When over 70 percent of Americans research online before making a purchase and nearly everyone owns a smartphone with social media and shopping apps, reviews for your small business can come in fast and frequently. It's important to remember that every customer interaction has the potential to go viral in just a few clicks – for better or for worse. Leveraging customer reviews to boost your sales and increase traffic can be a benefit to small businesses. The Internet can contribute to leveling the playing field between local businesses and big-box retailers. The question is, how can you, the small business owner, use client reviews to boost your sales?
What Are Reviews, and Who Reads Them?
The short answer? Everyone reads reviews – well, 88 percent of your potential customers do. Reviews can come in many forms, from a simple star scale of 1 to 5 including short blurbs from users, all the way to an in-depth, professional analysis of your services. Shoppers tend to rely on local business reviews from their friends and neighbors, trusting the judgment of everyday shoppers.
Unfortunately, customers are more likely to write a negative review than a positive one, and even positive reviews are unlikely unless your service knocks the customer's socks off. You're a savvy small business owner with a passion for your niche, but even you understand that some shoppers' socks remain firmly on, no matter how hard you try.
The Anatomy of a Modern Product review
Product reviews typically have a ranking system and a small space for open comments. Some reviews allow user-generated photos to accompany the verbiage – clothing and apparel retailers are the most common for these types of reviews.
Some brands and larger companies encourage users to submit a small questionnaire about themselves, allowing the company analytics to break down reviews by user profiles or demographics. There may be certain pros and cons that a company is looking for, especially with a new product or a change in the formula of a popular offering.
Reviewers may also earn certain flair or badges indicating their expertise in writing reviews, how relevant the reviews are, or other indications of the veracity of their statements. Essentially, other reviewers may review each other. One great review from a highly ranked, prolific reviewer may do more for your small business than any amount of advertising dollars. While you may be able to "court" some of these high-value reviewers with product sneak peeks or other incentives, it depends on the platform that they're reviewing on. Be sure to check each site’s rules and regulations.
How Do Product Reviews Increase Conversions?
The short answer is that many positive comments encourage more people to choose your business. The longer answer is a bit more complex. Google uses variable algorithms to sort results from a search query. When you consider that more than 35 percent of shoppers begin their search for a product or service with an internet search, having your website appear on the first page (or at least before the fourth) is critical to customers finding your business. More reviews, especially unique reviews from multiple users, increase your chances of being placed at the top of the list. Google analytics can actually index product reviews with keywords, so the more reviews you have, especially those that have relevant keywords, the higher your site will rank.
Quality reviews give customers more confidence to purchase, especially for big-ticket items or professional services like an accountant, attorney, or contractor. When your business has specific, positive reviews, you'll stand a higher chance of attracting more customers than if your reviews section is empty or mostly numerical reviews with little other information. As your reviews grow, consider a content moderation service or bot that weeds out the reviews with no verbiage or the ones that are unconstructively negative. There is value in keeping negative reviews in some cases, as it lends authenticity to your business. We'll discuss in more detail below.
Can Reviews Improve My Service?
The short answer? Yes. The better answer? If the reviews have specific, actionable criticism, especially if there are suggestions left in the review, then these reviews may actually shed some light on the user experience with your product or service. Some reviews are just an angry customer venting. It's important to have an open mind, as a business owner, to discern if there is a valid criticism that you can use to improve your user experience.
Positive reviews, too, can highlight the skills of a certain employee or a great experience with a product. Using these specifics can help you develop your best practices for certain client interactions or train your staff on how to introduce a product to your customers with a feature/ benefit presentation.
Consider open and honest feedback as an advantage. You're seeing how your business operates in real time and you have customers with an interest in how your business operates. You may even be able to glean more information about how to improve service or tweak products by reaching out directly to customers. Many people enjoy giving helpful suggestions, and you may even be able to win a loyal customer or brand ambassador from this gesture.
The Importance of Negative Reviews
We've mentioned that negative reviews may be useful for businesses. While no one enjoys seeing a negative review, especially one filled with vitriol, there is value in actionable criticism. You may have an employee that shows one face to you and another to customers. No small business can survive toxic employees for very long. Or worse, you may have an employee that is cheating your customers or stealing. Reviews may clue you in to a bad apple in your bunch.
However, not every negative review is as drastic as a bad employee. Some may just be a disappointed customer or a flawed product. In these cases, you may ask for information from the customer and take steps to improve the product. When replying to negative reviews, remain calm and professional. Give a genuine apology for their disappointing experience and seek out a personal conversation to explore the issue in depth.
To turn a poor customer experience into a raving fan, invite them back to review the changes you've made for themselves- on your dime. Whether it's a restaurant dish that has been improved, a redeveloped product or service, or retraining your staff for better customer experience, taking the time to demonstrate to your clients that you value their feedback can go miles toward landing customers for life.
In addition to helping your business improve, leaving negative reviews available for users to read may give your business more transparency. Over 80 percent of online shoppers say that they specifically seek out negative reviews, looking for a balanced evaluation of the product or to see if there are certain things to take into account. For example, if you wanted a mattress that is very firm, you might look for reviews that state "too firm!" or "too hard!"
Your Products in Action – Visual Reviews
Some professional services, like a CPA, lawyer, or other consultants may not be able to take advantage of a visual review. Others, especially clothiers and those who sell non-consumable products, may see much better conversion rates from having reviews that show photos of customers wearing the product or videos of them using it.
When shoppers are able to see how clothing looks on a real person, instead of a model, they're better able to envision it on themselves. When they see a product being used, they're able to have a better idea of whether or not the product will meet their needs. Often, seeing satisfied customers is the best advertisement of all. The reason? Many people correctly assume that these reviewers genuinely enjoy their purchase, and aren't paid spokespeople or advertisers.
Securing More Customer Reviews
Some companies have a review website at the bottom of their receipt, while others solicit reviews via email after a service. Others encourage their staff to ask happy customers to leave a review of the product or service. This tactic may be hit and miss, however, as less than half of customers report that they'll leave an email review after shopping or receiving a service.
Providing incentives for customers to leave a review is fairly common, and in many industries, it's considered acceptable and not fraudulent. Be aware of your own industry practices, however, and make sure to read the fine print of review sites. Some customers may feel uncomfortable being asked to leave a survey, so train your staff to make sure that customers know it's entirely optional.
Offering a small incentive for leaving a review, such as a 10 percent discount or a complimentary dessert on a future restaurant visit, may encourage more people to give feedback. Use caution when incentivizing reviews, however. Disclose that reviewers received the incentive for the feedback and use an authentication system to verify that the customer did, in fact, purchase the product or receive the service they're reviewing.
If you're introducing a new product, consider soliciting reviews – and that all-important user feedback to tweak your offering – with product samples. You may use an existing email database to send samples to your current client base, or you may choose to have an open house to try a new service or invite shoppers to your store to try new items. Make sure that you are clear about wanting fair feedback for these new lines so that you're able to not only grow your client relationships but also get a feel for how your product or service works in practice.
Improving Your Bottom Line with Customer Reviews
Customer reviews create a more organic preview of your product or service. The more reviews you have, the greater chance your website will populate higher in a search query. In fact, the first page of Google accounts for more than 90 percent of web traffic. If your site isn't pulling, you may as well be invisible. This is especially important for small, local businesses, since many web searches are done via mobile as customers are out and about shopping. When they're looking for your product or service, knowing that there's a well-reviewed provider nearby can drive foot traffic.
Your approach to negative customer reviews, especially when your written response is professional and your actionable response produces positive change, can also help grow your business. Customers leave reviews, good or bad, because they want to be heard. When you take time to address a flawed customer experience, you're validating your customer. Perhaps more importantly, you're showing other customers that their feedback will be valued. Draw attention to changes made, where appropriate, after receiving a negative review. Showing transparency in dealing with negative reviews increases the trust that customers have in you and your business.
To Sum It Up
Customer reviews may not be the most quantifiable facet of a solid media and advertising strategy, but they are a viable, important way for you to grow your business and improve the quality of the user experience. From populating in a search engine query to giving shoppers a better feel for your products, small businesses can't afford to neglect the power that online reviews have. In fact, small businesses may depend more on customer reviews, as they don't have the brand recognition and familiarity that big box retailers or nationwide companies have.
While you may choose to offer an incentive for a review, or simply encourage customers to complete a survey, customer reviews are a great tool to see how your business operates from the customer perspective. A vibrant review page also helps customers build trust in your business. You can use your reviews to boost sales through active management and professional responses.