Social Savvy: Make third-party reviews your first priority - Oct 2020

By Irene Williams

Ever gotten sucked into a “review vortex”? I bet you have. A review vortex is that thing that happens when you’re trying to decide whether to go with business A or business B, so you spend an inordinate amount of time reading review after review after review after … you get the picture. In the deepest of review vortexes, you’ll find yourself analyzing the reviews themselves: “Are these reviews by real people?” “Can I trust a review with this many misspellings?” “Should I go with the most recent or most helpful reviews?” Again, you get the picture.

A vortex though they may be, third-party reviews are important in today’s marketplace. Regardless of the type of business or product in consideration, we are increasingly reliant on other people’s perspectives and testimonials in order to make purchasing decisions. Here are some stats from recent studies that confirm third-party reviews are big deals. (Email me anytime for my list of sources.)

• 97% of people read online reviews for local businesses.
• 93% of consumers say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions.
• 91% of people ages 18 to 34 trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
• 89% of consumers choose to read businesses’ responses to online reviews.
Your online reviews affect how your business shows up in online search results. Search engines, including the all-important Google, factor the number of positive reviews when determining where businesses will appear in relevant web searches.

Reviews are not only important for business-to-consumer scenarios but for business-to-business ones, as well. As a matter of fact, reviews are so fundamental that not having any may be as detrimental or worse than having negative reviews. A business with no reviews can be perceived as irrelevant and not even in the running for consideration.

If you aren’t on the review train, it’s past time to get on board, and if you’ve been on board, it may be time to revisit and revamp your efforts. Here’s a quick guide to wrangle the third-party review collection process and use it strategically going forward.

Every review starts with you! Be proactive; boldly ask for reviews in the moment, likely at or near the conclusion of a transaction. Asking for reviews promptly should be part of standard operating procedures for your business. I mention “in the moment” and “promptly” quite intentionally. If a review is not requested and received while the interaction is still in play, it likely won’t happen at all.

The method of receiving reviews is as essential as the action of asking for them. You need to make reviews digital and simple for your customers to submit.

• Choose or create a solution for receiving reviews.
• Want people to actually finish their reviews of your business? Make sure your form is short and sweet.
• For in-person scenarios, have an iPad or tablet computer on hand with your chosen review platform set up and ready for customers to complete. Invite the review right then and there-before the customer walks out the door.
• If the interactions are not in person, invite reviews via email with quick links and/or provide a review form on your website (perhaps even in popup format if your site is e-commerce).
• To help motivate response to emailed links, give your customers a deadline that is within no more than two days from the date of the review request (i.e. “Your review is important to us. The sooner you share your experience, the sooner your feedback will help others looking for our service.”).

There are countless sites and mobile platforms that run on third-party reviews. You can easily get bogged down attempting to capture reviews literally everywhere. I strongly recommend that you focus your efforts on the three or four most important platforms for your business type. A typical list for flooring retailers and distributors could include the business’ own website, Google My Business profile, Yelp and Facebook business profile.

I suggest always including the capture of reviews for your own website on the list for a few important reasons. First, for direct capture, you can create a review form that works best for your business. It’s a good idea to choose the ranking and questions that tell the best story about your customers’ experiences. Secondly, direct capture won’t require customers to have to log in anywhere; some people hesitate if they have to log into Facebook or must create an account on Google in order to review. Thirdly, you can quite easily populate the content of direct reviews across your own website and repurpose for social posts, etc.

Of course, you can seek reviews on more than three or four sites. However, if you’re new at this or haven’t put a concerted effort toward reviews for a while, it is so much better to channel activity to the short list of top sites.

Note: Google, Yelp, Facebook and review platforms have rules and guidelines that must be followed. It’s imperative that you adhere to those in all your review collection efforts. Beyond the site-specific rules, here are some basics you should adhere to for all review collections.

• Do not post on behalf of anyone; customers must submit or post reviews directly.
• Do not solicit employees, colleagues or affiliates for reviews.
• Do not pay for or offer incentives for reviews.
• Do not ask for reviews in bulk via mass emails/eblasts.
• Do not post to social media or share on your website any reviews with submitters’ names without having first received permission. For direct reviews, you should integrate acceptance of terms into your form.

There is an array of web-based tools for capturing and managing online reviews, and depending on the type or size of your business, you may want to consider such options for their simplicity and functionality. For example, if your business has multiple locations or garners a notable portion of revenue through e-commerce, an automated review management solution could be extremely helpful. Examples of such platforms include Arrivala, TrustPilot, Podium, PowerReviews and BirdEye. These solutions come at a cost, though, so weigh your needs intelligently for the long term.

For managing your own review collection if you don’t use a service as described above, it will be necessary to use a good, web-based form-creator/survey tool. Examples are Jotform, SurveyMonkey, Typeform, Formstack and Wufoo, just to name a few. Depending on the number of forms you create and/or the volume of responses you get, there can be varying costs associated with these solutions. It’s worth it to have the automation.

All reviews deserve-or, dare I say, require?-your response. Here are some best practices to put into practice immediately to get the best from your reviews.

• Commit to responding to every review you receive-be it positive and negative, whether received directly or via an online review platform.
• Choose the preferred voice for the business-“I” or “we.”
• Make your decision and be consistent. Train all who may respond to reviews to use the proper voice.
• Recommendation: On public platforms, go with “we” and in direct communications, “I.”
• Respond as promptly as possible, preferably within 24 hours or less (emphasis on the “or less”).
• Personalize every response and include the person’s first name if it is known.
• Express gratitude for the feedback.
• Convey that the review is valued and heard.
For negative reviews:
• Go with “I/we apologize” instead of “I am/we are sorry.”
• Never call out one of your employees in a public forum, even if the customer has done so and you are attempting to respond specifically to her complaint.
• State that you’re ready to propose a path to resolution.
• Move the conversation off of the public platform and to direct message or email-as soon as possible.
• Once in direct contact, provide substantive, specific steps to rectify the situation.
• Follow up with the person quickly and consistently, should she choose to engage in discussion.
• Should an exchange turn especially contentious, ask the team member responsible for responding to run any messages past management or an assigned colleague for feedback before sending to the customer. By inviting another perspective that is less entangled in the back-and-forth, you may be able to help neutralize the company’s responses to be less emotional and more intentional and helpful.

The most important benefit of third-party reviews is, first and foremost, the real insights they give you about how well your business is serving its customers. While there are additional benefits such as enhanced SEO rankings, usable marketing content and assurances for potential customers considering your business, you will have much to gain simply from reading and heeding the reviews you receive. Anytime a customer cares enough to share feedback-good or bad-she is giving you a great gift. Use it wisely!

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