By Dr Ganesh Rao, Founder of health and beauty comparison site TreatmentSaver.com

Increasingly, the internet is playing a much greater role in influencing which businesses people choose to engage with. It’s no longer just the role of the advertising or public relations to help shape the public view of a brand. The visibility of the web now means that businesses are exposed to what I believe is a ‘self-regulated’ marketplace, where their customers have the power to determine what messages are put out into the public domain, not the brands. There’s no point burying your head in the sand either. As a business, you need to embrace this and develop a strategy which encourages your customers to champion your brand to their virtual community.

For many businesses, the internet can be seen as both a blessing and a curse, due to the freedom of expression that comes with it! Whilst it provides an easy platform for your clients to write favourably about your services, it can also enable those rare clients who experienced a less than favourable service to also vent their views. This is why many businesses are initially reluctant to engage in online activity. However, what is worth remembering is that the internet is quite self-regulating, so if you are good, your feedback from clients will invariably be good too. It really only becomes a problem for businesses that aren’t delivering a great service to begin with.

When I went on Dragons’ Den looking for investment for my health and beauty price comparison site TreatmentSaver, Peter Jones suggested that the clinics listed on the site would not be pleased if we simply allowed people to post whatever they liked and that they’d refuse to work with us if we let the public essentially ‘trash’ their brand. Now whilst I can see why he would think this, the reality is very different. The clinics I work with understand that people are free to post whatever reviews they want to. They understand the risks and the rewards associated with having a presence in the ‘virtual’ world and for them, it’s proving highly beneficial.

No company is ever going to have 100% positive feedback all of the time and in lots of cases, this isn’t because the company delivered a particularly bad service or aren’t a credible supplier. Perhaps it just wasn’t what the customer was expecting, something else beyond the control of the business occurred, or there was a minor hiccup in what is usually a great service.

Most people will work on the law of averages. So, if you have some negative feedback, but you have an even greater number of positive reviews, people will usually come to the right conclusion in the end. As I touched on above, reviews online are self-regulating and usually end up mirroring the position of the business in the real world.

I’m not saying businesses shouldn’t be concerned by negative feedback, as it is always important to embrace any constructive criticisms that can result in a better service. However, if you remain focused on delivering a high level of service, have a solid and proactive customer relations programme in place to manage any problems or concerns and resolve them effectively, the likelihood of receiving negative feedback is greatly reduced.

Consider ways in which you could encourage as many of your satisfied clients to provide you with feedback. Posting on independent review sites is often more powerful that simply using their quotes on your website or in brochures. You can encourage your clients to become ambassadors for your brand by offering them incentives to do so, such as money off vouchers for future treatments, entry into a prize draw, incentives for recommending a friend and so on.

Also, don’t be afraid to embrace social media. It may seem daunting, but it can be a great source of new business and lead generation! Consider creating a Facebook page, encourage your clients to join you on there and share their experiences. Its free, its viral and it works!