3 Ways Positive Customer Reviews Help Your Small Business

Good customer reviews about your company are a powerful driver of new business. The Blueprint covers tips to help generate and leverage positive reviews.

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Reading customer reviews is like the opening line of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ... ."

Reviews can be equally heartening and mystifying because for every good one you can have another that's a head-scratcher.

You may be tempted to pay little attention to customer reviews, but you do so at your own peril.

Let’s go over the benefits customer reviews provide for your business and some tips to help generate and leverage positive ones.

Overview: What is a customer review?

Consumer reviews are evaluations of a business's products or services. Reviews range from brief posts on social media, ratings using stars or a numeric scale, or detailed comments with photos.

Common examples include product reviews on Amazon or Google and Facebook business reviews. Many consumers prefer Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Trustpilot reviews because they appear on dedicated review websites.

Accuracy and objectivity

A perennial issue is the accuracy of reviews — pro and con — because limited methods exist to ensure the objectivity of comments or discern a writer's motivations. A good review may be the product of a well-meaning friend or a well-paid third party, while a business competitor may surreptitiously write a bad review.

I have a friend who worked for a content mill where everyone was required to buy — although they were later reimbursed — the owner's newest book on content marketing and leave a five-star review on Amazon. Amazon has strict rules against paying or coercing people to write positive reviews, so my friend "forgot" to do it. This was his first week on the job, and he moved on to a new one.

A classic example of a product receiving bad reviews for reasons unrelated to the product itself is The Chicks' (née The Dixie Chicks) 2002 album Home. Lead singer Natalie Maines made disparaging remarks about then-U.S.-President George Bush in 2003, and people flocked to Amazon to leave reviews like this one.

A one-star review on Amazon of The Chicks' Home album was based on politics.

A review that isn't based on the actual product is every business owner’s nightmare. Source: Amazon.com.

I remember reading "reviews" like the one above in 2003 — there were pages of them — which drove the album's overall rating down to one star. Amazon has since removed most of them, but new ones still appear periodically.

How do customer reviews help your business?

The issues above aside, customer reviews can create multiple benefits: word-of-mouth advertising on reviewers' social networks, feedback about your products and services, and business credibility.

1. Leverage customers' social media networks

Advertising is a necessary evil — and a significant ongoing cost — but it makes people wary because they know it's not objective. And even with targeted advertising via Facebook or Google, your ads reach only as many people as you pay for.

Customer reviews, however, have a much wider potential reach when they're shared online. (This is why "social media influencer" is now a career path.) When these organic reviews are posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media platforms, your brand gains access to a new set of potential customers.

Review apps such as Untappd, which lets craft beer nerds tell everyone about the latest pour they drank, further help businesses reach niche target audiences.

A sample beer review displayed on the Untappd app.

Specialized review apps increase brand awareness when users tag contacts in their networks. Source: Untappd.com.

I once worked part-time for a craft beer brewery, and we got a steady segment of customers from Untappd. Beer aficionados driving through town would see on Untapped that Waco had a brewery and would wheel in for a pint or two — and then they wrote reviews. This created a feedback loop because those reviews prompted other Untappd users to visit the brewery and write even more evaluations.

2. Receive product and service feedback

Customer ratings — three stars or a thumbs-up — are an assessment of your business's products or services at a specific point in time, but they aren't feedback because feedback is actionable advice for future efforts.

When I taught college writing courses, for example, my grade for a paper was its evaluation but by itself didn't offer the student any help to improve future performance. For that, I had to suggest things like reading the paper aloud to catch awkward wording or double-check the usage of each "affect" and "effect."

Glowing reviews detailing customer satisfaction are great — who doesn't want them? — but tangible advice from customers is also valuable as per the tweets below.

A software company tweets its response to a customer tweet suggesting a product improvement.

Monitor your brand's online presence to find and respond to customer feedback. Source: Twitter.com.

Another key point about the tweets above is timeliness. Workable responded on the same day as the customer's original tweet. This requires monitoring your brand's online presence to track the range of people's interactions with it. Another benefit is addressing any fires as they happen instead of being the last to know about them.

3. Establish your credibility

Every business must earn credibility to thrive, but it's hard to achieve this through advertising alone given its contrived nature. Reviews can provide this credibility because they describe what you do in the voice of the customer.

A good example is this Google review for an automotive repair shop because the customer highlights what it did that others apparently couldn't.

A five-star Google review for an automotive repair shop.

Third-party reviews establishing your business's credibility are invaluable. Source: Google.com.

Good reviews separate you from the competition when consumers are looking for a business to use, and, if you have few reviews, they will usually choose a competitor with more.

5 tips to get positive customer reviews for your small business

The first step in generating positive reviews is to provide a high-quality customer experience. If you're not doing that, worrying about online reviews puts the cart before the horse. Or, as my grandmother liked to say, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."

Once you have your ducks in a row — it's a menagerie of metaphors! — use the tips below to help get good reviews for your business.

1. Ask for reviews

The easiest way to get what you want is to ask for it. If you deal with customers face to face, ask them to leave a review at the conclusion of a successful transaction. Other methods to prompt them include:

  • Receipts: Put a web address or QR code at the bottom of your receipts that links to where they can leave a review.
  • Email campaigns: Use customer service software with email marketing capabilities to send requests to customers.
  • Stickers: Online review sites such as Yelp and Tripadvisor often provide free stickers for your business to remind people to write reviews.

If your business has an app, everyone is familiar with the ubiquitous requests for reviews that pop up inside them on a smartphone or other digital devices.

The CamScanner in-app review request uses a star rating system.

Some apps let you build in review requests. Source: CamScanner software.

While requesting reviews is essential, don't badger customers about them. If you come off as annoying, this undercuts your efforts.

2. Target satisfied customers

The problem with asking everyone to review your business is that you can't predict what they'll write. To narrow the scope of likely responses, first use a survey to identify customers happy with your products and services.

A Bank of America email asking customers to take a survey.

Response rates improve when you tell customers how much time a survey will take. Source: Bankofamerica.com.

Once you receive follow-up surveys from customers after their initial transactions, ask those who gave you a superior rating for a full review. These surveys, as anyone proficient in help desk best practices knows, also give you a chance to address issues new customers have, enhance customer care, and aid customer retention.

3. Respond to reviews

Nobody likes to think their review enters a void where it exists all alone and lonely, so people are more likely to write reviews if you have a history of responding to them. This includes everything from retweeting a shoutout for your business to writing a quick thank-you for an online review.

Drew Carey, host of the television game show The Price is Right, has a three-hour rock music show every Friday night on Sirius XM. When listeners tweet about a song or set of music they like, he often retweets them during his show for near real-time communication.

A Drew Carey retweet of a post from a fan of his music show (me).

I'm not remotely embarrassed about how excited I was when Drew Carey retweeted my post. Source: Twitter.com.

Lula Jane's owner didn't have to respond to the positive review below, but doing so made a direct connection with the customer. It doesn't take much time, and the payoff can be significant. Businesses average 35% more revenue when they reply to at least 25% of their reviews.

A Yelp review includes a response from the restaurant’s owner.

A quick thank-you to a positive customer review shows that you appreciate their response. Source: Yelp.com.

Monitor your online reputation and keep regular tabs on review sites so you can participate in the ongoing "conversation" about your business.

4. Use negative reviews as an opportunity

As a consumer, I think good reviews are fine, but I'm also curious to see what happens when customer needs aren't met. I'm not alone because 82% of people look for negative reviews to see where things went wrong and how businesses responded.

A restaurant responding to a negative review below prides itself on Neapolitan-style, wood-fired pizzas made with fresh ingredients, but nobody gets it right every time. The question is, what are they going to do about it? This response is an excellent model to follow.

This restaurant's response to a negative review apologizes for poor service.

Responding apologetically to negative reviews shows that you value your customers. Source: Yelp.com.

Unfortunately, the owner of this restaurant sometimes writes snarky responses to customer reviews: "We understand that you may prefer Ranch dressing soaked, conveyor belt, processed pizza," "Some folks like eating processed, chain pizza, where more is better," and, "It's also interesting that you've never posted a single review before on this site and that your account was created today."

You can't win an argument with an online customer review, though, so either offer to make things better or say nothing at all.

5. Share positive reviews on your website

Leverage the concept of social proof, which is people's tendency to copy the actions of others. For example, when all the choices available at a store's craft beer aisle mesmerize me, I'll often take a longer look at — and maybe even buy — beer brands I see other people getting while I'm standing there.

In the same vein, customers are more prone to write reviews when they see ones from other people, so highlight positive comments on your website, whether they come from Facebook reviews or other sources.

A customer testimonial is featured on a magazine’s website.

Share testimonials to attract new customers and more reviews. Source: Wacoan.com.

Start getting positive customer reviews today

Encouraging customers to write good reviews is like herding cats. You can steer them in the correct general direction, but what they say is ultimately up to them. Still, use the tips above to increase the odds for — and quantity of — good reviews about your business.

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