Back in the day—I can say that because I grew up when Ronald Reagan was president—it was a common business axiom that if you made one customer very happy, then the rule of ten applied: One very satisfied customer would tell nine of their friends about your business over a brief time. Conversely, though, it was said that one unhappy customer told twice as many people about a bad service experience over half the amount of time.
Welcome to the hyper-vitriolic, social-media obsessed, instant gratification, online society we live in—it’s a brave new e-commerce world. Now, one unhappy customer can instantly tell a negative story about your business online and it can be “liked,” forwarded, opined over, tweeted about, linked to, and even get picked up by 24-hour news outlets within minutes. What’s more frustrating is the story doesn’t even have to be true: A post with accompanying pictures or video may automatically be perceived as fact. Even worse are posts from people who aren’t actually customers. The New Yorker has called it the “never-ending war,” while prominent business publications like Forbes and Inc. have discussed ways to spot fake reviews and how to diffuse the inevitable aftermath. In fact, there is an entire online cottage industry that focuses on fixing bad online stories and negative reviews at a hefty cost.
Small businesses are especially at risk because negative online stories and bad reviews can wound and permanently scar a brand, or become too expensive to fix. Preventing these comments from being posted in the first place is a tall order even for the best run and most customer service-centric businesses. However, there are tactics to fight this ongoing battle when bad things happen to good companies, there are proven methods to make fine wine out of what could have been very sour grapes.
OK, with that negativity out of the way, all is not lost in the online battle.
What Does “Raking in Reviews” Mean?
“Raking in reviews” is a phrase I coined to describe building an internal process at your company to proactively cultivate reviews from your existing customers after each transaction. The term “raking” means automatically asking every just-transacted customer for reviews at one time. Cultivating those positive reviews comes with some powerful benefits.
1. More Positive Reviews = More Revenue. You’ll increase the number of “warm calls” from prospective customers who already have a positive impression of your company before they even inquire.
2. Creates Permanent “Social Proof,” which is proven to prompt consumers to buy. A term first made popular by Robert Cialdini in his book Influence, “social proof” describes a phenomenon whereby people copy the actions of others in a given situation. Simply put, people make buying decisions faster if they see others like them also make the same decisions.
3. Builds Trust and Credibility. This is incredibly important if you are seeking to capture the best buyers, people who buy based on quality, value, and nurturing business relationships versus those who just focus on price.
4. Strengthens Your Brand Identity. Small businesses that cultivate positive reviews can do an effective job for pennies just by asking for and receiving reviews, and then using these powerful testimonials in all company communications.
5. Boosts Online Ranking and Helps Build Organic SEO. Constant fresh and positive review content drives search traffic and keyword rankings, specifically when a business consistently earns more glowing reviews than their competitors. A business with more positive reviews in key places online can expect an increase in organic search traffic up to 20 percent. The operative words here are fresh, positive, and consistently—this isn’t a one-and-done posting.
"Small businesses are especially at risk because negative online stories and bad reviews can wound and permanently scar a brand, or become too expensive to fix."6. The Best Reviews Make the Best Marketing Content. Above all other benefits is a business’s ability to use the best stories in their ongoing marketing efforts. This is one of the most effective ways to build brand credibility and promote specific aspects of your service. By choosing the right reviews, businesses can target like consumers in a manner that touches them in a personal way because they can relate to the sentiments within the review.
How to Get Started
First, you have to take control of your brand online, which unfortunately can be more complicated than it sounds. This involves going to all review sites that impact your business and “claiming” it as the owner. This allows you to create an account, get notified when a person posts a review, create (normally free) accounts with your legitimate contact information so that notification emails can be sent to you (or your social media manager) when you get a review on this platform, and regularly review the comments. This step is also critical to assure all information about your company online is as accurate as possible on these review sites. Many tech experts suggest using different user names and passwords for EACH site to reduce hacking across all platforms.
A Sample of the Most Common Sites
How Do You Continually Cultivate Positive Online Reviews?
You can easily cultivate positive online reviews by sending out a quick email to each customer right after they complete a transaction with your company. You can even embed a link right in the email to sites like Google reviews, Yelp, Facebook, etc., to make it super easy for the customer. Because collecting reviews is so critical, I strongly advocate automating the process by using a review aggregator, which is software you can buy or use with a monthly subscription that—in best case—integrates directly with your reservation software or accounting program like Quickbooks.
When each transaction is completed, a personalized text or email with the customer’s name and transaction information is instantly sent to their email or via text. The customer can then click on a link and just like that, a positive online review gets posted.
The best review aggregator programs populate the review on multiple platforms automatically and can be programed to post the best reviews directly on your website as well. Here are a few better known review aggregators:
If interested in learning more about Raking In Reviews, I have compiled an e-booklet that goes into more detail. Feel free to email me with additional questions or for access to the free e-booklet.
Of course, not every customer is going to click on the link or take the time to leave a review, but the easier and more upfront you make the process, the more they will be willing to take a minute or two to thank you. Make sure you take the time as well to sincerely thank them for their business and generous review. You may also consider running promotions or offering incentives to your best customers—you have nothing to lose by asking.
Kenneth Lucci is a retired operator and industry consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.