HOW TO GET MORE REVIEWS (AND MAKE THEM COUNT)
In this post I’m giving you and inside look at the tools and techniques we’ve learned at ViewPoint Reviews to get happy customers sharing the good word about almost any business, product or service.
The prevailing strategy is what we call a “review funnel”: anticipate what will motivate customers to write a review and funnel them from their experience of the product or service through completing the review process.
“With reviews, more is more,” as small business marketing mastermind John Jantsch puts it. “The trick is to make sure your happy customers know you value reviews and encourage them to create them.”
THE REVIEW FUNNEL STRATEGY
A review funnel strategy can make use of multiple tactics, channels and assets (human, print, email, Web, mobile, etc.), but the formula is simple:
- Provide a way for businesses to ask and remind customers to share their experience online
- Drive customers to an asset or destination that’s designed to convert them into reviewers
- Guide each reviewer through selecting the best possible review site and completing a review
As we’ve seen, happy customers who intend to write a review still won’t do it if (1) they forget; (2) it’s too hard; or (3) they’re too busy. So the task of any review funnel is essentially threefold:
- Remind each customer to write a review
- Make the process fast, easy and convenient
- Avail them of it during their downtime
ViewPointReviews.com exists to provide a flexible and turnkey print/online review funnel system that serves these functions for a wide range of scenarios and businesses.
I’ll also highlight several excellent competing solutions, such as CustomerLobby, GetFiveStars and BrightLocal’s ReviewBiz. But if you’re the hands-on type, you’ll find that everything presented here is doable yourself without any vendors or third-parties. Local marketing expert Phil Rozek, for example, has found a low-tech review funnel solution is often effective for his clients: a one-page handout that covers all three steps above and can be handed directly to the clients’ customers.
Stages Of The Review Funnel
It’s Not About the Tools Implementing a customer review strategy is not about buying a solution from a vendor or deploying a specific tactic.
These things can help, of course, but getting more positive reviews from real customers requires a commitment from the business itself that no technological solution can provide.
In the end, winning the reputation game is about “understanding, delighting, connecting with, and serving customers.” As local SEO guru Mike Blumenthal put it during a recent webinar, marketers who count reviews as a measure of success are using an “ass-backwards” metric. “The right metric,” he says, “is customer satisfaction.”
The “review funnel” strategy presented here is aimed at building a virtuous circle of customer satisfaction and customer reviews. I believe that it’s the only proactive way to do reputation management with integrity and foresight for the long term.
STAGE 1: GET CUSTOMERS INTO THE FUNNEL
As we’ve seen, a customer’s motivation to write a review is typically weak at best. Unless she’s a “superuser” or just had an awful experience (remember the “adverse reviewer” problem?), she’s not likely to even think of writing a review. Not to worry, though. You can help. Here’s how:
- Invite customers to give feedback
- Craft the right message
- Offer an incentive to engage
Invite the Customer to Give Feedback
When Fox Business recently interviewed several hotels and inns for insights on how they achieved 5-star ratings on TripAdvisor, all of them had just one practice in common: they invited guests to write reviews, whether with a sign or takeaway at the front desk, a handwritten thank you note sent after their stay, or a follow-up email.
It’s amazing what effect these simple prompts have. If you collect customer information such as an address, email or phone number, you might send customers a message after a transaction inviting them to give feedback about their experience:
“Thanks for choosing us. We’d like to invite you to share your experience with us. Your feedback not only helps us, it helps other potential customers.”
For many local businesses, however, collecting customer contact information is impractical. However, if you maintain a social media presence for the business, you can periodically poll its friends, fans or followers and achieve the same result, albeit among a (typically small) subset of customers who also engage with the business online:
“If we’ve served you this month, thank you for the opportunity! We’d love to hear about your experience, and no doubt others would, too…”
When business transactions happen face-to-face, however, such as at a restaurant, a home service provider, doctor’s office, etc., one idea that works well to arm the business owner (or server, or front desk) with printed review “invites” – business card sized takeaway cards with friendly messaging to encourage and remind the customer to write a review.
Handing something tangible to the customer (or client, or patient) is often easier and less solicitous than asking them directly. It also lets you identify the best customers to write reviews and ask them at the most opportune time.
For example, one of our restaurant clients trains servers to deliver the review invite with dessert, a perfect time for sated diners to receive the message and consider what they might say about their experience. Some diners complete a review on the spot, lingering over dessert with smartphone in hand. If not, the handout serves as a physical reminder about the review until the customer writes it, loses the invite, or throws the invite away.
Craft the Right Message Asking for customer reviews can be extremely effective, but getting the ask right is a highly nuanced affair. Note that in the examples above, we’ve diligently avoided solicitous language and opted for the softer “invite” over the harder “ask.” No matter how you do it, encouraging customer reviews should always be low-pressure to avoid putting customers off or risking a possible backlash.
When developing your own message, remember that happy customers generally want to help others find good products and services (altruism) and they want to help business owners who served them well (reciprocity). Of the many motivations that drive customers to write reviews—highlighted in the chapter Why We Write Reviews—these are the safest to draw on. On Grade.us printed invites and landing pages, for example, the default message begins, “Help us. Help others. You’re invited to review…”
It’s important to craft a message appropriate to the business, and to train any staff who might be delivering that message. For example, we work with some doctors and medical practices who initially recoiled at the idea of asking patients for reviews—the idea seemed to them to compromise the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship.
But increasingly, patients rely on sites like Vitals, Healthgrades and RateMDs to choose among healthcare providers, so doctors and medical practices recognize that they can’t stand idly by if their reputation is suffering. For them, though, the right message is never about patient reciprocity or doing the doctor a “favor.” It’s about helping other patients:
“Your feedback helps other patients like you find the best care online.”
Offer an Incentive to Engage Before the most conscientious among you cry foul, I don’t mean to suggest that you ever offer an incentive in exchange for a positive review, a practice that is not only unethical, it violates the terms of service on many review sites and may lead to you getting banned, flamed and publicly shamed.
But you might offer a no-strings incentive to get customers a step further into your review funnel. For example, ViewPoint Review clients can attach an offer to the landing page they drive customers to. It’s simply a way of getting more people to the page. The offer—maybe a discount coupon or a free download—is available to anyone, whether or not they post a review. But making the offer available there, on a page otherwise designed to guide customers through the process of submitting a review, increases the odds of getting that review.
[su_box title=”‘A reminder about… oh yeah… reminders’ ” style=”soft” box_color=”#2E93B1″ radius=”5″]If you have the ability to reach out again to customers after a transaction or service experience, it doesn’t hurt to remind them about leaving a review. Just be sure not to overdo it. We had a client come to us wanting to implement what he called a “pounding” strategy to get reviews—just “pound” customers with messages and gifts and reminders until reviews shake out. I share the urgency some business owners feel to get reviews, but remember: easy does it.[/su_box]
STAGE 2: GUIDE THE CUSTOMER THROUGH THE REVIEW PROCESS
The customer is ready to take the next step in your review funnel. But wait! What’s the next step? What are you actually asking customers to do? Where are your invites driving them? To the company website? To a review site directly? Somewhere else?
The ideal review funnel solution is one that gets customers leaving reviews where they count the most: on the third-party sites others use to discover, evaluate and compare companies, products or services like yours. No doubt you care about more than one site, and which sites you care about will change over time.
We’ve developed the following simple approach to be future-proof as well as easy to adapt and maintain over the long term:
- Drive the customer to a landing page you control
- Focus the customer on leaving a review
- Help the customer select a review site and complete their review
Drive the Customer to a Landing Page You Control
Over time, new review sites and communities rise to prominence while others fade away. Google’s algorithm creates new winners and losers. And the digital fortunes of any particular business can turn on a dime, including its visibility, rank and reputation online. A carpet company that needs customer reviews to help build its visibility on Google today may need that attention tomorrow on Angies’ List, the popular members-only review site for home services. As a marketer, you need to be able to respond to these changes, ideally without revamping everything you’ve already built.
By creating a review funnel landing page online and driving customers to it, you effectively decouple the tactics of asking for feedback from the specifics of where and how that feedback is collected. If you’re always driving customers to the same place, you can shift the focus of your review-getting effort as easily as tweaking that page. The business rules never have to change.
To accomplish this decoupling, you will want your landing page(s) to have the following:
- an unchanging and easy-to-remember URL that you can use across media, such as in printed handouts or in a QR code posted at the point of sale
- a mobile-friendly design to ensure that if and when you promote the page to users of mobile devices (such as with a QR code), those customers can access it
Now let’s discuss what belongs on a landing page, and how it converts customers into reviewers.
Focus the Customer on Leaving a Review Remember, our goal is to make it easier for customers to write a review. We want to capitalize on their intention to do so, however weak that intention may be. In this delicate situation, any distraction or loss of focus can hinder the customer’s progress or lose them entirely.
Many marketers understandably want to drive customers to their own or a client’s company website, since that’s an asset they already own and control. All of the top vendors of review solutions— including ViewPoint Reviews, CustomerLobby, GetFiveStars and BrightLocal— facilitate this approach with the ability to embed a reviews widget on your site.
Still, you’re going to want a landing page dedicated to collecting customer feedback, whether you build it yourself, use one created by ViewPoint or GetFiveStars, or embed a reviews widget on an otherwise empty page of a company website. The last thing you want to do is divert the attention of someone who’s about to give you an uber-valuable review to looking at the company’s holiday party pics or latest blog post instead! You will want your landing page(s) to:
- focus exclusively on reviews and be stripped of all other calls to action—possibly even the site navigation
- reinforce and elaborate the message that brought the customer to the page in the first place
On this second point, Mike Mandis, an independent mortgage lender uses his landing page to make his reviewer message more personal, colorful and specific:
“As a small mortgage company, I can’t compete with the Mega-Lenders and their mega-advertising budget. They have stage coaches for crying out loud! BUT, when it comes actually earning customers through Social Media channels via Customer Reviews, they can’t compete with us. Good reviews can’t be bought, they must be earned. This is where you come in. If we’ve earned your Recommendation, please choose one or two Review sites below and share your consumer experience with others. Your review helps attract the kind of clients we’re looking for, clients like you. I appreciate your business, but even more important, I value your trust.”
Perhaps the most important components of your landing page, though, are the assets you use to send customers on that final push through your review funnel.
Help the Customer Select a Review Site and Complete Their Review
Since we’re primarily concerned with generating customer reviews on important review sites, any landing page will consist of links to business profiles on those sites, where the goal is to move the customer along with the highest likelihood of their completing a review. Here are some ready tips to get more customers clicking through your links with the greatest momentum:
- Offer choice but not too much choice: link to just a few sites at any one time to avoid overwhelming the customer with options.
- Visually highlight the site(s) you care most about by using a larger size, different color and higher position on the page.
- Help the customer identify sites that accept an alternative login, such as a Facebook or Google+ account. (People hate creating new accounts!)
- Educate reviewers onsite (briefly!) about the review process for each site so they know what to expect.
Finally, be sure to provide unsatisfied customers an alternative to posting a neutral or negative review, such as an email address, phone number or Web form that they can access 24/7. If the business has an active social media presence, directing the customer there can offer heightened attention and transparency to their issue, while keeping it’s long-term public visibility to a minimum.
STAGE 3: MONITOR AND RESPOND TO REVIEWS
I’ve said that turning customer reviews into an effective marketing channel is about being:
- proactive with respect to getting customers to share the word about your business on review sites; and
- responsive by addressing reviews publicly or privately when they don’t reflect the reputation you aspire to
In fact, I don’t much like the popular industry term “reputation management” which seems to now refer to the use of technical tricks to bury unflattering information about a business. Working with customer reviews is about reputation creation, where all activity has the potential to build a positive, authentic brand over time.
To make reputation creation work for you, you have to be attentive. You need to know what people are saying, good or bad, about your business or the business you work for. And to the extent possible, you need to take in and evaluate those opinions, and act on what you learn. It’s a tall order!
There are tools to make it easier.
If you’re a marketer with a full stable of clients or a business owner with exactly zero minutes a day to devote to this, you’ll want to engage an automated review monitoring service to help you keep track of what’s being said on review sites. Review monitoring and alerts are included as part of ViewPointReviews.com and other review solutions, as well as with popular listing services like Yext and the new Yahoo! Localworks. There are also some really good standalone monitoring solutions like ReviewTrackers.
Whatever solution you choose, you’ll want to make sure you know about any new reviews within a reasonable time frame. A matter of hours or days is acceptable. A matter of weeks or months is not. If a highly negative review lingers in the public eye without a countervailing response, the damage is greater.
Keeping your finger on the pulse of reviews can also help you act when there is a flurry of activity that indicates a real problem, such as a staff performance issue or product deficiency. And it’s worth noting that your most recent reviews may matter most of all: researchers have demonstrated a “wrap effect” wherein readers of reviews form their impression based largely on the first and last ones they see!
Respond to Reviews
Not every review site allows businesses to respond, but you should certainly take advantage of those that do. There are a few rules of thumb for responding publicly to reviews:
- 1. Do not respond to all reviews—it’s hard to keep up and may look less than genuine. Instead, strive to respond to all or most negative comments, as well as those positive comments that may highlight an aspect of personal attention or detail that customers would otherwise not know about.
- 2. In general, you should respond to negative reviews wherever possible. Readers tend to see positive reviews as self-serving, patting the customer on back for his or her own good taste, while they may assume negative reviews were directly caused by the customer experience and therefore more valid.
In any response, thank the reviewer for their time and feedback—no matter what the truth is, your sanity and your public image do best when you assume that reviewers are trying to help you, not hurt you. By responding maturely, acknowledging critique and vowing to do better, you not only have a good chance of winning over the reviewer, but readers of the exchange as well. Research by TripAdvisor, for example, found that 79% of the readers of negative reviews say they are reassured by responses from business owners.
Online reviews have moved from “nice to have” to essential.
As customers look to review sites for feedback, consistently acquiring new reviews and then responding to those reviews becomes increasingly more important.
Maintaining positive word of mouth online is digital age customer service.
In 2017, local businesses will be spending more than $80B on digital marketing solutions and services, with reputation management boasting $1.3B of that chunk, up 216% from 2015 (Borrell). Social media marketing will be up a 248% from last year, taking up $2.2B of the pie. While online reviews have been prevalent for many years, business owners and consumers alike are now recognizing the gamut of challenges and opportunities.
Reviews are the new black. Generating reviews, responding to reviews and engaging consumers online is essential for the success of local businesses.
DO YOUR BUSINESS NEED A REVIEW STRATEGY?
When you Google yourself, what do you see? Even the top 20 big brands who blanket the web with content and PR see that 25% of search results on their brand are user-generated content.
In the Age of the Customer, the power balance and information asymmetries of commerce have tipped away from marketers and business owners toward customers. Or have they?
Customers now have a powerful voice, access to critical information, and shared memory afforded by online reviews. While it may seem like this empowerment of the customer should come at a cost to businesses, in fact businesses have gained immensely, too. Consider what we as marketers and business owners now get for free:
- Our most trusted and effective marketing is being done for us by volunteers • Those volunteers surface more info about our offering than our own advertising can, and that helps differentiate it from the alternatives
- Our customer service now serves multiple ends: creating customer satisfaction and broadcasting it to potential new customers
- We get focused, real-time business intelligence to assist in quality improvement and competitive analysis
In order to unlock all of this value, we only need to decide how we’re going to do it, what tools and tactics we’re going to use, and to what ends. My hope is that this post has given you some motivation and ideas to get you working with online customer reviews in a proactive and fruitful way. The future of your business may very well depend on it.
Now, to your success!