The Internet has given small businesses a bounty of tools to connect with both the world at large and the communities they serve. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook have changed the way companies connect with their consumers, allowing them to give customers information immediately and allowing them to engage in conversation. Business database sites give potential customers easy access to local businesses and customer reviews. Technology has also made it easier for customers to request information from reporting agencies like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and government groups. All of these technologies have lead to a new level of accountability for small businesses, because customers can easily gauge the level of service and the value a company provides based on their social network engagement, aggregated reviews, and information from trusted agencies.

Review Sites

When searching for a service provider, whether a Dallas electrician, Seattle doctor or New York plumber, sites that allow users to read reviews from past clients are invaluable. Google places, with business pages administered by the business owners, can give potential customers information on the location, hours and ways to contact the business, as well as providing some reviews. Other sites, such as Angie’s list, allow customers to rate and review service providers, giving potential customers information relating to the quality of service, professionalism and billing practices that can make the difference between hiring a professional or not. This means that businesses must be careful to provide great service to each customer and take a proactive approach to caring for unhappy patrons.

Social Networks

The invention of social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, has opened up a level of communication between clients and companies that is unprecedented. Many customers air their complaints on a business’s Facebook page or via Twitter, hoping to get a favorable response from the company or, lacking that, to raise awareness of foul business practices. Companies with active online media presences have to be especially careful with their interactions across social networks, because these dialogues are available to anyone on the Internet and can be used to drive word-of-mouth advertising or, on the opposite side, push customers away.

Reporting Agencies

Though not solidly within the domain of social media, reporting agencies and a company’s response can turn the tide of a business. The Better Business Bureau is seen as a trusted, reliable source of information regarding businesses nationwide and allows users to search for businesses in their area. Users can view the business’s rating, file a complaint or view a list of complaints made about that company and the steps taken to resolve it. Further, government bureaus that oversee a company’s field will provide information to consumers and accept information regarding business practices that run afoul of their guidelines.

The Internet has made information much more available to consumers, empowering them not only with knowledge but also with a larger audience who will be sympathetic to their concerns. The ease with which customers can report businesses to authoritative bodies has also driven a greater need for business owners to be proactive in resolving customer complaints. With the world getting more connected every day, businesses are being held more accountable by both their customers and overseeing agencies.