Excerpted from RE:MARKET – New digital techniques independent retailers can use now to compete better, grow faster and work smarter, by Jennie Gilbert and James Kane, Jr. (Retailer Web Services, March 2017)
At this point you’re hopefully committed to consistently monitoring a variety of review sites and diligently responding publicly to your customers that have left online reviews about your store. Now it’s time to take the next step and move from reactive to proactive mode.
How? By actively cultivating as many positive reviews as you can from your most enthusiastic customers rather than just sitting by and waiting for them to happen. Remember, there’s a lot to gain: Just bumping your average ranking from 3 to 4 stars can more than double the number of prospects who will consider buying from you.
In the digital business world, this activity is known as review solicitation. At first glance, the term “solicitation” can sound negative to some people. It’s important to note soliciting reviews does not mean paying for or otherwise incentivizing people to leave reviews, something that is widely discouraged by review aggregators like Google and Yelp. Instead, it typically refers to a simple process of asking for them.
If it helps, think of it as positive review encouragement for your appliance, furniture or mattress store. When review solicitation is done in a consistent and well-thought-out manner, it can be a powerful tool to drive more reviews and higher average star rankings.
Before you set out to solicit reviews, it’s helpful to understand how your customers feel about reviews in the first place. The first thing to consider is that not all of your customers are going to leave a review automatically. According to “The Power of Reviews” survey, which compiled responses from 800 shoppers:
» While we know that an overwhelming majority of consumers read and are influenced by reviews, less than half—only 42% —of shoppers write them themselves.
» Of consumers asked to write a review post-purchase, only 3% to 10% will write a review for any given transaction. That means in order to earn five new reviews, you will likely have to solicit 100 or more customers.
» Now you can start to see why the most successful review solicitation is so often systematic; this is not an activity you can do once and be done with.
» The average review-writing consumer will write a review once every 4 to 14 purchases, depending on category, timing and other factors. Review solicitation is a powerful tool, but it’s not a given. And remember, you won’t be the only business asking your customers to write a review.
The second important thing to understand about how consumers feel about and behave when it comes to online reviews has to do with basic human nature. According to our research, unhappy customers are four times more likely to leave a bad review than their happy counterparts are to leave a good one.
Here’s the bottom line: If you don’t take action to cultivate reviews from the customers who have positive experiences, the odds are instantly stacked against you. You’re also giving the upper hand to those who’ve had a bad experience, no matter how rare they are in your business.
If you don’t consistently solicit reviews, your online reputation will not be an accurate representation of the service you provide to your community. Your business will appear so much worse than it deserves.
So, how do you get your most delighted customers to fire up their computers, smartphones, or tablets and take time out of their busy lives to share their experience? The good news is, it’s pretty straightforward and intuitive. But as with all aspects of your reputation management program, it requires a commitment to creating a system and sticking with it.
The basic ground rules of encouraging customer reviews include:
» Be gracious and grateful. Your customers are busy, and the act of writing a thoughtful review takes time and effort. So being respectful and appreciative will go a long way, whether you’re asking for feedback or thanking someone for it after the fact.
» Be prompt. The best opportunity to receive feedback is immediately after the transaction. The longer you wait, the less likely you are to get a review.
» Make it easy. Time is a precious and valuable currency, and you’re asking your best customers to spend it on you. Your review solicitation should remove all possible barriers and make it as quick and easy to give the gift of a public review as possible.
» Be mindful of the possible unintended consequences. Since we’re trying to get the opinions of satisfied customers, the last thing you want to do is sour their experience after the sale. Handle review solicitation with care; consider timing, frequency, message, opt-out options and your method of contact.
No matter how wonderful your service is, not everyone will be completely satisfied. Consider how your solicitation will be perceived in these circumstances and what next steps are provided. Lastly, make sure that you’re adhering to the policies of the various review sites.
10 key steps toward getting more—and more positive—reviews
What are some of the key steps you need to take to get the ball rolling? Start with this short list:
- 1. Ask! There’s no way around this; if you want more reviews left by happy customers, you have to ask for them. You learned earlier if you don’t ask, customers who had a bad experience are four times more likely to take it upon themselves and write a negative review.
However, our research also shows happy consumers are more than 4.5 times more likely to leave you a good review if sent an email that asks about their experience and invites a review in the days after their purchase.
As a side bonus, the simple act of asking shows you care about them. If you’re hesitant, think about it this way: Your loyal customers are likely well aware of how valuable reviews are to your business. Assuming you provide excellent products and services, they want you to succeed. They know a positive review can help you be more successful.
And who doesn’t want to know the business they just spent their hard earned money with cares to learn whether or not they did a good job serving them? The very act of sending the solicitation is an act of good customer service.
- 2. Be honest. You have two goals when you solicit reviews. First, you want to know whether or not your business did a good job serving your customers. And second, you want happy customers to share their experiences because it will help your business earn more of them. There is no shame in either of these facts. So tell your customers the truth: you want to know how you did. And if you did well, it would mean so much to you if they shared their experience by writing an online review.
- 3. Recognize special opportunities. Any time a customer compliments your business or one of your employees—whether by email, phone, or in person—you can thank them and share how much you’d appreciate it if they left the same feedback in an online review forum or on social media.
- 4. Make the process easy and fast. It’s true you don’t have full control over the entire process—the third-party websites people use to rate your business are what they are, and you cannot influence how they collect feedback. Still, you can—and should—make whatever parts you can control easy for your customers. For example:
» Don’t force customers to navigate themselves to review sites. Include clickable linked images right in your solicitation.
» Make them as specific as possible. Instead of sending someone to Google.com, some solicitation software can send customers to the exact location where they can leave a review in one click.
» Let your customers choose from several options. This will boost your conversion rate, since individual customers may prefer Google, Yelp, Facebook or other review sites. Remember, you have to have an account on a review site to be able to leave a review, and not every customer has an account for all these sites.
» Consider adding review links in everyday communications. This includes your email signature, regular newsletters and any other customer outreach.
» Use in-store signage. Post physical signs and window stickers recommending one or more review sites in your store, or create a handout to accompany each sale that describes how to leave a review on one of your focus sites.
» Email is still king. Even with all these different techniques in mind, email remains the most efficient review solicitation method. Be sure any solicitation efforts include an email follow up after each sale.
- 5. Walk customers through the challenging parts. Let’s face it: Your customers either “get” Google or they don’t. But either way, Google reviews are an important and highly visible component of your search results. As a result, it may be worth your time to help educate those who might be willing to provide a review on how to create a free Google account, find your listing and post a review.
You’re not the only one in front of the customer, so be sure to share your goal of getting more and better reviews with your staff. Encourage them to become proficient at leaving reviews on several platforms themselves, so it’s easy and natural for them to provide advice and assistance if they are ever asked.
- 6. Avoid incorporating loyalty or incentive components. It can be tempting to offer something in return for leaving a review. While some could argue there’s a way to stay on the right side of the line between encouraging reviews and buying or bartering for them, we advise avoiding the line altogether. Provide exceptional service to your customers. Be honest about why you are asking them to share it via an online review. You won’t need to come up with incentives or loyalty programs to earn them.
- 7. Engage your employees in the process. While incenting customers to leave reviews is frowned upon, you can incent your employees to help in your quest for them. For example, you can provide some special recognition or bonus if they are mentioned by name in an online review. Do be careful not to create a system that encourages your employees to cross the line and be too aggressive in requesting reviews. Nobody likes to be hounded or guilted in that process.
- 8. Be thankful. You’re probably already doing this as part of your reputation response program, but it bears repeating: By consistently thanking reviewers for taking the time and effort to talk about your business on review sites and social media, you’re demonstrating how much you value customer opinions. New customers will see that and be more likely to add their own.
- 9. Lead by example: Now that you know we are all four times more likely to leave a bad review after a negative experience than a positive review after a good one, you can help correct the imbalance and make a meaningful difference for other entrepreneurs in your community. Commit to leaving more good reviews when you experience great service from a local business. Ask your staff to do the same. It doesn’t take long. It feels great. It makes a difference for those businesses. And it contributes to the positive nature of your personal digital stamp.
- 10. Automate it. Want to make life even easier for yourself? Employing smart reputation management software can automate the process, so there’s not nearly as much handholding required on your part. These programs can be configured to automatically solicit feedback from customers after a purchase keeping your efforts consistent and driving better results. These systems also can often make the solicitation process savvier, directing those who indicate they are unhappy to more private channels and pushing customers who are ready to rave towards more public venues.
Important! What you can learn from Yelp’s official policy
Yelp is one of the leading platforms for customer reviews, and their official policy is to discourage business owners from requesting reviews. It’s also one of the most frustrating review platforms for businesses since their policies can sometimes have the unintended consequence of suppressing legitimate reviews. So it’s worth diving a little deeper into why this might be the case. Their reasoning falls into two categories:
- 1. Would-be customers might end up distrusting you, because the “self-selection” process may result in a biased tone that savvy consumers can detect—and will be a turnoff.
- 2. Solicited reviews are less likely to be recommended by Yelp’s automated software. Their claim is that their computer algorithms can detect when a review has been solicited, because they are similar to plain old fake reviews.
Even though Yelp’s position can be frustrating, it does have some merit: They need consumers to trust their content, or they’d be out of business as a review service.
Instead, Yelp encourages businesses to avoid saying “Hey, write a review about me on Yelp,” and replace it with something more open-ended like “Hey, check us out on Yelp!” Ultimately, it’s up to your company and individual circumstances how you’ll solicit feedback, but the distinction they make between a customer being coerced to write a review or politely encouraged to do so is a subtle but important one.
Realize that with Yelp’s unique policies, generating lots of reviews, and doing so consistently, is critical. You won’t be able to count on all of your good reviews remaining visible. Spikes in reviews at certain times may also look suspicious to their algorithms. You can help avoid that by being as consistent as possible in your efforts to earn great reviews.
More feedback equals better business
Once you accept that your customers have a very human, hard-wired preference for complaining over praising, it’s easier to understand why it’s worth putting time and effort into developing more of the latter.
By systematically requesting feedback and soliciting reviews from all your customers, you’re not just improving what people see online—you’re demonstrating how much you care about providing exceptional service. Ultimately, that turns into a virtuous circle, as more overall feedback allows you to hone your business performance and drive new customers at the same time.
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