This is an easy question, right? I know I thought so. Sure, small businesses (or any size business) must be vigilant about all posted customer reviews, because they are the first impression that a potential new customer gets of your business. But existing customers? They already know you and they have chosen you. Surely your online reviews don't matter to them. Yeah, well, that is what I thought, too, until a friend of mine related a story that taught me otherwise.

I was talking casually with a friend of mine who owns a small business and he wanted to know how important online reviews are for existing customers, but the reason he was asking was prompted by something that he did when he was acting as a customer to another business.

As he related the story to me, he wanted to buy some mulch to be delivered to his home, something he does at the same time each year. He always uses the same business because he knows they have a low price, but because he uses them only once a year, he never remembers their phone number. He used to look them up in the Yellow Pages, but this year he searched for their name online to get the phone number.

Local Search Results for Couches

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He isn't sure what site he landed. It might have been Yelp or a Google Place Page or something else, but he remembers what he saw: a long list of scathing reviews along with the phone number. He started reading them, and as he did, he said to himself, "Oh yeah, that has happened to me." And, "Yeah, he has a low price but he always delivers a few days late." And, "Yeah, I have sometimes had to call him to remind him about my order."

And as he sat there, he asked himself, "Is the lower price really worth it?" It was one thing when he thought that he had perhaps just caught them on a bad day a few times, but when he gets confirmation that what he has experienced is the norm, and that he very well ought to expect to happen again this time, he asked himself if it was worth it.

And then he decided, "No, it's not worth it." And he called someone else.

I had frankly never thought through this kind of scenario, but I have to admit it sounds very plausible to me. As more and more people use Google as a phone book, and as the ratings and review sites land at the top of the search results, it is easy to see how even existing customers will be swayed by ratings and reviews.

So, add this story to your list of reasons why ratings and reviews are important. Remember that the way you treat your customers matters every single day, and that you must pay attention to what is said online and make improvements to retain your customers as well as to attract new ones.

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October 11, 2010

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Good read Mike, totally agree. I also believe the response that businesses can give for some reviews is just as important, there are two sides to every story and businesses should respond not only to harsh reviews, but also the good ones as well. Once again good read.

No surprised - its a basic marketing principle to retain as many existing customers as possible. If you do, then you are doing something right from a customer service point of view. Also being very mercenary, its much cheaper to keep an existing customer than to find and convert a new one. Its all about ROI!

Matthew Simmons
Interim Marketing Director and Consultant

This is so true.

Especially if you engaging services for something that you dont know much of.

In this case you need to rely of online reviews. I know if i am ever in this situation i can easily refuse a business based off one bad review.

Thanks Mike.

Hi Mike,

I believe that all types of contacts with your clients and prospects will contribute to their overall satisfaction. An existing customer can definitely be turned into a non customer by reading numerous bad reviews. It is natural for people to want to associate with a "winner", and a "winner" is not someone who is receiving alot of negative feedback.

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