
  • Reliability: As the number of company reviews increases, so does the reliability of the ranking. Once a company acquires 30 reviews, the consumer description becomes pretty clear. As the reviews reach into the hundreds, the ranking becomes hard to debate.
  • Accountability: Customers feel confident that a highly rated company will pay attention if a problem should arise. They know if they receive poor service, they can give a bad review in return.

 

A consumer shift

Where are the growing numbers of social review site users coming from?

  • SEO efforts already have taken a major hit by being knocked off of Google’s first page by review sites. As this trend grows, it will draw more consumers toward review sites.
  • People are shifting from popular search engines to review sites because of the convenience, reliability and speed mentioned previously.
  • Personal referrals are being replaced by the more comprehensive nature of review sites.
  • The most surprising source of new users is the large number of customers who are willing to “jump ship.” Many consumers have tolerated their current service company for fear of trying a different one. Social review provides the confidence many people need to make a change.

 

Changing how companies run

The standards by which companies are judged have been rewritten. Companies are no longer predominantly evaluated on how well they accomplish a service. They are now largely judged on the consumer experience of the entire process. Failure to perform as expected, arriving late, poor communication or disappointing the customer in any way can now result in a costly negative review. It takes 15 five-star reviews to counteract a one-star rating. A single bad review could cost a company thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

This new consumer power is highlighted by the fact that a person can write a scathing review based solely on an unsatisfactory inquiry call. A poor review can be permanently lodged against a business even if that person never hires the company. Low-end and bait-and-switch companies are easy to identify with this system. Reviews make clear which companies provide good value. The consumer-satisfaction bar has been raised. Those who can’t meet the new standards will be swept away.

How customers feel has now become as important as the service itself. Companies must adapt to this new set of expectations. Larger, established businesses may find this to be a daunting task.

An overhaul of the entire service process will be required. Owners must evaluate their businesses from a customer’s perspective. Negative reviews need to be analyzed to determine how to prevent that experience from happening again. Sensitivity to consumers’ feelings must become part of the company culture.

It may be necessary to hire a business consultant to objectively evaluate and implement the necessary changes. Another option is to find a panel of consumers to recommend changes.

 

Winner takes all

Review ranking systems lead to an environment where only a few companies win. Consumers intentionally ignore companies with low ratings or the fewest number of reviews and focus solely on the top-ranked companies. The top-ranked companies will get the most work and, as a result, receive even more reviews. The companies that reach the top will be able to ride the wave and dominate consumer attention for that review site. The only way for the winners to get dethroned is for them to slip up on their customer service and allow their rating score to drop.

The good news is that few companies have yet to claim a dominant ranking. A window of opportunity is wide open, especially in cities where social review has not yet become popular and the competition is not already established.

The companies with the highest rankings are the targets to beat. In order to discover the Yelp rankings of a company and its competitors, simply go to Yelp.com and type in the service type and city at the top.

The easiest way to find Angie’s List rankings is to join Angie’s List as a consumer member. The cost for this ranges from free to $29 annually depending on the city.

Google Plus ranks are determined by looking at the Google Map section for the city and service offered. The companies with the most reviews tend to rank higher on the local map listing. The sooner a company starts this process, the better their chance of riding the wave.

Another reason to start sooner rather than later is that Yelp and Google Plus reviews accumulate. They are not eliminated from the ranking score due to age. A company that has actively collected reviews for many years will be hard to beat. Angie’s List, on the other hand, only takes into account the most recent three-year period for scoring.

A startup company now has the opportunity to seize the top position before established companies are able to adjust to the new service standards. Larger and more mature companies do not have an advantage in this new system.

 

The wave is coming

Get up off the sand and get ready. This tsunami of change is coming, and there does not appear to be a way of escaping it. The reality of having to deal with consumer reviews will be a challenge for all service companies.

Overall, this will eventually create a far more professional and service-oriented industry. The consumers will be the victors.

As far as businesses are concerned, there will be both winners and losers. Those who adapt to the new rules first are going to ride the wave and win big. The others will be swept away.

Heed the warning signs for this one. Getting on top of this wave is worth the effort.

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in our sister publication, Cleanfax. Please visit www.cleanfax.com to read articles and news from the professional carpet cleaning and restoration industry.


Steve Marsh is the creator of the Be Competition Free Marketing Program. He is a 40-year veteran of the carpet cleaning industry, an instructor and a Senior Carpet Inspector. Marsh is a marketing and business consultant who helps owners build their companies to attract higher quality customers. For more information, visit www.BeCompetitionFree.com.