Are your customers ranting or raving?

Managing your business's online reputation is as important as the products and services you offer

During the mid-1980s, business owners were warned about an American Management Association study that found on average a satisfied customer tells three people about a good experience while an unhappy customer complains to 11. The message was clear: One dissatisfied customer quickly can undo much of the effort a business owner has invested into building a good reputation.

Fast forward to today, and what has changed? A lot. In his 2008 book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000, author Pete Blackshaw says to succeed in a world where consumers control the conversation, companies must achieve credibility on every front. But given the proliferation of consumer review sites and those focused entirely on customer complaints, managing a company's reputation is getting more difficult.

Sources consumers trust

According to a 2009 survey by Opinion Research Corp., Princeton, N.J., 84 percent of U.S. consumers say online customer evaluations influence their decisions to purchase products or services. Commonly checked sources include online rating sites, consumer advocacy websites and company websites. Although consumers especially trust people they know, they trust online consumer opinions over strangers and many forms of paid advertising.