The economic disruption and uncertainty caused by COVID-19 has created a new layer of complexity for accounting firm marketers and business development professionals.

Buyers across all industries are demonstrating heightened aversion to risk when choosing a new firm. At the same time, your team’s capacity to build trust and alleviate concerns about risk has been dramatically impacted by new social and public health protocols.

Now that we’re unable to connect with prospects in person, buyers are required to rely on digital resources to vet service providers, determine their level of trust in your claims about your services, and ultimately, decide whether or not they believe the promises your firm makes about the experience of partnering with you enough to commit.

Online Reputation: What It Is & Why It’s Important

Online reputation is a term that broadly describes the way your prospects and consumers think of your brand based on all of the ways that your brand shows up online: online ratings and reviews, blog posts, testimonials, your website, social media presence, and more.

It is closely tied to search engine optimization (SEO) in that SEO seeks to optimize how and when your brand appears in search for a given term. But online reputation as a concept is broader – it speaks to the impression that your brand leaves on people who have encountered it online.

Learn more about how client ratings impact your firm’s SEO >>

One obvious component of online reputation involves online ratings from your clients (sometimes also referred to as “star ratings”). Whether we like it or not, the world of online ratings and reviews is here to stay.

If you’re not already concerned with online ratings and reviews, here are a few compelling reasons to pay attention:

  • Research shows that 86% of buyers of B2B services look to online, third-party reviews as proof that the purchase they are considering will deliver the value they seek.
  • Prospective clients of B2B service providers report that online ratings and reviews are 2x as trustworthy as a company’s website when weighing top resources for determining the quality of a firm.
  • Search engines give priority to validated star ratings when determining which web pages to return on a given search. Search engine algorithms respect these validated ratings because they have been proven, over time, to be desired and relevant to searchers.
Online Reputation in Accounting: A Historically Underutilized Strategy

Accounting firms, like other professional service providers, have historically paid less attention to online ratings and reviews than other consumer-facing industries.

In fact, 60.7% of non-ClearlyRated accounting firms have fewer than 5 reviews online—total.

And while prospects experience big differences in how they decide which restaurant to eat at and how they decide which CPA firm to partner with, their behavior as a buyer is evolving—and it’s evolving towards the desire for more information.

According to ClearlyRated’s 2020 Industry Benchmark Study:

  • 4 in 5 accounting firm prospects will research a firm before reaching out to engage with them directly.
  • 84% of buyers of corporate accounting services say that a firm’s online ratings and reviews have an impact on their decision to work with a given service provider.
  • Even after being referred to a firm by a trusted friend or colleague, 9 in 10 accounting buyers will continue to research the firm before reaching out. Of those, no fewer than 60% actively seek out online ratings and reviews.

What’s interesting about this research is that it was gathered prior to the pandemic. These dynamics existed even when face-to-face interactions with prospects were an acceptable reality.

What we have seen since COVID-19 is that the economic uncertainty of a global pandemic has accelerated “the trend towards trust” in professional services buying. It’s no longer enough to deliver world-class service; your firm must be able to independently and credibly prove it, and for that, your online reputation plays a significant role.

5 Steps to Improve Your Firm’s Online Reputation

The world of online reputation can feel overwhelming, so here are a few steps that I would recommend for any accounting firm marketers looking to build your firm’s online reputation.

Step #1: Actively manage your brand’s presence on major rating sites.

When prioritizing your efforts, start with “The Big 3”: Google, Glassdoor, and Yelp.

  • Google reviews make up some of your most visible online ratings, especially when prospects or clients are using the Google search engine to learn more about you.
  • Glassdoor reviews are considered highly credible and tend to show up right away when searching for a brand online.
  • And Yelp, one of the pioneers of online ratings and reviews as we know them, is still an important platform to manage—even if they have earned some negative press in the past few years.

Once you are monitoring and managing your presence on these three sites, turn your attention to sites that more specifically target your audience. Sites like G2 (formerly G2 Crowd) and ClearlyRated.com specifically focus on informing purchase decisions made by buyers of business services.

Something else to consider: while positive reviews are important, the sheer volume of reviews matters as well. Remember that 60% of accounting firms have 5 reviews or fewer available for prospects to consider. If nothing else, seek to increase the number of perspectives available for your potential buyers to review.

Step #2: Create a process for responding to reviews—both positive and negative ones.

Once you have identified the various online rating and review environments where you will manage your brand’s presence, it’s critical to build a process for responding to those reviews.

First, you need to understand how to respond to reviews on each of the websites where your ratings appear. Set up notifications to help your team monitor activity on each platform. Have baseline scripts in place for responding to positive and negative reviews.

Once you’ve responded to the review itself, be sure to relay the message to the appropriate members of your internal team! Better yet, set up a system so this happens automatically.

On our platform, negative responses are flagged and an alert is sent out as soon as the response is received, allowing you to take action immediately, track the actions you or your team have taken in order to resolve, and escalate when appropriate.

This step is critical to improving your online reputation efforts. If feedback is never translated back to the field, then underlying issues are bound to go unresolved.

Step #3: Ask your clients and candidates for online reviews.

It’s critical that you do not avoid asking for public feedback out of fear of receiving negative reviews. It’s far riskier to leave your online reputation to chance than it is to proactively ask for feedback. Make it as easy as possible for clients to share their experience working with you by identifying the sites that matter the most to your team. Then offer prompts to your clients to help them get started.

When you survey your clients with our NPS® survey program, these prompts are collected and posted automatically as part of the survey process, meaning you don’t need to lift a finger to ensure you have a steady stream of online reviews.

Try to request feedback on a regular cadence (quarterly or monthly) to provide a steady drip of ratings and reviews to be published across your online profiles, but do not inundate your clients with these requests. Ask for just one review from one person at a time.

And then, once their feedback has been received, personally reach out to each reviewer (if their identity is available) and thank them for leaving you feedback.

Last, but certainly not least, empower your relationship-facing team to ask for similar feedback. Invite them to listen for satisfaction cues that might make for a successful ask and offer an email script for them to utilize.

Step #4: Invest in the client experience.

This may seem obvious, but your brand’s online reputation is really just an extension of the experience that clients (and employees) have with your firm.

If you want to cultivate a high volume of positive ratings and reviews, it’s critical to take a hard look at how you are servicing, meeting, and ideally exceeding the needs of your clients and internal staff. One of the best ways to improve the client and employee experience at your firm is by taking steps to measure that experience through an NPS® survey program.

Gaining a realistic understanding of the perceptions held by your stakeholders about the service you provide is the first step towards building a service worth talking about.

See how the award-winning accounting firm Perkins uses ClearlyRated to drive their service excellence >>

Step #5: Address issues that arise before they become negative reviews.

Nothing can disrupt your day like an unexpected negative review on an important rating site.

When the worst inevitably does happen (it does, and it will), it’s ideal to have a plan in place in order to quickly respond to and take action on critical feedback. But we would be remiss if we didn’t also encourage you to take steps to proactively address issues before they ever land on a public website.

Of course, proactively addressing issues requires that you know they exist in the first place.

This is one more way that a satisfaction survey program can dramatically influence your firm’s online reputation. Beyond a formalized survey, train your team to recognize signs of waning satisfaction and encourage them to reach out when these signals appear.

Proactively addressing issues offline can help prevent a damaging negative review, and may even foster more long-term loyalty in the end.

Online Reputation Matters. ClearlyRated Can Help.

While it takes some effort, managing your online reputation is worth it: your clients and prospects are looking for this information to make decisions about your firm, and they find this information compelling, especially in the current context of COVID-19.

We only expect this trend to continue.

Contact us or learn more about how ClearlyRated can:

Improve Your Online Repuation