How Should You Ask for Online Reviews? The Pros and Cons of Each Approach

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There are no “solutions” – only trade-offs.  Your task is to pick the trade-off – or the combination of them – that works best for you.  That applies to most areas of local SEO and marketing (and life), and it applies to your effort to get more good reviews from customers / clients / patients on Google Maps and on other “local” review sites.

You probably aren’t dialed-in on reviews yet.  You know there are many ways to encourage people to review your business online, but aren’t sure what the best way is.  All you can do is pick the best (or least-bad) trade-off for you.

Here are the pros and cons of each method of asking customers for reviews:

Asking in-person for a review later

Pros

  • You plant the seed of the idea. You don’t expect the customer to review you then and there, nor do you even need to provide instructions in-person.  Once determining he or she is happy, you just ask, “We’d love if you could write a review of us.  Is it OK if we email you some quick steps?”  You get the benefits of asking in a more-personal way, but without putting the customer in an awkward situation.
  • The email doesn’t come out of the blue, because the customer expects it.
  • You force yourself to listen to your customers and to think about whether you’ve earned a 5-star review.

Cons

  • None (that I’ve seen or can think of). Especially you’re shy about asking for reviews, it can be more of a “testing the waters” interaction.  If the customer doesn’t seem happy or seem the type who might review you, maybe you just don’t ask that person for a review.

Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot

Pros

  • It’s hard for customers to ignore your request.
  • You can walk them through the process and answer any questions.
  • You can sniff out how happy the customer is, which can tell you whether you should follow up later (maybe in an email).

Cons

  • Some people will feel put on the spot, which may come back to bite you.
  • The reviews may be terse and seem dashed-off, forced, or fake. People have places to go and things to do.  They won’t go into detail – the kind of crunchy bits you want in reviews whenever possible.

Review station (a dedicated iPad or laptop in your office or store)

Pros

  • Same benefits as in the strategy of “Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot” (above).

Cons

  • Same drawbacks as in the “Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot” strategy.
  • The jury’s out on whether Google reviews are more likely to get filtered by Google, if they all come from the same IP.
  • Some customers may feel watched.

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Emailing one customer at a time

Pros

  • You can tailor each request to each person, based on what you know about him or her.
  • It’s a great opportunity to sniff out who’s happy and who’s not.

Cons

  • It takes time. You can’t be sloppy.  Get the customer’s name right.  Remove any boilerplate.  Maybe allude to the specific service he/she got.

Using an email service (MailChimp, Aweber, etc.) to send requests automatically

Pros

  • It’s quick. You write one email, and your email service sends it out without your personal involvement.
  • It can be a good way to ask customers slowly and steadily – rather than ask too many people at once, or fall off the wagon and not ask anyone
  • You can study the analytics: how many people opened the email, how many people clicked the links, etc.

Cons

  • It takes finesse not to email people who aren’t in a position to review you (like leads who haven’t become customers).
  • You can’t tailor the email to one specific customer.

Email blast (via MailChimp, Aweber, etc.)

Pros

  • If everything goes well you can get many reviews in short order.
  • It’s quicker than emailing one customer at a time.

Cons

  • If it doesn’t work you’ve burned through many customers and worn out your welcome to ask again.
  • If you didn’t vet the list of customers first you may end up with a bunch of bad reviews. Then what?
  • Even if it works well, your reviews are more likely to get filtered, to the extent people choose Google or Yelp.

Providing review handouts / instructions in-person

Pros

  • Good instructions make the review-writing process simpler and less daunting
  • The printout serves as a visual prop. That might make it easier for you to ask customers, and may make your request clearer to them.
  • It’s a physical reminder (“Oh yeah, I said I’d write a review”).

Cons

  • Some customers may feel put on the spot, so you might want to test the waters (“So, how did we do?”) before you hand them a printout.

Providing review handouts / instructions in an email (or attached)

Pros

  • Again, good instructions make the process simpler for customers.
  • You can provide the instructions but not rely on them; you’ve also got the email itself to make a friendly request that’s hard to say no to.
  • Customers are more likely to get your request at a time they can act on it.
  • Unless customers just delete your email, it’ll stick around in their inboxes, and in that way will serve as a little reminder for couple of days.

Cons

  • An email isn’t as personal as an in-person request or a phone call.
  • It’s easy to tune out an email.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/waffleboy/9695952341/

“Review us” page

Pros

  • It’s probably the easiest way to give customers a choice of review sites (maybe 2-5), so as to diversify where you’ve got reviews.
  • You can incorporate a review-encouragement tool like GetFiveStars or Grade.us, making it easy to set up the page.
  • You can easily send customers to the page in an in-person request or in an email (or both).

Cons

  • You add another step to the process, because you’ve got to direct customers to a page that in turn directs them to a review site of their choosing.
  • Probably some customers’ reviews won’t end up on the sites where you want reviews most. Maybe you have plenty of Facebook reviews, but want more Google reviews, and people keep picking Facebook.  You’ll have to tweak with the lineup of sites, and which ones you prioritize.

Phone call

Pros

  • Great time to gauge the customer’s happiness, and to sort out any issues that might stand in the way of a good review.
  • It’s tough for the customer to blow off.
  • It’s more personal.
  • It’s easy for you to walk the customer through the review-writing process.
  • Asking hat-in-hand looks good, as it does any time you ask a favor of someone.

Cons

  • Some customers will take a lot of hand-holding (though it’s time well-spent on your part).
  • It’s possible you won’t call at a good time.

ORM or “feedback funnel” software (e.g. GetFiveStars or Grade.us)

Pros

  • Having review-request emails sent out automatically can save you a ton of time
  • Most review-encouragement software makes it easy to offer customers several choices of review sites, helping you rack up reviews on a variety of sites.

Cons

  • You may be tempted to rely too much on the software to do all the work, without much or any oversight or fine-tuning on your part, in which case your software may become a meat grinder. Business owners (or their employees) never lack the time to ask customers for reviews.  They simply don’t know what to ask, how to ask, or when to ask.  You should ask in-person for a review, and have the email serve as a follow-up or reminder.
  • You’ll have to play around with the settings and probably send out some ignored requests before you find what works best.

Video walk-though

Pros

Cons

  • It takes a little effort to make a good, clear, brief video, and you’ll need to change it if the steps change at Google Maps or on another site.
  • You may not always have the video handy when you want to walk customers through the reviewing process. They need to be in front of a screen.

Text message (SMS)

Pros

  • It’s quick for you to set up, given that you’ll probably use a third-party tool to send the texts.
  • For some customers it’s very convenient.

Cons

  • For other customers the text shows up at the wrong time: they’re driving or walking, or otherwise indisposed.
  • Often it’s annoying to receive texts from people other than friends or family. It can come across as pushy.
  • You can’t include much in the way of instructions in a text.
  • Any reviews you get probably won’t be too detailed, may be riddled with typos, and may appear dashed-off. The chances are good they’ll be unhelpful or even look fake.
  • It may seem impersonal.

Snail-mail requests

Pros

  • It’s unusual, memorable, and a little harder to ignore. Most business owners – even the smart and proactive ones – do what’s easiest, quickest, and cheapest.
  • If you send the request with printed info your customer welcomes (your newsletter, a thank-you note, photos of the project, aftercare instructions, etc.) you’re catching him or her in a good mood.
  • You can get creative in how you ask.

Cons

  • Printing and postage costs. (But if you get a review, that’s a tiny price to pay.)
  • It’s not fashionable.

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Links, buttons, or widgets on your site

Pros

  • You don’t have to stick your neck out to ask for reviews.

Cons

  • It’s easy for people to ignore your link / button / widget.
  • Most people who see the link / button / widget probably aren’t customers – just leads – and aren’t in a position to review you.

Yelp check-in offer

Pros

  • Yelp will ask customers on your behalf. As you know, Yelp doesn’t want you to ask for reviews in any way.  Inconsistent and absurd?

Cons

  • It’s for Yelp.
  • The reviewers are Yelpers.

Little cards with printed instructions

Pros

  • It’s easier to keep around and hand out cards than full-page review printouts.
  • You don’t have to think as much about what goes on the cards, because there’s not room for much. Just basic instructions, or “Please visit com/reviewus to write us a review.”

Cons

  • Customers who may need more guidance are out of luck.
  • The cards are easy to ignore, lose, or throw in the trash.

QR codes

Pro and con

  • You’ll try QR codes once and never try them again.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cabreraluengocom/7022353187/

Passive strategies: letting reviews “happen”

Pros

  • In certain fields – like psychotherapy or financial-consulting – you’re so hamstrung that you can’t encourage reviews proactively. In that case a Daoist approach probably is all you can do.
  • It’s good to know what your “baseline” is: what kinds of reviews and how many reviews you get just by doing a good job for customers. You’ll probably end up concluding that’s not enough, but on the off-chance it is, more power to you.

Cons

  • Angry customers are more likely to write reviews spontaneously than happy customers are. Maybe you can’t encourage the happy people to speak up, but in that case you’d better have a way to identify the less-happy people and to smooth things over with them.
  • Slow progress is better than no progress. No matter how tough it is to get the happy people to review you, more of them will review if you take some steps to make that happen.
  • In putting together a review strategy, you learn a lot about your customers along the way. You may miss out on that if you just take it easy.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/milkyfactory/16795551505/

In my experience, here’s what works best most often (your mileage may vary):

  • Ask in-person for a review. Test the waters.  Provide instructions if possible.
  • Follow up with a personal email, sent to one customer at a time. Provide instructions again (with a review handout, a “review us” page, a video – anything).
  • Follow up with a reminder in a week or two, if necessary. Probably a second, differently phrased, shorter email, but a phone call (or piece of snail-mail) would also work.

Can you think of a common review-encouragement method I missed?

Any pros or cons I missed?

What’s worked well (or badly) for you, and why?

Leave a comment!

10 Underrated Local Review Sites You Overlooked

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You know about the big local-business review sites.  You know about the review sites that matter most in your industry.  You probably know about the pipsqueaks, too.

But what about the review sites that matter more than you know?  Isn’t it possible there are some gaps in your online reputation?

If there aren’t, I’ll eat my hat.  There are always gaps – even for businesses with tons of reviews on many sites.  You probably know the benefits of diversifying where your customers review you.  Those benefits also extend to sites you might have dismissed as irrelevant or insignificant, or that you didn’t even think of.

I’m not saying all of these review sites are relevant to your situation, but at least some will be.

Here’s a rundown of what I consider the 10 most-overlooked local review sites:

Care.com
Why it’s overlooked: it’s not a super-established “brand.”  Partly because the name itself is mushy, and partly because it’s not a search engine or a social network or a startup run by drama queens.  It’s just a solid reviews site.  It’s also visible one.  Care.com is all over Google’s search results in the in-home care and education spaces, for example, and most “service” businesses are eligible for a listing there.

WeddingWire
Why it’s overlooked: because there’s a good chance you don’t run a bridal shop or a tux shop, or are a florist or photographer.  WeddingWire also lists businesses in all kinds of related industries: limos, venues, jewelry, and so on.  You can also get listed and reviewed there even if you own a car rental or a cryotherapy place, or if you’re a dentist, a dermatologist, or a plastic surgeon.  Maybe they’ll even allow divorce lawyers.

Zillow
Why it’s overlooked: because most people think it’s just for real-estate listings and agents.   It’s not.  Pretty much any contractor or other home-improvement professional can have a listing there – and reviews there.  Though Zillow isn’t the 800-pound gorilla in the contracting space that it is in real estate, it may just be a matter of time.  In the meantime, anyone who sees your Zillow reviews there is probably pretty close to calling you.

Thumbtack
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s got a home-improvement bent, it’s up against more-established sites like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and Houzz.  Also, Thumbtack doesn’t seem to go out of its way to encourage reviews – for customers to write them, or for businesses to ask for them.  Still, the site is pretty visible in some niches, and can serve as a nice barnacle site – especially for “near me” search terms.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Thumbtack is acquired by an even-bigger player one day.  I’d scare up at least a few reviews there.

Groupon
Why it’s overlooked: Groupon deals can be business-destroyers.  They often attract crybaby customers.  It doesn’t help that new businesses and businesses in dry spells are the ones most likely to offer deals.  Often those businesses also are the ones least-equipped to pull off the deals without incident – or to handle an online reputation disaster well.  But if you’re a pretty established business and aren’t dying for customers (but still want to attract more of them), look under the Groupon rock.  Yes, Groupon takes a big cut of the deal, but you can get reviews that stay up long after the deal ends.  Those reviews are highly visible, because Groupon is.  Even if you don’t want to offer a deal, you can get customers to “recommend” you and write “tips.”

GlassDoor
Why it’s overlooked: customers don’t talk about it, because customers can’t write reviews there.  GlassDoor is a place for employees (past and current) to review your company anonymously.  Just the same, because customers can see what’s on GlassDoor easily enough, because it’s on Google’s local results like stink on a monkey.  If you stop short of encouraging everyone on your team to review you (anonymously), at least encourage the happy people to say their piece.  The angry ones will.  Time is of the essence.

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InHerSight
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s relatively new (started in 2015 or 2014, from what I can tell).  It’s similar to GlassDoor, except it’s specifically for women.  InHerSight is not exclusively a review site, but on it women can review (anonymously) places they’ve worked.  As of this writing it’s not a super-visible review site, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes off.

WebMD (doctor.webmd.com)
Why it’s overlooked: if you’re anything like me, you associate WebMD only with feeling a mysterious new pain, Googling it, reading the WebMD result, and concluding you’ve got 3 days to live.  But it’s also a giant healthcare directory.  If you’re a doctor, do what you can to rustle up reviews there.

Amazon Home Services
Why it’s overlooked: Amazon hasn’t done much in local search yet, and most business owners don’t want to wet Amazon’s beak or possibly deal with frustrating leads (a la Groupon).  Still, if you can get listed, it’s probably worth having a few reviews there, which can benefit you both before and after the sleeping giant wakes up.

Better Business Bureau
Why it’s overlooked: most business owners associate the BBB with “complaints” from customers and with questionable accreditation ratings of certain businesses.  But it’s also a local-business reviews site, in the mold of Yelp and Google and so on.

BBB results often are extremely visible in the local organic search results – maybe more so than they should be – both for brand-name terms and often for the terms you really want to rank for.  Because people can (but don’t have to) write anonymous reviews there, and because an angry customer is likely to be there anyway to lodge a complaint, bad reviews are especially likely to appear on BBB – and to stick out.  The good news is good reviews stick out there, too.  Of all the “underrated” review sites I’ve mentioned, I consider BBB the most overlooked one of all.

What’s been your experience with those review sites?

Can you think of other review sites you consider overlooked?

Leave a comment!

Update 10/9/17: For a short list of overlooked review sites in the UK, see the comment from Caroline of Alba SEO.

60+ Questions to Troubleshoot and Fix Your Local Reviews Strategy

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Most business owners know they need online reviews if they want to get more customers.  Some of them have actually tried to get happy customers to speak up.  Very few get anywhere.

Even if the business owner makes a reasonable request at an appropriate time, customers still have to follow through.  But they forget, or get distracted, or get confused, or aren’t asked to write a review on a site they find convenient, and so on.  The business owner gets frustrated and concludes reviews are impossible to get and not worth the effort.  He or she then loses would-be customers to someone else.

One thing I hang my hat on is being able to help business owners put together and execute on a review strategy that works: better reviews, more reviews, and more customers.  I’m talking about getting reviews on Google+, Yelp, Facebook, other sites you and I are familiar with, and on industry-specific sites.

I’ve taken part in gnarly failures and bust-out-the-Champagne successes.  I’ve worked with clients in more industries than you can shake a stick at (and have made review handouts for many more), and know all the things that can go wrong and what you really want to get right.

On the one hand, it’s a simple trinity: do right by your customers, provide instructions that they find easy to follow, and ask whenever possible.  As long as everything you do is with those principles in mind, you’ll do fine on reviews.

But on the other hand, the devil is in the details.  Also, you may be in a tricky situation (e.g. you’re a therapist or bankruptcy lawyer).  Or maybe you just want to go from good to world-class.

I’ve rounded up all the 64 questions I use to determine how my clients can get their review strategy on-track.

If you’re a business owner you’ll want to ask yourself these.  If you work for the business owner you’ll want to see how many of these you can sniff out on your own, and then have your boss or client fill in the gaps

I’ve also put together a Google Drive doc of all the questions – just the questions, without my explanations underneath them.

You probably won’t have to address all the questions.  I list 64 here simply to cover all the possible issues your review strategy might have run into.

FYI, it might be tough to use this as a checklist.  Some questions a “yes” answer is good, for others a “no” answer is good, and for other questions you might want a different type of answer.

Happy troubleshooting!

 

Basic questions

1.  Do you want to get more reviews?

Some business owners think reviews are too hard to get, or that in their unique situation getting reviews is impossible, or that customers don’t care about reviews.  Usually they end up agreeing with me that none of that is true, but some people are dead-set in their thinking.  If that’s you or your client, the rest of these questions probably won’t help you much.

 

2.  Are most of your customers happy?

If they’re not, you should still try to get the happy ones to speak up, but you may have a bigger challenge to work on in the meantime.

 

3.  What have you tried so far?

Broad question here, but that’s because there are so many possible answers.  The answer will give you an idea as to what other diagnostic questions (see below) to ask next.

 

4.  Do you provide easy-to-follow instructions for writing a review?

As opposed to simply making a request and assuming customers know what to do.

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5.  Do you offer reviews a choice as to the site?

Don’t focus too much on Yelp and Google+: they’re the only sites that really filter reviews (especially Yelp), and Google’s steps for posting a review are cumbersome and not clear to most people.  Steer at least some customers toward easier sites, and maybe use my “zigzag” strategy.  But you’ll want to diversify where you get reviews anyway, and that’s one way to do it.  I suggest you offer customers 3-6 choices.

 

6.  In what medium have you been asking for reviews?

Do you ask in-person, by email, by phone, on invoices, or what?  If you’ve only tried one method of asking for reviews, try another method – or ideally a combination.

 

7.  Do you know which customers are happy?

The worst thing to do is not to ask anyone because you’re so afraid someone might write a bad review.  It’ll happen eventually, if it hasn’t happened already.  But you want to get the happy customers to speak up, and asking them is the only good way to do it.  If you can’t tell who’s happy, just ask.  It can be as subtle, like, “So, is there anything else we can do for you today?”  Then ask for a review if it seems like a good idea.

 

8.  When you’ve asked customers for reviews, how did they react?

Did they say yes when you asked in-person, but never followed through?  Or did they ask whether they have to use their full name?  Did they snail-mail you a testimonial – rather than post an online review?  Their reactions will tell you what to change, or at least which diagnostic questions to ask yourself next.

 

9.  Do you know the laws or regulations on reviews in your industry?

The financial-consulting industry is the only one I know of where you just can’t ask for online reviews, according to the SEC.  My understanding has always been that doctors and psychotherapists can ask for reviews if they ask patients in an FTC-compliant way and if they tell patients that they don’t need to get into specifics (as per HIPAA).  Get the facts if you have any doubt as to the legality of your review strategy.  Don’t let uncertainty make you beat around the bush and not encourage happy customers to speak up.  Oh, and you don’t want to get in hot water.

10.  How likely is it that your customers / clients / patients would have privacy concerns if they used their full name to post an online review of you?

Make sure they know two things: (1) they don’t have to describe anything too specific or personal – they can focus on describing you and your service – and (2) they can review you on private / anonymous sites.

11.  How long have you been trying to get more reviews?

You don’t know how well your strategy works if you’ve only tried it for a month, or you’ve asked fewer than about 20 customers, or if you’re new to the whole idea of asking for reviews.  Try it for long enough that you can draw conclusions, and then tweak or change gears as needed.

 

12.  How long have you tried whatever strategy you’re currently using?

Give it a chance.  But be willing to change it or try something else if it doesn’t seem to work (see below questions).

 

13.  Do you have a problem with passive ways to encourage reviews (ways that don’t involve asking specific people directly)?

Add review badges or widgets to your site, consider copying and pasting reviews and featuring them throughout your site (see this and this), link to your reviews in your email signature, and include instructions on the “Reviews” page on your site.  You won’t get a ton of reviews, but these indirect methods may help you get a trickle.  Do this if you’re gun-shy about asking directly.

14.  How often do your customers’ reviews get filtered?

Having lots of filtered reviews (on Yelp and Google+) can be a good sign: it means people are following through.  Something’s working.

 

 

Setting the stage

15.  Do the names of your online listings closely match the name your customers / clients / patients know you as?

They may not even be finding the listings they want to post reviews on.  Work on your listings and make sure you can pull up the correct listings.

16.  Do you know for a fact that you don’t have any duplicate listings on the sites where you want reviews?

They may be posting reviews on the wrong listings.  Find the duplicates and fix or remove as many as you can.

 

17.  Do customers know that you will personally read and acknowledge their reviews?

Say so in your request.  Make it clear you’re looking for honest feedback, not just 5 stars.  Also, post responses to at least some of the reviews.  You don’t want reviewers to feel they’re shouting into the wind.

 

18.  Have you posted overheated responses to reviews?

Don’t scare people off.  Respond to negative reviews if you feel you need to, but don’t lose your cool.  Sleep on it before posting a response, and see if you can turn lemons into lemonade.

 

19.  If you’ve already got any reviews, do your customers know about them and know that they won’t be the first?

They’ll feel more comfortable if there are precedents.  It’s good if you can point to reviews that aren’t too long or personal, so that reviewers don’t feel daunted.  But then how do you get your first review?  Either by accident (from someone you didn’t expect to write one), or by asking enough people, or by reaching someone who wants to be the first because he/she is a really happy customer and wants you to stay in business.

lawyer-reviews

20.  Have you personally ever written an online review of a “local” business?

Do it.  Know what’s involved, and what you’re asking people to do.  Ideally you know what it’s like to write a review on the specific site(s) you’re asking customers to review you on.  (That’s half the reason I review businesses on Yelp.)

 

21.  How do most of your customers find you originally?

The ones who found you online are more likely to have checked out your reviews, to care about reviews, and to recognize their value to you and to other customers.  You’ll still have to work to get them to review you, but the point is they’re a little better-conditioned than are word-of-mouth referrals (for example).  To any customers who didn’t find you online you’ll probably need to explain why reviews matter to you, show how easy it is to post one, and provide step-by-step instructions.

 

Whom to ask

22.  Have you asked your very best, closest, most-loyal customers?

Give them a choice of at least two sites, give them simple instructions for each (more on that topic later), and follow up if they haven’t written you a review after your initial request.  Chances are they’ll review you.  If so, you probably have a workable strategy, and can start asking other customers.  (If they don’t review you, use the other questions to figure out why.)

 

23.  Take 5-10 customers you asked for a review – or plan to ask for a review – and look them up on Google+, Yelp, and Facebook: how many of them have ever written reviews of other businesses?

Customers who already write reviews understand why reviews matter to you, and probably don’t need much hand-holding.  You can also discover which site(s) they might prefer to review you on.

24.  Have you read the reviews you’ve already got and understood exactly what kind of people end up reviewing you?

If you can identify a type of person who’s likely to review you, you may have a better idea of whom to ask (and not to ask).

 

25.  How would you describe most of your customers’ economic situation?

Some groups of people are more likely to use their phones for most things they do online.  Make sure you give mobile-centric review instructions to customers who may not have much access to (or use for!) a desktop / laptop.

 

26.  How old is your typical customer? (Or if your customers fall into several age groups, what are the biggest 1-2 age groups?)

Sweeping generalization here: younger customers are a little more inclined to write you a review on mobile, whereas older ones might be warmer to a desktop / laptop.

 

Who asks

27.  In your company, who besides you might be able to ask customers for reviews?

Don’t want to ask customers yourself?  Don’t want to ask all of them yourself?  Want to run a “test” and figure out who’s the best?  Distribute the work, at least for a while.

 

28.  Who do you think would be the best person in your company to ask for reviews, and why?

Maybe you’re the boss and know your business best, but maybe Sara at the front desk has the relationship with customers, and might just be more charming than you.  Or maybe Louie is your best tech and would haul in the reviews, if only you could get him to start asking.

 

29.  Even if someone else usually asks customers for reviews, have you ever tried asking customers yourself?

Just so you can speak from experience, and tweak your strategy based on experience.

 

30.  Have you heard or seen exactly how people in your organization ask customers?

Do they emphasize that the review is a favor, and not an obligation?  Do they provide clear instructions?  Are they patient?  Are they polite to customers who don’t want to write a review?  Do they thank all customers?  Listen to some phone calls and read the emails.  Whether you do that openly or channel your inner Dick Cheney is up to you.  Just as long as it leads to a constructive talk.

 

When to ask

31.  When do you ask customers?

Your initial request should be right after the job is done, if possible, and then you should follow up within about a week.  You probably won’t have your best results if you let a month go by, or if you only ask immediately after the job is done.  (More on the topic of following up later.)

 

32.  Does at least one of your requests happen when the customer is in a position to write you a review immediately if he or she wants to?

Some people are more likely to follow through on the spot, rather than later.

 

33.  Have you tried asking at different times?

Ask on a different day, or at a different time of day, or both.  In particular, test if it seems to make a difference whether you ask during the week or on the weekend.

 

 

What to ask

34.  Do customers know you’re asking for an online review on a third-party site – not simply a testimonial that they let you stick on your site?

Too many business owners have told me, “Yeah, I have tons of reviews – I have a whole bag of ‘em in my office!”  No, those perfumed letters are testimonials, which presumably your customers gave you permission to put on your site.  I’m talking about online reviews, which people can post whether you ask them to or not, and which you can’t edit or cherry-pick.  Make sure your customers know the difference and know what you’re requesting.

 

35.  Do you encourage honest (even critical) feedback?

You don’t want your review corpus to look fishy.  But you do want to know how to provide a better service – for obvious reasons, and so you can earn even more “review stars” long-term.  Also, if you’re the type who’s concerned about asking customer for reviews only to have them leave you bad ones, encouraging honest feedback means you’re less likely to gall the less-happy customers.  They’re less likely to think, “How DARE they ask me for 5 stars – I’ll show ‘em where they can stick their 5 stars….”

 

36.  Which site(s) do you ask customers to review you on?

Try a different site.  Preferably one that’s less painful than Yelp or Google+.  If you get reviews there, you’ll know you’re at least on the right track.

 

37.  Do you comply with the rules of the sites where you want more reviews?

The consequences of ignoring Yelp’s polices can be pretty ugly.  Once upon a time Google+ reviews were also policed, and although now it’s no neighborhood for Mr. Rogers, you should still follow the rules.

 

38.  Have you avoided incentivizing reviews with things like gift cards or discounts?

It’s cheesy, ethically questionable, and might insult some customers (who may beat you over the head with it in their reviews).  Your payola will probably work, if your definition of success is simply getting reviews.   But those reviews will probably be short and pro forma and not too compelling to would-be customers, or they’ll look outright crooked.

 

39.  Do you make it clear which review site is your “first choice”?

You need to offer choices, but not so many that your reviewer freezes.  (As I mentioned before, I suggest asking any given reviewer to choose from one of 3-6 sites.)  They may also freeze if they have to decide between sites.  Provide a slight nudge.

 

40.  Do you ask any one customer to review you on more than one site?

Don’t turn it into a big chore, or make it seem that way.  You may be able to ask a customer who just successfully wrote you a review on one site to review you on another, but it would have to be a customer you’re pretty close with, and even then you wouldn’t want to wear out your welcome.

 

41.  If a customer seemed ready to write you a review on the spot, do you know exactly what you would ask that person to do?

Once in a blue moon, you may ask in-person for a review and your customer will say, “Sure.  I’ve got my phone right here.  Tell me what to do.”  Know what you want him or her to do.

 

42.  Do you tell customers roughly how long it will take to write a review?

Tell everyone that you appreciate a short review, but that you also love detail.  You’re respecting their time either way.  That’s a good way to get reviews from people who’d otherwise think it’s a pain and not bother, and to get the juicy, keyword-rich, in-depth, helpful reviews that can really convert readers into customers.

 

How to ask

43.  Do you make your review request sound like a personal favor (and not an obligation)?

You’re more likely to get a review, and you’ll stay classy.

44.  Do you email a bunch of customers at once?

Don’t.  Especially early on.  You don’t want to send an ineffective or ill-timed request, have it flop, and then have no more customers to ask.  (And if you’re using a personal or email account you don’t want to get in hot water with your ISP.)  Your reviews might also get filtered (at least on Yelp and Google) if too many people try to review you at once.  If you must request reviews in batches, keep the batches small (5-15 people).

 

45.  To what extent do you personalize each request?

I’m far more likely to review you if you say “Hey Phil” or “Mr. Rozek” than if you say “Dear Valued Customer,” even if the rest of the email is boilerplate.  And I’m way more likely to put in a good word for you if you allude to the specific service or product I paid for, or a conversation we had, or build off some rapport.  The more bespoke your request, the better.  Of course, that’s hard to “scale,” so pick your poison.

 

46.  Do you ask customers in more than one medium?

In my experience, the best is to ask in-person with printed instructions (like these) and later to follow up by email.  But you may find that snail-mail or a phone call or a review-card / review-page work well for you.

 

47.  Have you tried any tools?

You should.  Don’t expect them to work without any strategy or finesse on your part.  Don’t rely on them 100%, or stop experimenting even if they work well.  But tools like Grade.us and GetFiveStars (my personal recommendations) can serve you well.

 

48.  If the tools you’ve tried haven’t worked so well, have you tried others?

Again, you’ll probably need to experiment before you find a tool that helps.  (But again, don’t expect it to haul in reviews  without any thinking or effort on your part.)

 

49.  Have you relied solely on tools like DemandForce or SmileReminder?

These tools have their place in the world, but the trouble is that (last I checked) the reviews just sit in a walled garden on DemandForce.com or SmileReminder.com, because that’s where patients / clients write them.  They aren’t going to Yelp or Google+ or Facebook or HealthGrades or wherever.  I’ve seen businesses (usually medical practices) with 500 reviews on, say, DemandForce.com, but none on Google.  You need some reviews on the BIG sites – no matter how hard it is to get them – and you need diversity.

 

Your instructions

50.  If you tell customers that you’d like a review on any of a variety of sites (rather than just one), do you give them instructions for how to post a review on each of those sites?

Google+ is the site where they’ll probably need the most guidance, but you should provide at least rough instructions for whatever other sites you care about.

 

51.  Do you know for a fact that your review instructions are up-to-date?

On Google+ the steps change on average about once a year.  Facebook probably has tweaked them a couple of times, too.

 

52.  Do you make it simple for people to review you on any device?

Make sure they know whether to use their phones or desktops (if it matters), and make sure mobile reviewers know whether they need to download an app and that shorter reviews are OK.  If you send follow-up emails make sure to send a test email to yourself, and pull up the email and walk through the steps both on your desktop and on your phone.  Try your best to the stumbling blocks before would-be reviewers do.

 

53.  Do your printed instructions look well-designed and feel like good paper?

Consider printing on a thicker stock.  Or laminating your instructions.  Your request will seem more thought-out, and people will be less likely to use them to scoop up cat hairballs.

54.  If you’re using a “Review Us” page, do you link to instructions on how to post reviews?

It would be a shame not to: the customer is happy enough and cares enough to have visited your page.  Make it easy from here.  Nice examples here and here.

 

Following up

55.  Do you follow up on your initial request?

Just because they haven’t reviewed you doesn’t mean they won’t.  They forget, or their spouse hits them with the honey-do list, or your nice printed instructions enter the Doomsday Machine of papers on the kitchen table.  Follow up once.  Be nice and casual.  You won’t be considered a pest.

 

56.  Do you follow up in a different medium from the one you used to ask the first time?

If you ask in-person, maybe follow up by email.  If you only sent an email, ask the customer in-person next time, or maybe send snail-mail.  Experiment.

 

57.  Does your follow-up include (or point to) instructions for how to post a review?

For the same reasons you included instructions the first time around.  Make it easy to say yes.

 

58.  Does your follow-up seem automatic or stuffy?

Make it as customized (or even more so if possible) than your initial request.

 

Other troubleshooting questions

59.  Do your customers accidentally review the wrong business?

Check competitors’ listings for your reviews – especially if those competitors’ businesses are named similarly to yours.  Report those reviews and show how they’re for the wrong business.  (They may not get transferred to you

 

60.  Have you tried to learn from anyone who’s got more / better reviews than you, or who just has a lot of experience with online reviews?

Don’t cut corners if they cut corners, but see if there are any smart moves you can try.

 

61.  How many of the reviews you’ve already got are from people you asked for a review, versus how many were written spontaneously?

If nobody reviews you unless you ask, you know you need to ask.  On the other hand, having more than a few spontaneously written reviews means customers probably don’t find it tough or uncomfortable to review you, so the wind may be at your back if you just start asking.

 

62.  Have you had a little success on some review site(s), or do you have difficulty getting reviews on any site?

Having reviews somewhere probably means that they’re willing to put in a good word for you, but just need better-timed requests or reminders or clearer instructions.  It also means you could probably pile on more reviews there without too much effort.  Where you’ve got reviews so far may even tell you where those customers found you to begin with.

 

63.  How many of your customers have connected with your business on Facebook in some way?

That makes it real easy to ask for reviews on sites that accept Facebook logins – where customers don’t have to go to the trouble of setting up an account on a site just to review you.

 

64.  How do you encourage unhappy customers to update their reviews to be more favorable?

Get in contact and fix any issues you can, if possible.  If you can make that angry customer happier, ask if he or she will update the review to reflect that.

I hope that wasn’t overblown like an ‘80s power ballad, but I also hope you don’t say I wasn’t thorough.

Use the questions to tweak your strategy.  It will pay off.

Here’s the link to the questions-only Google Drive doc again.

Thanks to Alex Deckard of CAKE Websites for kicking around some ideas with me.

In your efforts to get reviews, have you run across a problem that my troubleshooting questions wouldn’t address?

Any questions or suggestions that are unclear?  Any others you can think of?

How about any questions that gave you a “Eureka” moment?

Leave a comment!

How to Know If Your Local Reviews Strategy Works

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/275890177/

Your review count and average ratings are just the tip of the iceberg.

Your business might have 200 reviews and a 5-star average and your review strategy could still be a flop.

That’s because lots of other factors – I can think of 51 – determine how much your customers’ reviews help your local visibility and your ability to get more customers.  It matters which sites you’ve got reviews on, who your reviewers are, what they say in their reviews, what they don’t say, and how much marketing mojo you wring from those reviews.

You can use this post as a checklist to “audit” your reviews strategy, and you’ll probably think of ways to improve your strategy right away.  But this is not a paint-by-numbers, “Do these 51 things” type of post.  How to improve your strategy and your reviews may not be simple or easy.  The first step is to know what success looks like.

Beyond review count and average rating, here are 51 ways to know whether your reviews strategy is working.

(By the way, you’ll want a “Yes” answer to each of these questions.)

Sites

1.  Do you have reviews on the sites that show up on the first page (or two) of Google when you search for your business by name?

2.  Do you have reviews on the sites that show up on the first page or two for your main search terms?

3.  Do you have plenty of reviews on sites that are geared toward to your industry?

4.  Do you have reviews on any sites that feed your reviews to partner sites?

5.  Have you removed as many duplicate listings as possible, and tried to consolidate reviews that were spread out among duplicate listings?  (See this for Google, and this for Yelp.)

6.  Do any of your colleagues who work at your location (other doctors, lawyers, agents, etc.) also have reviews – and on a diversity of sites?

7.  Do all of your locations have reviews?

8.  Do you have at least one Yelp review?  Crucial because Yelp reviews will also show up on Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local.

9.  Have Yelp reviewers uploaded photos of your business (or your handiwork)?

Reviewers

10.  Are your reviewers from the cities where you want more customers?

11.  Do some of your longtime customers mention in their reviews that they’re longtime customers?

12.  Have some of your customers left reviews spontaneously – without your asking?

13.  Have some of your reviewers uploaded profile photos?  (They can upload profile photos on Google+, Yelp, and Facebook.  Can’t think of other sites at the moment – but please tell me if you know of any.)

14.  Is there roughly the right balance of women and men among your reviewers?

(Props to you if you can tell me what movie this arm-wrestle is from.)

15.  Do your reviewers’ ethnicities more or less reflect those of your customer-base?

 

16.  Do you have any reviews from “Elite” Yelpers?

17.  Do you have any Google reviews from “Local Guides” or other high-volume power reviewers?

18.  If your customers (or clients or patients) are concerned about associating their full names with reviews, do some of them still write you “anonymous” reviews?

19.  Do you have any reviews from non-customers (e.g. leads or peers)?

Reviews and ratings

20.  Are at least some of your reviews long and detailed?

21.  Do reviewers mention specific services?

22.  Do you have recent reviews?

23.  Do you have old reviews?  (If you don’t, I guess you can’t help it.  Just start racking ‘em up today.)

24.  Do you have at least a few less-than-stellar reviews?  (You should.)

25.  Do reviewers mention your company by name?

26.  Do customers mention the selling points you hoped they’d mention?

27.  Do reviewers ever mention exactly where they’re from, or where you performed your services for them?

28.  Is at least one review funny?

29.  Do you have a reviewer who was skeptical at first but became a raving fan – and mentioned that fact in his / her review?

30.  Are your filtered reviews (on Yelp) mostly positive?

31.  Have you tried to get removed any negative reviews that violate the site’s content policies?

32.  Do your reviews indicate what types of people should not become your customers?

33.  Have any customers updated once-negative reviews to positive reviews?

34.  Do any customers compare you favorably to specific competitors?  Bonus points if customers make a comparison in your favor in their reviews of your competitors.

Leverage

35.  Do you post responses to (at least some of) your reviews?  (Read this for tips on responding to reviews.)

36.  On Yelp, do readers “vote” on your reviews?

37.  Do you have a separate “Reviews” page on your site?

(You can create one the old-fashioned way, or use a service like Grade.us.  Above is an example of its “Review Stream” plugin in action.)

38.  Does your email signature include links to where people can read your reviews?

39.  If your reviews are pretty positive on average, do you showcase them on your site in such a way that most visitors will see your reviews?  (Like with widgets and badges.)

40.  Are the review snippets that show up in the search results more or less positive?

41.  Is Google showing flattering review snippets in the knowledge graph?

42.  Do you re-share your Google Plus reviews in your “Posts” stream?

43.  Do you mention your name, role in the company (if appropriate), and contact info (if appropriate) in your responses?

Conversion power

44.  Are your Google Plus “review stars” showing up in the search results?

45.  Do you rank at or near the top of the search results within a given review site?

46.  Do reviewers mention specific people in your organization as standouts?

47.  Have you won any awards as a result of your reviews?  (E.g. Angie’s List Super Service Award.)

48.  Does one of your listings (or your “Reviews” page) rank for name of service + “reviews” search terms?  This is probably the best approach to barnacle SEO, by the way.

49.  Has a happy customer ever written a polite and unprompted defense of you in response to another customer’s negative review?

50.  Are you the obvious choice to click on in the Google Places results?

51.  Do customers ever say, “I chose you because of your reviews”?

 

Further reading

Did you conclude your review strategy isn’t working too well?  These posts might help:

How to Execute the Perfect Local Reviews Strategy – me

Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in Encouraging Customer Reviews – Mike Blumenthal

Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews – Mike Blumenthal

5 Ways Negative Reviews Are Good for Business – Matt McGee

Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution – Miriam Ellis

16 Reasons to Get Reviews on a Diversity of Sites – me

Industry-Specific Local Review Sites: the Definitive List – me

Mining Your Online Reviews: 25 Nuggets You Can Use to Get More Local Customers – me

Can you think of any other signs of a winning reviews strategy?

Besides review count and average rating, what do you think is most important for attracting customers?

Leave a comment!

Who Should Ask for Reviews: Business Owner or Employee?

“Phil, how do I get more reviews?”

I’m asked that all the time.

What I’m almost never asked is who should ask customers, clients, or patients for reviews.  That’s a shame, because a good strategy + the wrong person = the wrong strategy.

Business owners or others who work at the company should be the ones asking for reviews.  Not marketers or SEOs. Not reputation-management people. Not programs.  They don’t know the customers, and customers feel zero obligation toward them.

If someone in-house needs to ask for reviews, the question becomes: who?

My advice usually is: the higher up the chain of command, the better.

But there are pros and cons to having the business owner ask customers for reviews, versus having someone else in the company do it.  Here are all the arguments I can think of for each approach:

Why employees should ask for reviews:

Reason 1:  Customers might have interacted only with one specific employee. He or she is the “contact” person for those customers.  A request from anyone else might seem out-of-place.

 

Reason 2:  Certain customers may feel a bond with a specific employee – the one who worked with them personally.

Reason 3:  Employees may have a better sense of which customers are happy versus unhappy.

Reason 4:  The business owner may simply be short on time. (Still, he or she still should ask customers at least occasionally, if for no other reason than to see how well the process works and how customers feel.)

Why the business owner should ask for reviews:

Reason 1:  The customer may feel more important and listened-to. He or she will take offense if the brass seems unlikely ever to read the review, or if the business owner seems “too busy” and sends a messenger.

 

Reason 2:  The business owner is probably the one with the most interest in racking up reviews – the most skin in the game – and is most likely to apply the needed finesse.

Reason 3:  The business owner can see first-hand how well the review strategy works.

Reason 4:  The business owner is in the best position to field complaints and to make big-picture changes if need be. As Mike Blumenthal has said, “the issue is happy customers.”

Reason 5:  The business owner should know what’s involved in asking personally for a review, before asking his / her employees to do it. Lead by example.

 

Reason 6:  The business owner is more likely to know the SEO strategy, and to know where the holes are. “We need reviews on Facebook,” or “We can’t ask customers to go to Yelp, or else they’ll run into the filter.”

Reason 7:  The business owner will feel at more liberty not to ask for a review. An employee may ask a ticked-off customer for a review because the boss wasn’t clear about which customers should be asked.

Reason 8:  The business owner can mention that employees get bonuses for exceptional service. I suppose an employee could say, “FYI, I’ll receive a little bonus if you’re thrilled with the work I did for you.”  But that could be awkward.

Reason 9: The customer may feel freer to call out a specific employee who didn’t cut the mustard. Yes, the criticism will sting, but it’s better to have an honest bad review than a vague bad review.  At least one shows you where there’s room for improvement.

Reason 10: The boss will be in an even better position to mine the reviews.

Even though I can think of many more reasons for the business owner to ask for reviews than for anyone else to do it, it’s worth having different people try their hands.  Who knows who will get the most and best reviews.

Who on your crew asks for reviews?

What’s the thinking behind your strategy?

Leave a comment!

16 Reasons to Get Reviews on a Diversity of Sites

Even business owners who are good about encouraging reviews often make a mistake: they steer would-be reviewers toward the same site.  Usually it’s Google+.  Sometimes it’s another site.

As in the gene pool and in one’s diet, variety is healthy.

Here are 16 reasons you should encourage customers to review you on different sites:

Reason 1:  You’ll keep your eggs in several baskets.  You don’t want all your reviews on Google+.  You really don’t want them all on Yelp.  And may the Big Guy Upstairs smile on you if you went heavy on Yahoo.

Reason 2:  The search results will look good when people search for you by name.  Google often shows off your reviews for you.

Reason 3:  It builds credibility.  Having reviews on a diversity of sites helps confirm that your 5-star reviews on one site aren’t a fluke (or a fabrication).

Reason 4:  It lets you offer customers choices of where to review you.  You want them to do what they find easiest.  That gives them more drive to review you – and fewer excuses not to.

Reason 5:  As a result of Reason #4: encouraging reviews on different sites lets you figure out which sites customers find easiest, which allows you to make the appropriate tweaks to your strategy.

Reason 6:  Diversity of reviews helps your Google Places rankings, in my experience.

Reason 7:  It’s the best way to rank well within those sites.

Reason 8:  It’s a great barnacle SEO technique.

Reason 9:  You might cultivate little streams of customers from those other sites.  Want to “Google-proof” your business?  Start here.

Reason 10:  It’s more raw online info about your business.  Some people will do homework on you.  Do what you can to make it worth their trouble.

Reason 11:  Customers / clients / customers can write reviews on the sites they consider private enough.

Reason 12:  You can learn more about your customers and where / how they found you in the first place.  You’ll probably see patterns.

Reason 13:  Some sites feed reviews to other sites – and search engines.

Reason 14:  To rank for city + service / product / business + reviews is pretty sweet.  (Example: “Monterey dentist reviews.”)

Reason 15:  You may be better able to track referral sources in Google Analytics.  (Useful in a “(not provided)” world.)

Reason 16:  Past / current and potential customers are a little more likely to write reviews of you if they see that’s what others do.  You’re in good shape if you create the impression, “Wow, everyone seems to review this place!”

Late addition – Reason 17:  Review sites themselves come and go and change over time.  See Dave’s great comment, below.

How best to diversify?  Totally depends on your current methods.  Try different printed, verbal, or email instructions.  You might also consider GetFiveStars or Grade.us or my 3-site review handouts.

Can you think of any more reasons to diversify?

How about arguments against mixing it up?

Leave a comment!

How to Execute the Perfect Local Reviews Strategy

Step 1.  Commit – or don’t.

What do you want?  What disaster are you trying to keep away from your reputation?

You’ll need to be patient and have a little fire in your belly – no matter what you’re trying to accomplish or avoid.

And you’ll need to learn from your reviews to make your business better.  Or else your reputation will own you, and not the other way around.

 

Step 2.  Get listed on the big review sites and on at least a few industry-specific sites.

Remove duplicate and incorrect listings along the way.

These sites are the only places you can get online reviews – at least the kind that can really help your local visibility and rankings.  If you don’t have listings on these sites, nothing else matters and you will get zero reviews.  Testimonials – AKA bits of “fan mail” that you post on your site – don’t count.

 

Step 3.  Respond to any negative reviews you find.  (Read this and this.)

Mend bridges with those customers.  Work on the underlying issue(s) they complained about, if humanly possible.

 

Step 4.  Make it easy to leave spontaneous reviews.

Link to a couple of your listings in your email signature.

Put a gentle nudge on your invoices or receipts.

Link to some of your listings from your site – preferably with noticeable “buttons.”

You can make these yourself, or you can use tools like ReviewBiz or Grade.us.

 

Step 5.  Start asking all your new customers – and preferably old and existing customers – for their email addresses.

Find a way to make it worth their while.  This will be important for later.

 

Step 6.  Pick about 5 customers and ask them to review you somewhere.

It could be on Google+, or on an easier site that accepts Facebook usernames.  Whatever you do, don’t push them toward Yelp; you need a different strategy there.

Try to ask them in-person and to provide simple printed instructions, if possible (example).

 

Step 7.  Check back a week or two later to see who posted a review, and follow up.

Thank any customers who did.  Reconnect with the ones who didn’t.  Ask if there’s any way you can help them in general, and mention again that you’d really appreciate a review.

 

Step 8.  Set up whatever system you want to use for contacting customers by email

Consider using a tool like GetFiveStars.  It makes it easy to follow up with customers by email (remember step #5?), and it lets you track your reviews.

Or you can use an email service like Aweber or MailChimp.

Email a handful of your customers to ask if they’ll review you.  These can be people you already asked in-person and are just reminding, or they can be another batch of customers you’re asking for the first time.

Don’t ask all your customers at once: You don’t want to wear out your welcome while you’re just trying to figure out what timing and language seems to work best, and how email should fit in.

 

Step 9.  Apply whatever you learned from the previous batch of reviewers.  Not only in terms of how to make your requests easier to say “yes” to, but also in terms of what they might have said in their reviews.  What were their gripes, and what can you do about them?

(By the way, if it seems like you’ve done this step before, you’re right.  And you’ll do it again and again.  If you don’t learn from your reviews, they’re just dots on the screen.)

 

Step 10.  Respond  to any reviews you can.  Tell the less-happy people what you’ve done to improve (see Step 9).  Say thanks to the happier customers, where appropriate.

 

Step 11.  Continue asking small groups of customers – like 2-10 – every week for reviews.

It doesn’t need to be the exact-same number every week.  But don’t ask zero customers one month and then 40 the next month.  Be somewhat consistent.

Ask everyone twice: ideally you ask in-person first, and then by email.  Don’t be a pest.  Just give a friendly reminder.  Space these out by 5-10 days.

 

Step 12.  Experiment.  Try something different every few “batches.”

Ask customers to go to different sites – not the same one each time.  (Make new instructions for new sites if needed.)  Try sending printed follow-ups by snail-mail.   If you usually ask customers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, try asking on a Friday.  Mix it up.  See what seems to work.

 

Step 13.  Keep repeating steps 9-12 to infinity.  Tweak your processes as much as you feel you need to, but never stop asking, refining, and acting.

Enjoy the great reviews and happy customers.

What steps have you done in your review strategy so far?

How do they compare to the one I suggest?

Any questions or advice for me?  Leave a comment!