If you're like most business owners, the mere mention of Yelp is enough to spark anger, frustration, or despair. Everyone has a story about that one client or that one review…
Seller beware! Consumers today have an unprecedented amount of power. The popularity of review communities like Yelp has completely changed consumer-facing industries for better and for worse.
Without a strategy in place, you may find a smattering of random complaints on your Yelp profile from a few angry customers that doesn’t at all represent how the majority of your clients feel.
You’re not alone, and it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. With a solid review management strategy in place, you can actually use these review communities to your advantage, building up a reservoir of authentic 4 and 5-star reviews from happy customers that breed trust and generate more business.
Did you know that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations? Whether or not you find that number surprising, we can probably agree that your online reviews are worth more attention than you're giving them. For companies that are 100% committed to improving their online reviews -- whether you choose to do it yourself or hire external help -- here is a comprehensive, 5-star blueprint.
Claim your business on all review sites
Claiming your business page on review sites gives you some distinct advantages. For example, with a claimed business account on Yelp you can:
- Respond to reviews with a direct message or a public comment
- Track the customer leads Yelp is generating for your business
- Add photos and a link to your website
- Update important information such as your business hours and phone number
There’s really no excuse for an unclaimed profile -- look how obvious Yelp makes it on your unclaimed page:
So go ahead and claim your business on major platforms like Yelp and Google Reviews, and don’t forget the niche review sites in your industry. Lawyers care about Avvo, doctors worry about ZocDoc and Healthgrades, and the list goes on. To see what you might be missing, do a quick search for top review sites in your industry and Google your competitors to see what review platforms pop up.
If your business has multiple physical locations, you’ll want to claim those as separate pages. And if your business doesn’t show up on a review platform, just add it.
Find the right software solution
Once you’ve claimed all your business locations on all relevant review platforms, it’s time to set up a review management software to track them.
There are dozens of software solutions out there, and you’ll need to do your own research to determine which one is best for your needs. But no matter what software you choose, you’ll want to make sure it allows you to do a few core things:
- Monitor and track all your top review sites in one consolidated feed or dashboard
- Ask clients for reviews on all the top review sites you care about
- Pre-screen your customers for their level of satisfaction before you ask them to review
- Maintain full control over the messaging and the branding interaction with the customer
- Integrate seamlessly with your CRM so you can send review requests to the right customers at the right times
Make reviewing a cinch for your customers
It may seem obvious, but in order for people to review your business, you need to make it possible for that to happen. And it needs to be as easy as possible. You need to take all the effort out of it.
“What?” you ask. “How hard could it be to leave a review?”
Valid question, but think about your own experience. How often do you leave a restaurant, a bank, a furniture store -- and think about writing a review? Probably never, unless you had a horrible experience and in a fit of rage, you write a novella on their page to warn others.
The bottom line is it takes effort for a customer to even remember to review your business. And once they’ve remembered, your customers still need to open the app or website on their phones and type in their username and password -- that is, if they can even remember their password...
It’s a lot of friction. You can’t blame your customers if they’ve lost their momentary spark of goodwill by the time they get through all those steps.
To make it easy, there are a number of things you can do:
- Claim all your business locations on all major review platforms (see the 1st section.) Your customers may not have a Yelp account, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be interested in reviewing you on a platform they already use, like Google or Facebook.
- Add a link to your business listing in your email signature.
- If you have a physical location, put a ‘Find us on Yelp’ sign in your window. You can do the same for other review platforms.
- Even if you don’t have a physical store, you can still place a Yelp badge on your website. Again, the same goes for other review platforms.
One of the best things you can do, though, is to literally ask your customers to review you. Many review platforms are fine with direct solicitations like this, but others like Yelp have terms and conditions that discourage it.
If you’re worried about the Yelp gods striking down in anger, you can phrase it like this, “If you had a nice experience, please check us out on Yelp!”
And if you feel embarrassed, just be honest and say this Forbes blogger encouraged you to do it, so you thought you’d give it a try. Your customers will chuckle, slap you on the back, and write you the 5-star review you wanted.
Generate reviews from happy customers
You need to actually ask for reviews to get them. Yes, you can do this manually with one-off emails and in-person requests, but do you really have time for that? It’s certainly not a long-term, scalable solution.
This is where your software solution comes into play.
A good review management software will allow you to direct your customers via email to the review platform(s) of your choice. Only a percentage of your customers will review, so this is a pure numbers game. The more you ask, the more you get.
You’re probably wondering, “...but won’t I be encouraging negative reviews too?”
Good question. The best review management softwares pre-screen your customers to gauge their level of satisfaction before sending them off to review. Here is what that may look like in your clients’ inboxes:
If your customers click “I had a good experience,” they’ll be sent to your choice of review platforms. In this case, you can tell I’m prioritizing Yelp but still offering customers other choices in case they don’t have a Yelp account, or just prefer using a different platform.
However, if customers click “I had a bad experience,” they’ll be sent to an internal feedback form so they can air their grievances there. Most upset customers just want to be heard -- they aren’t looking to flame your business online.
The above screenshots come from an email campaign, which is still by far the most popular. (It probably goes without saying, but make sure your emails are mobile-friendly.) You can also ask customers to review via text, but there’s conflicting data out there about their effectiveness.
As I mention above, see if you can connect your review management software with your CRM tool. People are much more likely to review your business shortly after they’ve done business with you, so it can be helpful to send out review requests based on your most recent transactions.
Lastly, consider offering your customers rewards for reviewing. Maybe you offer your customers a coupon for writing a review – and another for sharing it. Or maybe you start some kind of raffle or competition where customers have a chance to win as long as they give you a review.
This isn’t right for every review platform (it's against Yelp's guidelines, e.g.), but some people are more likely to give a review when they get something in return.
Respond to reviews like a pro
Not every customer is going to have a positive experience with your business. No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot control how your customers are going to feel after they do business with you.
It might sound like something your therapist would say, but remember: you can only control your response.
So be sure to respond! Customers who leave negative comments are just people. People who were unhappy with your business and want to feel respected and heard. By responding quickly, you let them know that their input matters! It may be enough for them to change their review or come back to give you a second chance.
Think of positive comments the same way. If you took the time to write a rave review about your favorite company, imagine how thrilled you’d feel when you see the company took the time to personally thank you. It might be the difference between making you a happy customer and a brand evangelist.
Lastly, remember that your responses to reviews are perhaps even more important for the masses than they are for the individual you’re responding to. Your short, polite response A) shows that you take your feedback seriously and B) reminds the customer that there are human beings behind your company. Both of these are likely to have an impact when potential customers are weighing their options.
Use positive (and negative) reviews to your benefit
An obvious effect of implementing an effective review management strategy is that you’ll start to accumulate dozens, hundreds, or thousands of reviews along the way.
For the reviews that are negative, use them to learn what you can be doing better. Nobody wants negative reviews, but the more constructive feedback you get, the more you can improve your services and iron out any wrinkles in your organization.
And hopefully, the majority of your reviews are 4 and 5 stars! You can use those glowing reviews as testimonials in your sales materials, or as a constantly-updated list of “happy customers” on your website’s homepage and landing pages. It’s the kind of social credibility or “social proof” that has been proven to influence people to take positive action and drive more business! Win-win.
Originally published on Forbes.com.