Restaurants, lawyers, plumbers, doctors, landscapers, power tools, cars, cat food, computers, babysitters, lampshades, interior designers, travel experiences, company cultures, customer service teams…
If it exists, someone out there seems to be willing to review it. And from Yelp to Amazon, Facebook to Google, the Better Business Bureau to Glassdoor, the internet is teeming with ratings and commentary about businesses and their products and services.
Most business owners are aware of the outsize role all this customer feedback plays in their companies’ successes. That’s doubly true for local businesses, which depend on recommendations, referrals, and word-of-mouth to stand out in their markets.
Consider a few statistics about the power of reviews:
Nearly 95% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase.
Plus, reviews are perhaps the single most important source of information about your customers. If you want to make the right strategic decisions for your business, you need real customer feedback.
But there’s no guaranteed way to generate a customer review.
Still, positive and authentic reviews remain hard to come by, especially for small and growing businesses. Countless companies and professionals have just one or two public reviews. Many have none at all.
Meanwhile, a fair number of small businesses are saddled with negative feedback from disgruntled customers or spammers—feedback that drags down ratings, hurts search results, and damages reputations.
But then there are those businesses that manage to win the customer feedback game. You know the ones. The ones with tons and tons of glowing, five-star, 10/10, A+ reviews on their business listings and product pages. The ones with legions of fans and advocates on social media.
How the heck do they do it?
Are they paying people to leave positive feedback? Are they writing the reviews themselves?
Or are their products and services just so good that customers feel compelled to rave about them?
We did some digging and found out. Read on to discover a few ways businesses have encouraged or incentivized their customers to leave positive reviews.
First things first: you should never, ever pay for a review.
Quick disclaimer before we go further: paying for reviews is a bad idea. Ditto for writing reviews yourself. These kinds of practices are unethical, unfair, and illegal under federal law. In fact, in recent years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has cracked down on bogus reviews, fining companies millions of dollars. No marketing boost is worth an 8-figure lawsuit or jail time.
All right, with that out of the way, here are five ideas for generating positive customer feedback—without paying for it.
1. Make it super easy for customers to leave reviews.
Everyone has an opinion. But relatively few people share their opinions with the world. Why? It’s not just due to shyness or modesty. It’s because, in many cases, leaving a review is hard work.
I mean, you have to have coherent thoughts, write things down, put words together, make coherent arguments. It isn’t easy. (Trust me—you don’t want to know how long this blog post took to write.)
Businesses bridge the gap between having an opinion and the effort of voicing that opinion by making it dead simple for customers to leave reviews. They use templates and buttons that allow people to provide feedback in seconds. They ask for and collect reviews in the channels in which customers are most active and receptive.
Small tweaks can have massive results.
Home Depot, for instance, increased reviews by 55% after removing a single step in the customer review process. Rather than asking customers to click on a link within an email message and go to a separate landing page, the company lets people provide feedback by responding directly to the email.
Here at Ruby, we’ve used Hively, which generates a nifty little footer in email signatures with three buttons: a happy face, a “meh” face, and a sad face. People can simply click the icon that represents how they feel and send immediate feedback to us about how we’re doing.
2. Celebrate positive reviews in big ways.
A good review is a cause for celebration. It means that you’ve not only made someone’s day (an achievement unto itself) but converted a customer into a vocal fan whose word of mouth will generate business better than any marketing campaign could.
Then again, rather than choosing between word-of-mouth and marketing, why not combine the two? You could do what Emerald Nuts did a few years ago and center that review in your brand messaging.
In 2016, an anonymous customer left a five-star review of one of Emerald’s products on Amazon. The review read, in full:
The marketing team at Emerald loved those two words so much that they made them the company’s temporary tagline. They filmed “Yes Good” commercial spots, printed “Yes Good” banners and billboards, launched a “Yes Good” website, and manufactured “Yes Good” hats and tote bags. You can check out the whole campaign at The Drum.
This isn’t the only example of companies running with customer reviews. Brands such as Dollar Shave Club and Verizon have launched similar campaigns featuring dramatic readings and interpretations of online customer feedback.
Perhaps you don’t need to go that far, but consider how you can celebrate your customers’ positive comments in fun, public ways. Maybe you could feature review excerpts in a prominent location on your website, mention them on social media, or add them to your business cards. Show your customers you’re paying attention to them and they’ll reward you in turn.
3. Make the customer journey fun and rewarding.
Speaking of rewards, another way to incentivize your customers is to build in some form of entertainment or gratification in the ordinary course of doing business.
Note that we’re not talking about trading anything for reviews here. You can’t give customers special treatment or benefits for offering their feedback. But perhaps you can award non-tangible “points” and “game progress,” as Samsung did with “Samsung Nation.”
Daniel Griffin and Albert van der Meer tell the story in their book, Press Start: Using Gamification to Power-up Your Marketing:
“Samsung Nation, as the name suggests, aims to create a community around the Samsung customer base and use it to drive customer engagement. Within the community, users can review Samsung products, participate in discussions, watch videos and so on. Each time they contributed to the community they would progress through levels, earning badges and achievements.
[Samsung Nation] simply uses some low-level game elements such as badges and achievements to help increase a sense of brand loyalty. The real purpose behind it, though, was to increase product reviews for Samsung, and it achieved this. Samsung saw an increase of 500 percent in their product reviews.”
I realize that the average small business can’t launch a virtual, gamified community like Samsung did. But this is less about a specific approach and more about the value of connection—an idea we’ve written a ton about around here.
Successful businesses understand that customers long for feelings of connection. They know that every home sale, every dental visit, every auto repair job has an impact on someone’s life. And so these companies imbue their products and services with fun, meaning, and humanity. They connect with and truly help the people they serve—and those people feel a natural desire to return the favor.
4. Remember the human.
Here’s another story about the link between customer reviews, connection, and our shared humanity.
Black Flamingo, a bar and restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, has had its share of negative Yelp reviews. These reviews have threatened to hurt the business’s bottom line—particularly during its early years, when any rating lower than four or five stars could sink Black Flamingo’s average score and scare off potential customers.
Black Flamingo has taken action to address negative customer feedback and resolve complaints, with owner Bryce David often personally reaching out to reviewers. However, as time has passed, more and more exchanges have become antagonistic. Coarse language, blithe criticism, and unsubstantiated claims have put David on the defensive. In recent years, he’s started to refute negative reviews publicly, not always in “informative” or “productive” ways, as documented in an episode of Proof, a podcast from America’s Test Kitchen.
“I notice how I get sometimes, where I’m fuming,” David tells the show’s producers, about responding to one-star Yelp reviews. “My blood’s boiling. I’m deleting and rewriting. And I’m taking inventory of myself—‘Is this a little bit crazy?’”
That’s where the episode takes a surprising turn. Proof coordinates an in-person meeting between David and one of the people who left his restaurant a negative review. The two sit down for a meal at Black Flamingo and learn they have a lot more in common than they thought.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say that both David and the reviewer realize they’d been thinking of the other person as something less than human. Once they step out from behind their screens and engage in a real-life conversation, everything changes.
Keep David’s experiences in mind as you encourage and react to customer feedback.
There’s a human being on the other end—a person just like you. Consider why they might be saying what they’re saying (or not saying), and what they’re really looking for in interactions with your business.
The better you can empathize with your customers—rather than focusing solely on your own perspective—the better you can serve them, and the more successful your business will ultimately become.
5. Optimize your customer service experience.
At the end of the day, the most important variable in whether your customers leave reviews or not—and what kinds of reviews they leave—is the quality of your business. People want to recommend products and services they appreciate, and professionals who take care of their needs. Provide that and they’ll be happy to leave you positive feedback.
It starts with excellent customer service—everything that happens when customers pick up the phone or begin chatting with you through your website. Those first moments are often the deciding factor in winning positive sentiment from customers.
We know this through experience. Every day—24 hours a day, 7 days a week—Ruby’s team of customer service professionals represents small businesses throughout the United States, forging customer connections, earning positive reviews, generating word of mouth for organizations like yours.