No matter what kind of business you’re running, reviews should be a foundational part of your digital marketing strategies. They influence everything from consumer buying habits to brand perception — and their influence is extremely pervasive.
Take a look at this infographic. Of the 90% of all consumers who regularly consult reviews before visiting a business or making a purchase decision, 98% would give online reviews as much credence as a personal recommendation from a trusted friend. The psychology is simple. Reviews, from people just like us, give us a window into how we will feel if we make the same choices they made.
Reviews are a way of directly participating in the free market, with significantly more reach and sway than word of mouth ever had. And since word of mouth is enough to drive a bad restaurant out of business, or to elevate a good one to higher status, you’d expect that people would be eager to share their thoughts.
But all too often, this isn’t the case. Reviews also fit the consumption-media model, and just as how more people watch television shows than produce them, more people read reviews than write them. It can be an uphill battle to gently encourage your consumer base to leave a review, even if they’ve had a good experience.
With so much riding on them, it isn’t surprising that reviews are starting to get so much attention in the digital marketing community.
A Review Gone Viral
Consider the following example of a review that went viral for a San Francisco business. Within a matter of days, a single review brought in over a thousand views for a local restaurant.
On August 12, 2017, Dan Bodner, CEO of Fido Systems had lunch at Shanghai Dumpling King. So impressed was he with the experience (and with the sugar egg puffs) that, spur of the moment, he took out his phone and left a review. The rest, in his own words:
“I wrote this 5-star review, spur of the moment, from my smart phone after having a wonderful lunch at Shanghai Dumpling King. To my surprise, within a couple months, the review had been seen more than a 1,000 times. I probably single-handedly bumped the sales of their wonderful sugar-egg puff dessert by many fold.”
Just like that, he had made a difference, with the effort of just a few minutes. Dan had all but forgotten the experience until Google reached out to him to congratulate him on his review having been seen more than a thousand times. It was an eye-opener for him.
How do you inspire your customers and clients to leave reviews?
As a business, you understand that reviews have a direct impact on your bottom line. Your customers probably do too, but remember the problem of the diffusion of responsibility. In short, as the size of a community increases, the perception of personal responsibility by any one member of that community decreases. It’s the same reason people are unlikely to call for help in emergency situations, if they assume someone else already has. You hear stories all the time of an assault or a heart attack on a crowded subway car, with no one taking the initiative to render aid.
This quirk of human psychology can be thought of as a kind of inertia, where any sudden action to intercede needs to overcome the collective inertia of inaction of the group. The internet is the largest community in human history, and so it comes naturally to us to assume that someone else will have already written the 5-star review we felt inspired to write, so we hesitate to take direct action.
How to Ask for Reviews for Your Business
The best way your business can overcome this hesitation is with transparency. If you’re asking for reviews (in an email, on a landing page, on social media, or even in person) explain why you need them.
Be clear about what reviews mean for your business. Talk about how they get the word out, and how they will help your business grow.
Don’t be shy about telling them what that increase in traffic, or business growth will let you do, in turn, either.
Unexpected Benefits of Reviews
Aside from the obvious benefits (increased user traffic, increased conversions, better brand perception, more customers, and so on) reviews have a number of more subtle, understated benefits that don’t get a lot of recognition.
Reviews can answer questions, like an extension of your FAQ page. This is especially true with products. A five-star review with a little detail, like “fits big, so order one size down from what you’d expect” or “this chef’s knife feels very well balanced, and I’m already chopping faster!” is more than just an endorsement. It gives a user a more personal connection to the product (or service) and helps set appropriate expectations for their conversion outcome.
What to Do about a Bad Review?
I almost titled this section “Lashing Out vs. Reaching Out” but I wanted to give some context first.
This is the social media age. Your reviews will come from all sides, and your criticisms from (somehow) even more. Still, however unpleasant they may be, there may be some merit to a bad review. Maybe your service wasn’t up to par that day, or maybe you had a mishap with your infrastructure.
Imagine that you run a restaurant. You get a bad review: a customer was completely dissatisfied with the dinner service – the steak was overcooked, sent back, and replaced with one that was not only overcooked but also oily. (Pretty harsh, right?)
Well, there are a number of ways to deal with this. The wrong moves are to confront the customer, suppress the review, or to reach out privately. Here’s what you should be doing instead:
- Reach out to whomever left the review, publicly
- Ask for details, like the exact date and time
- Work with the customer toward some kind of recompense or resolution
- Thank the customer for the feedback, and make an earnest effort to do better in the future
Even if the complaint is without merit – maybe the customer has an ax to grind, and fabricated the story – you’re still better off to follow these steps. By making the interaction public (Twitter and Facebook are great for this!) you give other potential customers full transparency about how you resolve issues, and the kind of customer service they can expect from your business.
Be sure that you’re confirming the details in good faith. You’re not trying to disprove the story, and it’s not an interrogation. You’re looking for useful information. That overcooked steak? It’s not your first negative review with the same basic gist: first steak was overcooked, second one was obviously rushed and still wasn’t in condition to be served. All the complaints happen on Mondays or Tuesdays, during dinner rush, and they started two months ago when you hired that new line cook. A pattern starts to emerge. You can take action, and help your restaurant solve a potentially disastrous problem.
By working with the customer toward a reasonable resolution, you can mend a broken bridge. No one wants to remember a bad experience. Transmuting that frustration into an opportunity for good customer service won’t work every time, but it will work more frequently than you might expect, and the transparency of the process will endear you to other readers.
Reviews, Employees, and Social Media
While we’re on the subject of transparency, we should take a moment to address its pitfalls. Every one of your employees will have some kind of social media profile. Even though most people keep multiple accounts, including a well-curated professional one, odds are that a fair few of your customers or clients will know your employees personally anyway. That can be a problem.
Unless they’ve got a grounding in social media marketing they may not handle that contact with the right tact or mindset. Depending on your circumstances, it might be prudent to take the time to run a seminar for your employees on how you’d like them to handle any business-related contact after-hours. It’s the sort of problem a business would have needed to consider even five years ago, but it’s today’s reality.
Don’t Ever Fake It!
One last thing about reviews: don’t ever, under any circumstances, forge them. Don’t deliberately whitewash a curated list of only the most perfect, rave reviews, and don’t ever pay for false ones.
It ruins your credibility and your reputation, and your customers will see through it. Even if your business is absolutely perfect, there will always be someone who just refuses to give perfect reviews, or who was entirely in the wrong but exacted vengeance on Yelp. No business is safe from retaliatory, unjust, misinformed, or polemic reviews, so if your business pretends to be immune, you’ll stand out like a sore thumb. And as for stuffing your page with fake reviews, they’re just as obvious. Inorganic reviews use almost clinically perfect language, or name-drop certain products with Stepford precision.
And even if it’s a perfect ruse, too many good reviews can still hurt your business.
The Harvard Business Review ran a study: what’s the impact of glowing reviews on consumer buying habits? They found that, while glowing reviews did increase the purchase probability for a given item, that inflation correlated with an even increase (not a proportional one; an even match) in returns. Returns don’t exactly zero-out, either. The cost of processing the return means that any product returned, and resold, will be sold at a loss. Basically, by setting the bar unreasonably high with rave reviews, customers ended up undersatisfied by even a perfectly good product.
What’s the Bottom Line on Reviews?
I’ll quote the Harvard Business Review’s perfect summary:
“Positive reviews are not good or bad per se. What matters is that they reflect the true quality of the product.”
In Dan Bodner’s case, he left a glowing review not because he was trying to do the business a fawning favor, but because he was so thoroughly impressed by his experience that it was his honest opinion that others should share in his delight. That’s exactly the way reviews should work, whether they’re cautions or invitations.
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