When it comes to leveraging marketing assets for your firm, none may be more powerful than your reputation. To attract new customers and drive repeat business from current ones, your ability to maximize visibility and trust through social proof and customer feedback is critical. After all, the best marketing is not done by the company itself, but its clients.
The challenge we hear from law firms is that they know online reviews are important but they feel like they have no control over the process and it’s too time-consuming. They become frustrated when they send requests after request and get no 5-star reviews in return but then a client goes and writes a 1 or 2-star review that drives down their star rating.
We’re here to help you empower yourself and your team to manage online reviews like the local marketing superhero we know you are. Over the course of this blog article, you’ll learn about the latest trends, tactics, and how to save time and money in building your legal reputation, including:
- Importance of online reviews & the tangible benefits you’ll see
- Why negative reviews are inevitable
- How you should respond and manage negative reviews
- A strategy that empowers you and your team to build a 5-star rating for your firm
IMPORTANCE OF ONLINE REVIEWS
As we begin, I first want to lay the groundwork to help you understand the true value of online reviews. By focusing on building your reputation and creating a trusted brand, you can improve all areas of your business.
The following are four tangible benefits your law firm can expect to see.
Benefit: Learn from your customers.
94% of people will use a local business if it has at least a 4-star rating. Online reviews help you collect actual feedback from your clients. While you may have assumptions about how your customers feel and think about your firm, there is no better way to discover these insights than by getting the answers straight from them.
Benefit: Gain insights about your firm.
94% of people say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business. As a result of getting to know your clients better and getting inside their minds, you’re able to identify areas within your firm that could use some improvement or other areas and/or teams that deserve recognition for their outstanding work. You can address a weak spot, resolve it, and prevent a negative review from happening down the road.
Benefit: Improve your local ranking.
97% of people will search online for a local firm. By consistently getting reviews on your website and business listings, you’re able to create location-based, recent, and relevant content that search engines like Google expect from you. That, in turn, helps Google to trust your brand more, and you’ll be more likely to appear higher in local search results.
Benefit: Attract new clients and retain current ones.
90% of people say that their decisions are influenced by positive online reviews. Consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Your ability to leverage social proof on your website, marketing and sales materials, and customer communications can mean the difference between a one-and-done customer or a customer for life.
FIRST-PARTY VS THIRD-PARTY REVIEWS
It’s important to also note that not all review sites are equal, nor are all reviewers. Let’s break this down a little further before moving on.
Take Google, Facebook, and Yelp, for example. These are all third-party review sites. Online reviews on these sites carry the most weight when it comes to your online reputation and how you rank locally.
But, what do you do if a customer is unable to leave a review on any of these? Not everyone will have an account, which is required in order to leave a review on these sites.
This is when first-party reviews become valuable. A review is considered to be first-party when it gets directly published on your website. With first-party reviews, no username or password is required. These reviews make it easy for you and your team to collect feedback and get reviews from clients who are not all that tech-savvy or do not have an account on the review site you’re asking them to post on.
The real magic with first-party reviews is that these reviews are wrapped in schema, the code that helps Google and other search engines see the reviews on your website. They then factor first-party reviews (along with third-party reviews) into your overall star rating.
The same can be said about individual reviewers. Take Jenny and Dave for example:
- Jenny – Has steadily been reviewing businesses on Google, Facebook, and Yelp in her local community for over a year. Each review includes a detailed description of her experience along with a few photos she took. She, unfortunately, didn’t have a stellar experience with your firm though and she posted a 2-star review about it with the caveat that she would’ve given your firm a higher rating if these certain criteria had been met.
- Dave – Has only reviewed one other business in town, three years ago, and has now written a 5-star review of your firm on Yelp that says how great you were to work with without giving any concrete details.
From the actual review site’s perspective, which of these two reviews do you think would be more trustworthy? Review sites want to ensure their results show the most valuable and transparent information about a company. If someone is an active reviewer, their feedback is going to carry more weight and garner more visibility than someone who just posted their first review. That’s why you’ll notice a lot of the top reviews you’ll see on Google are from Google Local Guides.
Let’s use Jenny as a case study as we move onto the next section.
WHY CLIENTS WRITE NEGATIVE REVIEWS
Jenny’s average rating given to local businesses is a 4.5-star rating but she gave your firm a 2-star review on Google. Why is that? Before looking at the possible reasons that could’ve caused her negative experience, let’s first understand her mindset. In general, there are two reasons why people feel compelled to write bad reviews.
- Venting negative feelings: Most often with 1-star reviews, you’ll notice a pattern of people wanting to vent about their negative experience with a business. Most will be filled with anger and hate towards the company and employees and use excessive exclamation points or will have glaring grammar mistakes. There are usually not many insights you can gain from reading a rant.
- Want to warn others: When you receive a 1 or 2-star review that is a bit more thought out and written, it’s often the case that this client wants to warn others of the bad experience they had so that others don’t go through the same ordeal, or are at least aware that this could happen to them. These are the reviews that provide the best insights into areas of your firm that might need to be addressed.
Now that we know a little more about Jenny’s mindset, what are the possible reasons that could’ve led to a negative experience?
It’s absolutely critical to understand that negative reviews are not always your fault. It can be a natural instinct to react defensively to negative feedback but that’s the wrong mindset to have. Sometimes, bad reviews just happen. It’s inevitable that at some point, your firm will receive a bad review. Why is that? Well, there could be a few events that are outside of your control, such as:
- Emotional breakdown: Ultimately, you can’t control someone’s emotions. If a client has an unreasonable reaction about their situation, that is outside your control as a lawyer. This could cause your client to have an emotional breakdown if they aren’t getting their way. Thinking that you don’t care about their emotions, they take to Google and blast you with a 1-star rating about how your firm didn’t care about their feelings.
- Trust issues: Sometimes you may be thrilled to be bringing on a new client. However, what if your client isn’t completely honest about their situation from the start? Without honesty, there could be surprises that arise and it will impact your client relationship. Unfortunately, your client may not be so understanding and wondering why their problem can’t be solved. This could lead your client to become upset and write a bad review of your firm.
- Law issues: You can’t argue the law and there are legal procedures that you need to follow. There may be times where clients don’t understand the route you have to take, which could lead them to frustration. Clients will likely take to Google to voice their frustration over your inability to solve a problem that can’t be resolved the way they want it.
These three issues are just a few ways to help you understand that there will always be something you can’t control or predict that’ll cause a client to have a bad experience with your firm. While that’s a given, there are a few scenarios that can lead to bad reviews that are entirely under your control. These being:
- Gaps in communication: Your inefficient processes give way to drops in communication where a client has to reach out a few times before connecting with someone and they don’t feel like they matter to you; they’re just another number. For example, if attention was put on answering the phones and responding to messages promptly, perhaps that customer would’ve never written a bad review.
- Poor customer management: Your firm may have done a poor job of laying out expectations prior to bringing on the new client. Now the customer has this dream scenario in her head of how the case is going to go. However, when expectations are unrealistic for your team to deliver what she wants, the results are going to be disappointing to your client. If your team had done a better job at clearly setting expectations from the start, their frustration would be negated because they knew the possibility of problems prior.
No matter what the cause might be, you’ll want to reply to each and every review your firm receives, positive or negative. Doing so can have the following effects:
- Businesses that respond to reviews see, on average, a ¼ star increase in their average star rating.
- 67% of people who leave negative reviews will update or delete them if they receive a response.
- People leave 12% more reviews for businesses who take the time to respond; notably, they leave more positive feedback.
- People are less inclined to leave negative reviews for businesses that respond to reviews.
Let’s shift gears to discuss best practices for responding to a negative review.
HOW SHOULD LAW FIRMS RESPOND TO NEGATIVE REVIEWS
Every negative review can be learned from and inspire positive changes within your firm if you know how to manage them. The following are recommendations to keep in mind when responding to negative reviews.
- Take a deep breath and re-read the review. Like we’ve mentioned, it can be all too easy to become defensive and feel personally attacked when reading negative feedback. Take a moment to pause and re-read the review with an open mind.
- Craft a professional response and reply “quickly”. 40% of customers who leave negative feedback expect a reply within the hour. And, because reviews are often sorted newest to oldest, leaving negative reviews unanswered just increases the potential harm they can do. Therefore, it’s key that you post a response as quickly as you can while ensuring what you’re writing is professional.
- Keep your response short, simple, and be honest. Your responses should be helpful, not further confuse and frustrate an already unhappy customer. Admit fault where necessary and be clear with your words.
- If subsequent outreach is required, drive the conversation out of the public eye. You shouldn’t treat online reviews like you would a text message. Don’t post multiple responses in a row without the reviewer replying back. Also, don’t get caught up in a back and forth argument online, especially when dealing with sensitive and confidential situations. Encourage your client to join you on a phone call if necessary.
- Set up notifications. Alleviate the sudden rush of stress and anxiety when you find a bad review from last month that hasn’t been responded to yet by setting up alerts to notify you any time a new review gets posted online.
- Proactively get more reviews. The best way to combat a negative review is to get a dozen positive ones. The majority of the reviews you get, will, in fact, be positive, and by getting more, you can negate the impact a negative review has.
Ultimately, you may or may not win back an unhappy client by posting a reply to their negative review. You could, however, win over new clients who see how you handle adversity. I’ll leave you with this final thought.
When asked what people care about the most when reading online reviews of a local firm, their answers reveal some powerful insights:
- Star rating: 60%
- Quantity of reviews: 44%
- Review sentiment: 38%
- Recency: 33%
- Responses: 26%
Focusing on all aspects of your reputation is critical so take the time to humanize your firm by requesting and responding to your client reviews.