Customer reviews and rating systems have been around since the dawn of the Internet. Rotten Tomatoes has told us which movies are worth seeing for over 20 years, Amazon customers have rated their experiences with products for even longer, and eBay buyers and sellers have been able to evaluate reputations since the inception of online auctions.
The last one is especially interesting because of the contrasts it helped foster in society. For example, many children and adults of that era were brought up to believe in the importance of humility, and the braggarts of that time were largely relegated to infomercials. Despite that, the idea of bragging about your reliability in auction listings was almost universally adopted in the 1990s and has expanded radically since then.
Faraway regional products that were deemed special due to their location and limited local availability were suddenly thrust into global spotlights and judged by the standards of those more commonly found. Those who were satisfied by word of mouth and Consumer Reports became less inclined to trust either without a multi-page list of sources affirming their claims.
Each of these contrasts gave birth to significant changes in the mindset of the average American. Skeptical attention whores who prize the results of convenience over the journey of experience are everywhere now, and you don’t have to look further than Facebook, Amazon, Google, or the national news to see their latest antics.
Pretty sobering, isn’t it?
While this isn’t a social commentary piece, understanding this societal shift of the last 20-25 years is mandatory for business owners that want to succeed today. Hole in the wall shops and small online businesses simply don’t make it without finding a way to stand out among the din of larger businesses and noisier competitors.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to do exactly that, but first, you’ll need to accept a somewhat difficult truth.
Humility has no place in current business models
This idea has always been somewhat true. Humble statements are the buzzkills that often take the allure of promises and the appeal of products away from most sales pitches. Charismatic individuals can still blend a dash of it into how they behave during a conversation to make a favorable impression and build rapport though.
What do you suppose happens when charisma is taken out of the equation?
Words have a very difficult time conveying emotion by themselves, often complicating their ability to grab someone’s attention. The marketing world has covered for this by making their online advertising as short and sweet as possible, speaking strictly in absolutes that are designed to give you a sense of relief, urgency, fear, curiosity, or some combination of the above.
That’s why you’ll often see “FREE” in all capital letters, bold promises that mark a company’s solution as the best one, or perks like 24-hour service highlighted and distilled down to a few words that are easy to find and follow. People like spending less money, getting the best service, and fixing problems immediately. It’s just who we are.
While that sounds shallow and self-centered, have you ever taken the time to fully read a set of terms and conditions? You’ll get anywhere from a few paragraphs to several pages of details you simply don’t want or need. You should still have these in a location where interested parties can find them, their humble truths are simply too long and tedious to capture anyone’s attention.
Simply put, sound bites aren’t a new concept, but their simplified buzz words are often the ONLY concept that matters today. Sure, YouTube and online ads with video and audio components still exist, but the vast majority of your marketing efforts are going to begin with and revolve around Google and the first 6-10 seconds customers spend browsing its search results.
Use the limited space you have to brag on yourself. Nobody else is going to do it for you.
Customer reviews take owner bias out of the equation
So your ad has swaggered onto a potential customer’s screen and has piqued their interest. Their inner skeptic wants to know whether this message was put together by another blowhard that’s overselling their capabilities and under-delivering on their promises.
Enter customer reviews.
These are the current evolution of the word of mouth model, and are the closest thing to honest feedback you’re going to find online. If you’re like me, these play a big role in deciding whether you’re going to call a company or take the time to learn more about them.
Many business owners undervalue this idea, and it’s often because they don’t consider the thought process of their customers. There are 3 key arguments customer reviews can make on your behalf that ads cannot, and knowing them will help you realize the value of positive feedback.
Let’s start the first with a question: did you know most organic reviews are left in a state of high emotion? When writing a review on Google, it’s likely that you’ve either been severely wronged or incredibly wowed by an experience you had. There’s a little bit of middle ground, but it’s comparatively rare to find ratings that are not 5 stars or 1 star.
When leaving one of these reviews, you’re also going to want to share your story – especially if there isn’t a lot of feedback yet. These stories are often going to be the first impression a new customer has of your business and the way you’re going to treat them, so mastering customer service is an absolute must to ensure helpful reviews!
Secondly, customer reviews are left by people who aren’t you, the business owner. They are less likely to be biased and are frequently the next best advice when you can’t ask your friends and family for a recommendation. Just don’t try to pay people to write these for you when you’re starting out – Google has no tolerance for that.
Finally, building up a lot of positive customer reviews is a great way to demonstrate your trustworthiness, reliability, and quality – without ever having to reference a single one yourself. Your customers are doing the bragging for you.
So how does one convince people who are more on the fence to write these extremely important reviews? Well…
You need to ask your clients to leave customer reviews
Some of you are probably looking at your screen, calling me an idiot, and racing for the back button in your browser. Hear me out before you do – I’m speaking from experience.
You’re probably still unconvinced about the importance of feedback, but plot twist: you aren’t the only one. Customers often don’t realize the power their words and a couple minutes of their time can hold for your business either, and a quick conversation can make all the difference in correcting that.
This was especially true during my time working with call centers like GoDaddy. Feedback actually plays a pretty significant role in holding your position with companies like theirs, which while incredibly stressful in some situations, contributes to ensuring a consistently positive customer experience when you call them.
When I took the time to ask for my customers to leave surveys, I was able to emphasize their importance and help them distinguish the difference between rating a poor situation and a poor agent experience. I also received a considerably higher number of overall responses, which helped mitigate the harm from no-win situations or circumstances where I was performing damage control.
Not everything is going to go perfectly while running your business either, and this can be a great way to diffuse some difficult situations or convince you to go the extra mile toward making things right. Asking for reviews will initially feel a little awkward if you aren’t used to doing this, but the dividends will have a tremendous impact on people who are considering a product or service you offer over time.
Start by including a request on any invoices you send out if you find this type of conversation to be too uncomfortable, but don’t lean on that crutch indefinitely. Requesting a Google review will almost always be more successful if you learn how to directly ask your customers to leave their feedback on your business listing. You’ll also build a little extra rapport and make them feel valued, which is the perfect recipe for repeat business.
Should I showcase positive customer reviews on my website?
If you can do so without taking away from your website’s design or message, absolutely! Full testimonial pages are a relic of the last decade, but some businesses are still able to leverage these to great effect. Refrain from scanning letters and make sure they stay up to date – nobody is going to care about a review from 5 years ago they can’t read.
Including a small section on your home page and/or dedicating a specific area to testimonials on each page is usually more effective and less intrusive in current web designs. I’m partial to putting such sections right above the footer or alongside products in online stores, but each business website is going to have unique needs, so don’t feel limited to these locations.
Many websites also get away without including any testimonials, and that’s perfectly okay too. Some niche industries simply don’t need them due to a lack of competition, others who do a lot of work involving areas like government projects won’t benefit from them in any way, and more still simply can’t fit them cleanly into their website’s design and/or message. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
I don’t have a website – how do I get one started?
Give us a call at 319-229-5225 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be happy to discuss your options with you. You might also want to take a look at this cheatsheet if you have some time to prepare – we’ll be far better equipped to make suggestions and create the perfect design if you can give us information about your business and website design goals.
Braden is one of the founders of Midwest Websites, and has been professionally writing and developing websites for over 7 years. His blog posts often take an experience from his life and showcase lessons from it to help you maximize online presence for your business.