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.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/traveloriented/34811387095/

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.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/d_schaefer/25862149923/

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!

How to Feed the Google My Business Messaging Feature into Your Landline

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If you enable Google’s new “messaging” feature, customers who pull up your business in Google Maps can contact you via their favorite chat app.  Whether that’s a good thing for your business (or it drives you crazy) is for you to decide – maybe after a test drive.

But let’s assume for a minute that you want to use the Google My Business messaging feature.  Let’s assume some customers/clients/patients you want to attract would find it useful.  Do you now have to carry around an extra phone, or stay glued to another screen, or task someone who works for you to do so?

No.

This post is from Dr. Emily Beglin, an general dentist whose husband is an orthodontist in Carson City, Nevada, and who runs the orthodontists’ directory SelectBraces.com.  Here she describes a MacGyver-like way to feed the Google My Business messaging feature into your existing landline, so you can stay on top of any “messaging” leads without having to stay on top of more devices.

 

In the last decade, there has been a massive shift towards people of all ages using their mobile phones for just about anything, and texting is a huge part of this. It, therefore, makes business sense to add some type of texting capability to your business to make communicating with current and potential new customers faster and easier. I’m going to tell you about two great options that can work well together or separately.

When we started using two-way messaging in our orthodontic practice, our primary objective was to improve our overall patient experience by engaging patients in the manner that best suits their needs and desires. This allows us to provide them with customer service that sets us apart from our competition and the response has been stunning. Our patients love the feature and tell all their friends about it. In a round-about manner, this has led to an unexpected increase in word-of-mouth referral business to our practice.

Our practice was already engaging in Facebook messaging, which is how we came to realize people’s desire to message us, rather than pick up the phone. There are many advantages to allowing your customers to communicate with your business via text and I think just about any type of business that currently communicates directly with customers via phone will benefit from it.

After evaluating a couple of platforms, we chose to go with Text Request. Text Request makes it easy for any business to manage live, two-way text conversations by text-enabling a business’s existing, local landline number to send and receive texts, all from an online account. Text Request is cloud-based so you can send texts through a web browser or from your smartphone.

(One of the other platforms we looked at is zipwhip. The people there are friendly and professional and the product seems sound. However, we found the zipwhip software to be far too complicated for our purposes. At the time of our evaluation, they offered the features we liked the most (custom signatures, group texting, multiple users, saved responses and the widget embed for our website) but only with the higher priced plans. With Text Request, a business can enjoy all the features and instead pay only by the volume of texts they use each month.)

Besides the functionality of two-way texting with our patients, by far my absolute favorite feature is the “embed” widget we use on our website.

On desktop, it displays in the header like this:


When displayed on a smaller screen (like on a tablet or smartphone), the user sees this:

  

Clicking on the, “Click to Text,” button, opens the user’s texting app with the default number to your business:

It’s human nature in the text-o-sphere to expect an immediate response, so we use a customizable autoresponder that looks like this:

 

For businesses with HIPAA-compliance requirements who do not use a server configuration or software that ensures HIPAA compliance, an autoresponder message stating not to relay personal health information(PHI), would be advisable. This is an ever-increasing issue for healthcare providers. If you really want a scare, check out this article about the penalties for non-HIPAA compliance. Yikes! In any case, don’t take my word for it. Make sure your business is HIPAA-compliant in all communications.

Google My Business Messaging feature 

Messaging with customers is a relatively new Google My Business (GMB) feature that has recently been made available in select countries. To configure this feature is pretty straightforward.

  1. On mobile, the GMB listing looks like this before enabling messaging:

 

  1. After logging into your GMB dashboard, click the blue edit button on the upper right:

 

  1. Then click Messaging on the left menu:

  1. You will then be asked to verify your number:

 

  1. Then click Save:

 

  1. It is immediately live on mobile, with the option to message in two places!

The beauty of adding messaging to your GMB listing is that it is seamless. If your business already has a text-enabled number through Text Request or another service, you don’t need to configure anything else.

If you don’t have a text-enabled landline, a business can verify and use a personal or business mobile number.  If you don’t have either a text-enabled landline or a mobile number, Google does say you could use their Allo app, rather than a mobile SMS, but to do that, you will have to download the app and your customers would also have to use it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not an option and will only complicate, rather than simplify the process.

Although there are other services like Text Request, I love the fact that they have different plans depending on how many messages you send per month, starting from as few as 400, all the way up to 20,000. This means that you only pay for what you use, yet can scale it up as your business grows and as more of your customers choose to reach you via messaging. I also like the fact that there is no monthly contract. That way, if it’s not working out for your business, you’re not on the hook paying for something long-term that your business is unable to use.

We love having two-way messaging for our practice and adding it to our Google My Business listing is the frosting on the cake! It would be useful for all types of businesses, albeit for different reasons, but it works very well for orthodontists and for dentists, or any kind of business where customers make appointments for specific times. For dentists, it’s perfect for filling cancellations. Staff can send out a blind group text to everyone on their waiting list for a specific procedure such as a cleaning. This is a faster way to get the word out about an opening on the schedule and gets a much quicker response than sending emails and leaving a bunch of voicemail messages and then waiting to hear back. This dramatically frees up staff time and easily fills same-day cancellations, which can be costly to any business.

Another benefit of accepting text messages at our business is it allows patients to conveniently reach out to us when the thought is fresh on their mind to contact us. They don’t have to think, “Oh, they’re closed now – it’s Sunday. I need to remember to call them when I get to work tomorrow.” We all know how that goes…

Anyway, I look forward to hearing how messaging works for your business!

Emily Beglin, DDS

Any questions for Doc Beglin (or for me)?

Have you tried the GMB messaging feature yet – and maybe even set it up to feed to your landline with something like TextRequest?  Why or why not?

Leave a comment!