Asking for feedback & testimonials from customers has been a long term practice in the business world. The practice has morphed to some degree by new exposure that on-line review platforms have provided to this information. The rewards are much greater and the affect of running afoul of the community standards can be severe. Yelp may think that “soliciting reviews” is somehow inappropriate but it is a practice that has been going on forever in one form or another. Whether Yelp wants to use those reviews is their business decision. However from where I sit, facilitating a clients ability to provide feedback was and is an appropriate activity for a business to engage in.
That being said, engaging customers in the review process can be much like sex…it can go from the sublime to the immoral in 6 seconds flat. Sometimes the difference between right and wrong is just not that great and some folks seem to miss the distinction all together.
Here are some guiding ideas that I use when considering and analyzing plans to ask for reviews. These are posited more as principless than best practices, things to think about when designing your review policy.
There are a number of different ways to structure a review program. How each business specifically sets it up will depend on the comfort level of the owners, their level of tech savviness, the tools at their disposal and their understanding of their clients. These principles can function to guide your plan’s specifics.
So rather than providing you with a specific formula for your review process I am taking a step back and offering up a framework of “principles” to help you think about the program that you do implement. This framework has proven incrediblty helpful as I work with different business owners establishing a truly functional review program and process that works for them.
|Easy||Whatever system you implement for the customer, it should be so dead simple that they just don’t have to struggle. The least number of clicks, the straighest path, the least to remember should all be ideals of whatever system you put in place.|
|Choice||This correlates to the above. You want to provide your customers/clients with a range of sites so as to be compatible their online behaviors. It is hard to know if they prefer leaving reviews at one place or another. The more comfort they have with your suggestions the more likely they are to leave the review. You need to be where your customers are. In setting up your program asking them what they prefer is a good idea.|
|Ethical||Whatever review process you choose, it should be open, transparent and beyond reproach. An unhappy customer is bad enough but one that thinks you are scamming the review world will be relentless.|
|Integrated into Business Processes||For a business, saying you will do something versus actually doing it, is a matter of the process being easy for employees and a required part of the internal procedures. This may require employee training and perhaps new procedures to be sure that the ask for reviews happens.|
|Regularity||Reviews are like traditional testimonials. If they all occurred last year or the year before both potential clients and the search engines are going to wonder what’s up.|
|Diversity of review sites||
Putting your eggs in one basket is never a good strategy. For example Google has been known to periodically loose reviews from one source or another.
It is also difficult to predict next year’s review site winner and the looser. Being in a range of places protects against both eventualities.
|Leverage||If one review can be seen in 4 review site instead of just one then all other things being equal, a review placed there is more valuable. For example even though CitySearch is declining in popularity, they still have 25 million uniques AND share their reviews with Google, Yahoo, MC and more giving you an opportunity to have the review seen 100 million times|
|Plan for the Bad Review||Even if you run the best business in the world, you will sooner or later, get a bad review. Decide ahead of time how it will be handled and who will handle it. Ending up in argument on the front steps of the customer is a no win situation and some thought put it in how you are going to respond will avoid the worst outcomes.|
What broad principals for a review program would you add to or subtract from the list?
They are flexible to handle most situations but structured enough to provide guidance so that if the clients meets these standards their efforts are likely to meet with success. It allows the business to prioritize the principals so that if compromises need to be need it will be clear what the trade off is.
Yelp with restaurants and TripAdvisor with hotels live in a world where motivated reviewers take great pride in describing the good and the bad about businesses. From Yelp’s current point of view all reviewers should be self starters and cover the businesses they like as well as the ones that they don’t.
But most businesses live in a world where the only person that is motivated to write the review is the one in a hundred or the one in five hundred that was just so pissed off about something that they just had to tell the world. The loyal customers that come in to the shop, day in and day out never think to sing your praises as they have just grown accustomed to great service and friendly staff.
Certainly incenting reviews is a slippery slope. Some behaviors like paying for reviews (hmm…is Yelp holding a double standard here) or self generated reviews clearly fall on the side of inappropriate. Some, like offering discounts on future sales fall into a gray area. But should a business ever actively ask customers to leave reviews? Is there ever a way or a time to for a business to encourage customers that really love them to speak out? Yelp thinks not.
I, on the other hand, think that if done carefully and thoughtfully, with a clear vision as to how and why, asking for the review AND facilitating the customer’s ability to leave a review can do more than help your business. It can gently introduce the customer to the otherwise complicated world of reviews, it helps the consumer understand how critical it is that their voice in support of the great local business be heard and it can provide the web with meaningful review content of businesses that otherwise would be absent.
Clearly, there are three constituencies that need to be satisfied for any review program to work well and the above principles only address two- the customer and the the business. The third constituency is comprised of the search engines and review sites. While it is important that reviews meet the criteria of search engines, I think that the above rubrik does as good of job as satisfying their needs as is possible. It may not be possible to make them all happy and the decisions that you make might involve some compromise that offers your business the most benefit.
Over the next week, I will be publishing some case studies and interviews of a variety of ways of garnering reviews, some well thought and successful and some not so well done. Hopefully you will be able to get some ideas on how you might structure a similar program for yourself or your clients.