Many people, before they buy a new product, read reviews. As a business, it's crucial to stay up to date on what customers are saying about your business. And while not every review will be positive, how you respond to negative reviews says just as much about your business as the reviews.
"Customer reviews are data assets that double as one of the most effective marketing strategies – word of mouth, but digitalized," said Stacey Kane, business development lead at EasyMerchant. "Utilizing your bank of customer reviews is like employing your own customers as brand ambassadors; they improve lead generation, as customer reviews serve as personal recommendations, which is what every smart consumer looks for."
Knowing how important customer reviews are, is it acceptable to ask customers for a review, and how should you frame your request?
Should you ask for customer reviews?
It might feel awkward, and you may feel like you're fishing for compliments, but every business asks for customer reviews in one way or another.
"The benefits of positive reviews are obvious: They remove an obstacle to purchase by relieving perceived potential buyer's remorse, leveraging the collective voice of real people to say, 'Yes, this product or service is worth getting,'" said Denise Blasevick, CEO and founding partner of The S3 Agency.
Customer reviews not only soften a consumer's hesitation about your product or service, but the information you can from a review can prove valuable for your company.
"Asking for customer reviews is an absolute must. They [reviews] show customer approval and are raw proof that your product or service works. By collecting reviews from your current customers and/or users, you'll gain knowledge on how well your product or service really impacts your customers," said Kane.
You should collect customer reviews, added Kane, so you can use that data to market your products or services as something highly approved by other buyers, which can give your business a competitive advantage.
When to ask for a customer review
Blasevick said that business owners should be mindful of when they make their request – there is a fine line between the honeymoon period, when a customer is forming an opinion about your company, and asking too soon.
"For reviews to be as genuine as possible, think about how much time your buyers need to actually experience your product or service. That time period varies. For instance, if you're a coffee brand, people can rate whether or not they like your product from the first time they make it, so you can ask for a review right away," Blasevick explained. "For an acne product, that's an unrealistic expectation, hence asking for a review on day one would be inappropriate."
Shagun Sharma, founder of Naytra Couture, said of her policy: "We think it's important to make sure the customer has received the product and had some time to wear it, so about seven to 10 days after the tracking confirms they have received it [is when we ask]."
Petra Odak, chief marketing officer at Better Proposals, added that the ideal time to make your request could range from a few weeks after a consumer has tried your product or service to a few months.
Be direct when asking for reviews
It's natural to fear rejection, and it's understandable that you don't want to annoy customers with your requests, which is why many businesses hesitate to ask customers for reviews. However, this hesitancy can be harmful to your business.
"We've talked about positive and negative reviews, but there is one other category: a lack of reviews, which is perilous for brands in a digital world," said Blasevick.
Transparency is key when asking for reviews. Customers view being asked for their review as part of the shopping experience. For small business owners, being direct doesn't hurt.
"We are completely transparent with our customers in that because we are new, their review and feedback are so valuable to us," Sharma said.
We asked the experts we interviewed for this story, as well as entrepreneurs and business professionals, how they approach consumers when asking for a review. Here are their suggestions:
- "How are you liking the product/service so far?" – Stacey Kane, business development lead, EasyMerchant
- "We've recently launched, and we're looking for people to share their experience using our product. Would you be able to provide a customer review?" – Lindsey Allard, co-founder and CEO of PlaybookUX
- "We truly believe in our product, and we know we can help an entirely new segment of people who are in a similar position as you. I know you have been using our product, and we were wondering if you'd be able to provide a review of our product?" – Lindsey Allard
- "Please let us know how we're doing so we can improve!" – Abby Hau, head of marketing at WellPCB
- "Are we meeting your expectations?" – Ben Heinkel, entrepreneur
How should you encourage customers to write a review?
Now that you know what to say, what is the best way to encourage consumers to leave a review? Below are some examples of the best methods for asking for customer reviews.
- Website pop-up: "A simple pop-up question asking, 'How are you liking the product/service so far?' is more than enough to convey your request to customers. People don't want to fill out anything that is time-consuming or complicated, so if there's an absolute need for the customer's actual words, it should only be one simple question asked," Kane said.
- Social media: On social media platforms and other online channels, customers can fill out a review form and provide a star rating, or they can choose from a list of options, Kane said. If you enable reviews on your social media accounts, stick to simple questions, and provide multiple choice answers so people can quickly and easily complete their review.
- Email survey: Email can be a good way to ask existing customers for feedback as opposed to a full review. Be clear and upfront in your email subject line. Blasevick recommended including a personal note thanking customers for their loyalty and informing them that providing feedback allows your company to continually improve its products or services.
"Respect their time by making it a short survey (and tell them that, too)," Blasevick said. "An email can provide a personal outreach, signed by an actual human, whereas a social post doing the same would feel inauthentic."
- Consider whether you want to offer an incentive: You may want to give a reward to customers who share their feedback, however, this can be fraught with issues. On one hand, doing so can help you improve the customer experience and elevate your brand, but it won't guarantee a review, or even a positive review.
On the other hand, not everyone agrees that offering an incentive or reward in exchange for a review is the way to go. Consider your business's specific circumstances before doing so.
"[Offering rewards in exchange for reviews] could jeopardize the legitimacy of the reviews you're getting. Personally, I would avoid this and make an effort to ask more people for reviews and do your best to provide top-notch customer service so people are more apt to provide reviews," said Allard.
Many review platforms prohibit companies from offering rewards for customer reviews, so depending on how you are posting the reviews, offering an incentive may be off-limits.
There are some other simple and effective ways you can encourage customers to leave a positive review about your business.
"Beware [of] the cookie-cutter approach to customer reviews. When brands take the time to really think through the customer journey, including the various communications platforms, as well as the timing in the brand experience process, it shows," Blasevick said. "And don't forget about other ways to let consumers know that their feedback matters to you. Packaging inserts, on-site signage, a simple note on an invoice – these are all valuable touchpoints that can inspire someone to take their valuable time to give you a valuable review."
How to leverage a negative customer review
So what do you do if you get a negative online review? Negative reviews, said Blasevick, offer an opportunity to brands that take consumer concerns seriously and work to address them.
"How? By thanking the reviewer and making good on the issue, actions which consumers see as standup, as long as any systemic issues are actually fixed," Blasevick explained. "[Otherwise] Apologies without action are seen as manipulation."