Today, customer reviews play an integral role in how we research products and services before ever entering a business’s front door. If you have lousy reviews, people will inevitably decide to look somewhere else for their needs.
If you don’t have any reviews at all, you’re unproven. And that’s only marginally better than being poorly reviewed.
As unfair as it might seem, customer reviews on sites like Google+ or Yelp can be the first (and only) impression of your business for potential customers before they ever see your business location or website.
Unlike a business place or website, businesses have little to no control over what others say about them online. However, with the right approach, you can foster a reputation through reviews and feedback that brings trust and interest in your business.
Here are 10 tips on what to do (and avoid) when you want to encourage happy customers to leave reviews -- and keep dissatisfied customers from causing damage.
1. Have a place for customer feedback
The best way to prevent negative reviews is to keep open channels of communication for customers with complaints, concerns, or questions.
If it’s hard for customers to reach you, especially when they’re having a problem with your service, they’ll be far more likely to vent their frustrations on review sites and social media.
Have a dedicated phone number, contact form, or e-mail address listed on your website specifically for feedback to address customers' problems within private channels of communication.
One idea offered by Nellie Akalp with Mashable is to invite feedback even when customers are cancelling your services. Include a box like “reason for cancellation” or “purpose for feedback” that customers can use to let you know what caused their bad experience.
This allows you to address customer concerns before they make them public, and can potentially turn the customer around from leaving your business in the first place. These forms can even help you improve the way you run your business if you start seeing trends in why customers are leaving.
2. Make it easy for customers to leave feedback
So you’ve encouraged customers to give you feedback on their experiences so you can increase customer satisfaction and reduce bad reviews. Great.
But if you haven’t done everything you can to make giving feedback easy, you might find customers abandoning your form or survey before they're done.
Some potential hurdles that might discourage customers from sending you their feedback (and cause them to turn to review sites instead) can include:
- Requesting too much information from the customer
- Taking up too much time to complete
- Hosting the form on a site that’s difficult to navigate (i.e. poor mobile usability)
- Asking questions that seem irrelevant to the customer and their experiences
If you’re implementing a survey or a feedback form to gather customer opinions, consider best practices so that customers will actually finish them in the first place!
3. Get personal...
Nothing brings bad customer reviews like, well, bad customer service.
If you use automated responses or templates as a tool in any of your communications with customers, you should draw the line when it comes to handling feedback and criticism
While convenient for certain types of outreach, automated messages rarely address the specific concerns of your customer when they have a complaint.
Automated communication tools can save time, but they can be more trouble than they’re worth when they cause aggravated customers to flock to social media to rant about their bad experiences.
If you’re unsure or uncomfortable with how to appropriately deal with customer complaints in a personal fashion, give this post by Gregory Ciotti at Help Scout a read.
4. ...But don't "get even"
Bad reviews hurt. And not just in a business sense.
It’s hard, especially as a small business relying on the loyalty and goodwill of customers, to read a review blasting your life’s work. While it’s tempting to respond to negative reviews with passive-aggression or contempt, fighting back could end up turning your situation into a PR catastrophe.
Likewise, threatening your customers isn’t advisable either. One New York hotel, the Union Street Guest House, knows this too well. In order to curb negative criticism, they actually wrote it into their policy that guests would be penalized a fine of $500 for every bad review they posted!
Did that strategy work?
5. Create offers encouraging honest feedback
You’re probably familiar with seasonal sales and holiday promotions as a tactic to drum up business, but have you thought about using deals like that to reward loyal customers?
What about using deals like these to entice customers to leave glowing reviews?
Lots of local businesses do it, but it's not something they should brag about. Here's why.
Businesses tread into dangerous territory when they decide to offer promotions or any other type of compensation to encourage customers to post good reviews. Reviewers are required by law to make any material connection to advertisers crystal clear when providing an endorsement -- even if that’s just a Yelp review.
Deals or offers can incentivize participation on social media pages, surveys, and questionnaires, but should not be provided as an exchange to guarantee yourself good reviews.
As long as your offer to customers isn’t directly buying their reviews, promotions can be an effective strategy to drive awareness to your business’s website, social profiles, and review pages (which can organically lead to more positive reviews!).
For some specific ideas on how you can use offers, check out Richard Lazazzera’s post on Shopify here.
6. Know where to ask for reviews
While offers can help bring your business's online presence attention, there are also some more subtle ways you can remind customers about your review pages. Yelp offers a few useful tips on encouraging reviews without being pushy.
Try including badges or a links on your website leading to review sites where you can be found, with a call-to-action like “Check us out on Yelp.” Similar CTAs can be placed in your e-mail signatures, business cards, and newsletters. Mention your business’s review profiles on receipts and other promotional materials, too.
These are smart places to advertise your profiles -- because who’s better equipped to talk about your business than the customers who regularly patronize it?
7. Don't use review stations
When a business installs a computer at their location where satisfied customers can write down their happy reviews just as they’re hyped about their purchases, that business is using what is called a “review station.”
It’s a smart idea in theory. And in fact, it’s one that Google supported a few years ago according to local SEO expert Mike Blumenthal -- even though sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor have always explicitly banned on-site reviews. But today, Google also prohibits the use of review stations, too.
Why the change of heart? Google realized that review stations contradict their goal of providing bias-free reviews, because bias can be difficult to avoid when a business’s employees are flanking a consumer from all sides.
If a business uses a review station, there’s a good chance that Google will quickly flag those reviews as spammy and remove them. Because all of those reviews will come from the same IP address at your place of business, it doesn’t make their job of finding these reviews all that difficult.
8. Just say no to spam reviews
Understand that offering customer loyalty incentives and outright buying reviews are two very, very different things. Unfortunately, sites like Fiverr make finding eager review fraudsters all too easy.
Other than being unethical, buying reviews simply won’t work. Choosing to hire a shady agency to spam good reviews for your business is ineffective because sites like Google, Yelp, Amazon, and Facebook are constantly fine-tuning their algorithms and moderating systems to identify and eliminate fake reviews.
Besides the fact that fake reviews flat-out don’t work, fake reviews are often easy to spot by real consumers and can be a red flag to those researching your business that you’re inauthentic and dishonest.
9. Reach the right people, not employees or affiliates
So, are reviews by a business owner or employee technically “fake”?
In a sense, yes. Reviewing your own business, or one that you work for, presents an obvious conflict of interest which makes an unbiased review basically impossible.
You want everyone to think of your business as a five-star industry leader. And so does every other business on your block. If employee reviews were allowed, they would damage the credibility of review sites and make it harder for visitors to use them as intended.
10. Just ask for it!
When it comes down to it, online reviews are really just a form of word-of-mouth marketing.
Do you have happy, loyal customers who lavish praise on your business whenever they drop by or give you a call? Ask them to consider writing a review to help you get the word out. It’s that simple.
Even the FTC doesn't have any issues with asking for reviews. Their official stance is that “it’s okay to invite people to post reviews of your business after they’ve actually used your products or services.”
While soliciting positive reviews from every customer you work with isn’t advisable, there’s absolutely no problem in leveraging the positivity of your most loyal customers. Invite your fans to leave honest feedback about your business on review sites.
As long as you don’t buy their reviews with free stuff or specifically pressure them to provide good reviews, it’s completely okay -- and legal! -- to remind your happy customers how important their thoughts are to your business (especially when they’re recommending you online).
Check out Kate Morris’s post titled Getting Reviews the Right Way over at Moz for more useful tips on inviting your customers to review you.
There aren’t any quick-and-dirty ways to create a great reputation for your business online, and any agency that promises instantaneous results are either doing something shady or are blowing hot air.
But if you’re already providing a stellar service or product, and have exceptional customer service to boot, you have a lot of untapped potential if you aren’t considering these tips.
How have you dealt with bad reviews in the past? What’s your method for promoting a positive image for your business? If you have any tips or resources you’d like to include, leave a comment below or reach me on Twitter @timwhand.