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Encouraging Customer Reviews: 4 Tips to Get People Talking About Your Small Business

Update 02/01/2013: Google has since updated their review content guidelines to prohibit review stations and giving customers free gifts or discounts for leaving reviews. This article was written prior to the change and may provide information that is no longer relevant or considered a best practice.

Small businesses are in a unique position to truly benefit from customer reviews.  Chains are pretty well locked into their branding and there tends to be very little differentiation city-to-city and state-to-state.  They will build reputations for being consistent and predictable, but rarely break through to extraordinary.  However, small businesses are unencumbered by these expectations; small businesses have the opportunity to make a name for themselves as something really special.  Soliciting customer feedback can play a crucial role in building this reputation.  Here are 4 things to keep in mind as you encourage your own customers to review your business:



1)  Incentivize.  Give your customers a reason to review your business or service.  Offer them a coupon or discount off their next purchase if they go to Yelp, Citysearch or EZlocal and leave a review.  Here is an example of a flyer we encourage our members to distribute:


Review Card


2)  Link your business profiles on your own website.  Don't count on customers tracking down your listing on Yelp, InsiderPages or EZlocal.  Add links to your website for each profile and further encourage customers to go leave reviews.  See the below picture in which a doctor integrated links to his Yelp profile on his own website:




3)  Encourage a constant stream of reviews.  Keep the reviews trickling in, this serves two important purposes.  First, it looks better.  If you are visiting a profile whose reviews are all clustered around 3 or 4 dates, it looks questionable, a little bit planned and spammy.  A constant stream of reviews spread across all dates looks much better and will build more trust with potential customers.  


Secondly, a constant review stream will add up in the long run.  Take a look at the below Yahoo search results for "carpet cleaning" near San Diego, CA.  Notice how the search placements are in perfectly descending order by their review count?  Make no mistake, review count matters so always keep that stream trickling in, it will add up and pay dividends, especially if your competitors are only making sporadic pushes for reviews.


Reviews on Yahoo!


4) Don't discourage bad reviews.  We don't live in a perfect world and no one expects your business to bat 1.000.  In fact, if your business has nothing but 5-star reviews across the board it might strike consumers as a bit suspect, is anybody that perfect?  Also, negative reviews offer a golden opportunity for you to prove yourself, to go above and beyond. The Consumerist actually has an entire category dedicated to incidences where businesses stepped up and made things right after something went wrong.  


The strength of small businesses often lies in customer service and attention to detail.  If a bad review falls on your doorstep, rejoice—you have a chance to showcase your talents and turn a negative review into a positive experience, something they will be impressed with and tell their friends about.  This word of mouth will prove to be incredibly valuable to your business.


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