The new word of mouth happens online. This really comes as no surprise, in this day and age when the majority of Americans, across all generations, are online. The way that we seek out recommendations when we’re researching products is now by searching online for customer reviews. We all want the reputations of our businesses to be positive and widely known, but this can’t happen until you have a solid foundation of authentic, easy-to-find customer reviews.
Why reviews matter to your customers
Reviews of products and stores are valuable to your potential customers because they establish trust. Seeing reviews of your business lets customers know who you are, and reassures them (or doesn’t) that they’ll be able to find what they’re looking for at your store.
The 2017 Retail Dive Consumer Survey found that ⅔ of customers research products online before shopping for them in-store, and the main channels for their research were (you guessed it) customer reviews and company websites. This is a pivotal moment in the customer’s purchase journey, and you need to be sure that they’re seeing reviews of your store when they’re deciding where to shop.
To bring the point close to home: a 2017 survey found that customer reviews were the top factor influencing a purchase decision in the furniture category.
Why reviews matter to your company
First and foremost, your business cannot grow without feedback. Learning what you’re doing right and what you can be doing better is essential to how you plan for the weeks, quarters, and years ahead. You cannot rely strictly on internal observations and analysis to gain this insight—you have to go to the source, to the honest customer review.
Feedback can also be a great motivator for your team. Sharing the review of a satisfied customer who mentions one of your sales team members by name is a great way to make their day, and helps remind them that what they do has value. It’s not just positive feedback that matters, either—if reviews are saying things can be better, your team needs to know. (More on this further down.)
Looking for more of a concrete benefit? More reviews of your business, and more positive reviews, raise your local ranking for Google searches.
How to encourage reviews
You have to think outside the comment card if you really want a substantial amount of reviews—you need online review profiles. A Google My Business account and a Yelp account are great places to start. Don’t forget to also include an option to review products on your website.
Consider timing. You might be better off asking for more in-depth feedback some time after the purchase date, when your customer has had enough time to reflect on their service at your store and has had more experience with the product.
Asking for a review is asking your customer to take an extra step—make the review process as easy for them as possible. Experiment with a few different types of surveys, and pick the one that’s most painless.
Incentivize reviews for your customers, as well as your sales staff. For customers, a review lottery is a great way to set up an enticing offer without having an outright exchange for each review. For sales staff, consider bonuses based on a certain number of reviews collected. Extremely important: never incentivize only positive reviews.
How to activate reviews
Don’t keep them locked away! Share reviews with the appropriate teams, based on the content of the review. Let the sales staff you’ve incentivized to collect reviews see the product of their work. Work with them to identify customer objections and pain points, and come up with solutions for the future. Remember that the goal is always to make things easier for the customer.
Use the good, deal with the bad. Stellar reviews make great, authentic marketing content. Put them around the store, in your ads, on your website, and at the bottoms of your emails.
Looking at negative reviews through the cracks in your fingers? Then you’re making an all-too-common mistake that will only tarnish your reputation. Talk to the negative reviewer, be honest with them about what went wrong, and see if there is any way for you to fix the problem. Consider the fact that this person took the extra step to make a negative review, because the experience mattered to them—if you can successfully convert a negative reviewer to a positive one, you may just have just created a passionate fan of your business.
Of course, you’re not going to be able to fix every problem, or undo every negative experience, but making an attempt matters—other customers who come across the negative review can see a record of your business trying to mend the situation.
Look beyond the review itself. What seems to be conspicuously missing from the review? What didn’t this customer notice or take advantage of that you wish they had? Where did the ideal experience you want them to have and the actual experience they did have diverge? What was the fork in the road? What patterns keep popping up in your reviews? What are the constant complaints?
Remember to look ahead as well: what problems are starting to come to the surface that you might see clearly but your customers only see a part of? Can you identify a “disease” that could be the cause of all these symptoms that are popping up in your negative reviews?
You can have all the strategy meetings you want and analyze all the numbers in your records, but a business cannot reach its full potential until it listens to its customers. So many times in marketing, we’re focused on the things we can say and how we should say them, but we don’t devote enough effort to the other side of things—what’s being said about us.
If your customer is truly the central focus of your business, then what they have to say about their real day-to-day interactions with your business are what matter most. It’s not about what you say about yourself anymore, but what is being said about you. If it’s good, make it even better—don’t be content to just meet expectations. If it’s bad, be honest about it—don’t hide it. Figure out what went wrong and what you can do next.
Want to build your business’s reputation? You have to start by allowing it to be a part of the conversation of your customers.