When you think about building your dog walking company, there’s one thing that comes to mind above all else; introductions. Tracking down new connections is challenging and time consuming, and is one of the main reasons dog walkers are coming online in droves. But with so many tools and options around, how do you know where to focus your efforts? The answer may surprise you.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth recommendations have always carried a lot of weight. And recently, as marketing and advertising budgets have grown, more and more people are turning to online reviews and discussion forums to help them make informed decisions. According to a a 2014 study by BrightLocal, up to 88% of people read customer reviews when researching a business or service. Some industries are more heavily reviewed and searched than others, but the growth in online research is significant across the board.

People Trust People

The level of trust clients place in online reviews is growing steadily. For a typical consumer today, a batch of good online reviews carries the same weight as a recommendation from an acquaintance. Compare this to people’s opinions on paid marketing or advertising, and you’ll see the real value of user reviews. According to BazaarVoice, customers trust reviews by other customers up to 12-times more than marketing materials created by a business.

Build Reviews into Your Services

Good reviews are great. New reviews are even better. Other dog walking businesss in your area won't stop collecting new reviews, and recent reviews are a vital indicator of a quality dog walking business. Look for ways to build review acquisition right into your dog walking business's workflow. Include links for customers to review their experience in your email communications. Follow up with happy customers after-the-fact and solicit feedback. Then ask if they’d be willing to post something publicly. Many companies are even adding public review forums on their website, which is as easy as finding a good free plugin. Reviews are a resource that compounds over time. Think of your body of online reviews as a something that takes effort in the moment, but yields results forever after.

Reviews as the Magic Mirror

A big body of awesome reviews, and a simple system to bring in more, is all well and good. But reviews are also a fantastic way to motivate yourself the people you work with. Reward and incentivize yourself and other employees who generate positive online feedback. Create a Wall of Fame to shout-out positive reviews and remind yourself how important the client's feelings and impressions are. Think of reviews as a way to see outside your own walls and learn more about how you fit into the bigger picture of your community.

How to Handle Bad Reviews

You do your best for every single client you work with. But you can't make everyone happy all the time. So how should you respond when a furious review shows up on your website or Twitter? Keep in mind, a sour taste is more memorable than a sweet one, and people are much more likely to post reviews about a bad experience than a good one. First step, relax. Many unhappy customers can be placated by a little tender love and care. Reach out, find out what the problem was, and then make a real and concerted effort to resolve it. You might well be able to change the person’s opinion and convert a negative to a positive. Even when you get a tough cookie that won’t budge, don’t chalk it up as a lost cause. Respond to the review politely and with real compassion, in the same place where the review originally appeared. It's your opportunity to let future clients see that you take their feedback seriously, and do everything you can to help. An unpleasant review is just another platform for you to highlight your business and brand.

Some Easy Steps

If you’re looking to meet more customers and boost your dog walking operation with customer reviews, here are some quick steps to get you started. 1) Get on Yelp! Create a profile for you dog walking operation. And link to if from your website with some pretty social media icons. 2) Add a survey or feedback form to your invoicing, to identify happy clients who might be willing to write a review. 3) Include your best reviews publicly on your homepage as part of the first impression for new clients. 4) Collect reviews right on your website with an easy review collection tool like this. 5) Connect with clients on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and when you have established a good rapport, consider asking for a recommendation or review.

How have reviews and public comments impacted your business? We’d love to hear about it, in our own public comments section!