Generating online reviews is a critical step in building trust with your potential clients. Online rankings validate your business by showing not only that there aren’t any red flags, but also that your business can deliver the level of service that clients are searching for. Otherwise known as reputation marketing, building your online rankings will help you in two areas:
- Building trust with potential buyers (increasing sales)
- Mitigating the risk and impact of the (inevitable) 1-star review
In 2019, 89% of 35-54-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (and 76% of users overall). So if you’re one of those few business owners who believe your clients are different, take a second look at the stats and remember that your biases probably aren’t the perfect representation of your target market.
Positive reviews help you differentiate yourself from your competitors and prove your experience level in your field. Online reviews don’t just tell potential clients how great you are to work with, they show them by touring them through personal experiences shared by your past clients.
Surprisingly, I also chat with a number of business owners who think that if they don’t ask for reviews or if they don’t set up a Google Business listing they’ll reduce the chance of a low star rating.
This misses the mark on both counts.
Over the past number of years, Google has created the “Local Guides” program — rewarding and incentivizing people to review more, photograph more and, when a business is missing, submit it to Google Maps for publishing. The reality is that even if you don’t create a Google Business listing for your company, someone else will.
Adding to this, businesses need to face the fact that dissatisfied customers are more likely to post a bad review than your happy customers are. Every business is guaranteed to get a bad rating at some point — even Village Ice Cream.
The best way to attack this problem is to build up a strong enough star rating that when you get a bad review, you’re fully protected against it.
In our business, this occurred after building up 16 5-star reviews. The impact? We only dropped to 4.8 stars overall and responded to the review that same day. If you read the review you’ll see how unavoidable these poor ratings can be — the most important fact is that our business was already protected.
How to Generate Positive Google Reviews
“76% of those who are asked to leave reviews go on to do so” – 2019 Consumer Review Survey
As you can guess, the best way to encourage clients to leave positive reviews is to build policies into your project completion checklist; projects aren’t fully complete until the review has been requested.
The real trick is knowing how to ask.
- Qualifying the review – After the project has the final sign off (and not a minute before), have your Project Coordinator or Sales team connect with the client over the phone. Your first step is to ask how the experience went, if they’re satisfied with the end product and if there was anything that could have improved the experience. Listen to their suggestions — they often have really valuable feedback. Most importantly, get a feel for how they would rate the service. Are they a raving fan or only mildly satisfied?
- When feedback is phenomenal – it’s time to ask for the review! This should not be your primary focus of the phone call — receiving their feedback should act as your first priority, but this is an easy addition when you have a really happy client.
- Thank them for their great feedback and ask them if they’d be willing to leave you a review.
- When they agree, let them know you’ll send them a link — making it quick and easy for them to leave a review.
- When feedback is less favourable – listen first and make them feel heard. You’re not there to change their mind, convince them you’re right or ask for a review. Keep in mind that you’re not curating 3- or 4-star reviews — you’re now on the phone to turn a 6/10 into a 7/10 simply by listening. The great news? You just avoided lowering your star rating by listening before asking, you’ve gained high-value feedback on your business, and you’ve likely improved their perception of your business since they see you cared enough to hear their feedback. This is worth the 5-minute call.
- Making it easy to leave a review – Following calls that turn up favourable feedback, send the request email immediately. Time plays a big factor in this and you don’t want to lose that momentum.
In the email you should:
- Let them know it’s important – Politely impress the significance of this on them, sharing that they’re doing you a big favour and that you appreciate them taking the time to write about their experience.
- Remove choice and decision – Pick 1 platform for generating reviews at a time. As soon as you introduce choice (e.g. listing Google My Business, Facebook and Yelp) you increase indecision, lowering your success rate, plus you end up building each platform at a fraction of the speed. We recommend starting with Google My Business (since this is your most visible profile), then moving onto the next review platform once you’ve hit between 20-30 great reviews.
- Link right to the review window – On most platforms, including Google, you can copy the URL that has the review window open. On Google, find this by searching your business, clicking the “write a review” button in the My Business Console and copy the URL.
- Instead of pasting your URL directly into the email (it’s a long, ugly URL), describe the action and link the text directly (review + business name + review site — e.g. “Review True Market on Google”). To do this, you’ll highlight the desired text, click the link icon and paste the URL in the field.
- Lastly, if you haven’t seen a review within a week, we recommend a gentle follow up email. You’ve already made the big ask so this email doesn’t need to convince them to do it, it should simply remind them that, if they have the time, you would appreciate it!
Monitor & Reply to Your Comments
Congratulations — you’re generating reviews! This is great, but your work isn’t quite finished yet. You’ll want to monitor your review pages and comments as well. We highly recommend setting up emails that notify you when your business has a new review. This makes it easy to see both the good and the bad reviews as they come in.
As fun as happy clients are, we only recommend replying to positive reviews if it reinforces your brand. If you promise to reply to every comment, do it. If not, replying isn’t necessary, especially if it isn’t adding value to your profile. Let your reviews speak to your future clients — you don’t always need your company to “have the last word” after every client’s testimonial.
Replying to Negative Reviews
This is the most important part of monitoring reviews. The good always comes with the bad — even with online reviews! The goal with this strategy is to outweigh the bad comments with the good, but you can’t simply delete them, and you wouldn’t want to either.
True or False: Negative reviews are a good thing.
TRUE! When a business doesn’t have any negative reviews, it can be a flag to your customers and to Google that these reviews are being skewed (or even paid for). This decreases the trust you’re working to build. A well-balanced review section that includes a sprinkling of negative reviews and a heavy dollop of positive reviews is what you want to aim for.
At the same time, when you do receive a 2-star review, or if the sentiment is bleak, you’ll want to respond ASAP. In doing so, you’re able to provide balance to the critique and demonstrate your high degree of customer care.
If it is something that was out of your control, you can politely make your claim here but, as with all of your replies, they should follow these guidelines:
- Don’t tell your customer they’re wrong. Try to understand their point of view and respond with empathy.
- Don’t feel the need to solve the problem in the comment section. This can often feel dismissive. Invite them to contact you privately so you can come up with a solution together.
- Don’t pass the blame even if the client seems unreasonable or the circumstance was out of your control. Any attempt to pass the blame will come off as defensive and indicate to readers “we aren’t going to fix this.” If the claim is truly unreasonable, readers will spot this and side with you — let the reader be your defendant.
- Maintain positivity. Every problem can be solved (or addressed), solutions can be found and there is never a need for a victim. Your response should echo the idea that “together we can fix this.”
- In your response, invite them to contact you directly via phone or email to continue the conversation, and be sure to list your number/email right in the reply.
- Add context to the conversation. While never passing blame, you can mention that they approved 3 documents before the finished product, or that every cashier tells customers the washing instructions, etc. Simply state what you did to help them before this point, then invite them to continue the conversation via phone/email.
If you follow those steps and respond with genuine care for making their experience better, your potential customers will see that you take each and every transaction with earnest.
Expanding Your Reputation
Once you’ve started to gain momentum with your reviews, are actively replying and feel good about the number of reviews you have collected, you’ll want to start focusing on other review platforms. A good rule of thumb for most small businesses is 20-30 reviews and an average rating above 4 stars.
Don’t stop monitoring how you’re performing on Google My Business, but you can now start requesting reviews more actively on Facebook, Yelp or industry-specific listings which apply to your business (e.g. for residential construction you may consider Houzz or HomeStars; for a lawyer, this may be bestlawyers.com or a BBB profile).
The primary goal of your online reviews is to have a well-rounded online reputation that proves your business, products and services are better than any other competitor in the marketplace. Executed properly, this allows potential clients to research your company and its reputation and award your business because of it. After all, your reputation is the difference between gaining a new customer or losing them to the business next door.