6 Tips for Getting Customer Reviews without Hurting Your Business’s Reputation
Image: HighYa

Like any other business owner, you’re looking to succeed. And in order to succeed, you need happy customers.

Once you’ve gained happy customers though, where do you turn? How can you leverage your success to provide exactly what they need, while letting your prospective customers know that you’re an honest, legit company?

In two words? Customer reviews.

According to a Zendesk survey, 90% of consumers responded that their buying decisions were influenced by positive online reviews, while 86% said they were influenced by negative reviews. In other words, what previous customers say about your business has a significant impact on who chooses to buy from you in the future.

To boost their online reputation, many business owners attempt to garner as many positive reviews—and as few negative ones—as possible. But they often go about it the wrong way, such as directly asking (pressuring) their customers for reviews, which can hurt their business (and their customers) in the long run.

In fact, Yelp strongly advises business not to ask for reviews. Google also warns

“Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you're a business owner, don't set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should hire a company to solicit reviews for you, either. Why is all of this?

Based on my experience running HighYa, I’ve learned that there are some good and bad ways of acquiring reviews, which I’ll cover in this post. I’ll also explain why a certain way of asking for reviews isn’t good for consumers or businesses. Finally, I’ll outline 6 practical tips for asking for reviews that you can immediately put to use.

Let’s start by taking a look at how and why biased reviews hurt consumers.

Why Biased Reviews Hurt Consumers

There’s no doubt that most (if not all) marketing is biased. The main goal is to show us a product in the best possible light, to influence our perception, and convince us to buy, and there’s a lot of science to support how this works.

Now, there’s nothing wrong or inherently “evil” about this kind of bias. Just think about your usual response when asked to describe your family, your school, or your sports team. You’d probably focus on many of the positives in order to describe them in the best possible way, right? This is because, in one way or another, you’re biased.

The reality is that marketing bias is usually good for business, but it’s not always positive for the consumer.

If the product or service delivers as promised, then the consumer is happy. But if the product wasn’t what it appeared to be in its commercial or other marketing materials, the consumer can feel cheated, tricked, and taken advantage of.

This is where review communities like HighYa enter the picture. We help provide immense value to consumers by giving them access to real, unbiased reviews about a variety of products and services.

But imagine if, as a business owner, you began controlling and influencing these reviews. Over time, it would eventually just become another form of biased marketing, which could actually hurt your business in the long run.

Now, let’s switch gears and discuss how biased reviews can hurt your business.

Why Positive-Biased Reviews Can Sometimes Hurt Your Business

It’s easy to imagine how high ratings and glowing online reviews can create certain expectations from your customers. For example, you’d likely have different expectations from a 5-star restaurant than from a 3-star one.

If this high-ranking online reputation was acquired organically, then it’s probably the case that your product or service won’t disappoint your customers. But if it was acquired by soliciting positive reviews, your company might not be able to meet your customers’ expectations, which can lead to:

  • Your customer feeling let down, so they cease doing business with you.

  • And because you didn’t meet their expectations, they’ll likely feel your online reputation isn’t accurate, which can trigger them to leave a negative review. 

Here at HighYa, we’ve lost count of the number of reviews that begin with, “I can’t believe all these positive reviews …” Imagine how a review like this will affect potential customers who read it!

Your customers’ expectations and perceptions ultimately influence their views, attitudes, and actions, so it’s highly important for your online reviews to accurately reflect your business. And when you allow these reviews to organically flow in, they’ll be a more accurate representation of your company.

Still thinking about skewing the number of positive reviews for your company? Admittedly, you’ll probably experience some short-term benefits. But it’s not a long-term strategy that will sustain your business.

But what motivates most business owners to solicit reviews in the first place? Often, it’s rooted in fear.

Stop Fearing Negative Reviews

In my observation, one of the biggest reasons that businesses solicit only positive reviews from their customers is fear. Of what? Usually, it’s caused by an inaccurate perception—and resulting fear—of negative reviews.

Here are a few tips to consider that I hope will change your perception about negative customer reviews:

  • No matter how awesome you and your business might be, you can’t please everyone. It’s simply a fact of doing business, and only a matter of time before a negative review or two appear. I’ve observed dozens of 4 and 5-star rated companies online, and they all have at least some negative reviews. You almost certainly will too.

  • If a potential customer finds that a company only has positive reviews, this can produce distrust, which is the exact opposite of what you’re hoping to accomplish.

  • Negative feedback isn’t inherently bad since they can be a great way of getting direct feedback and improving your company.

  • If a customer leaves a negative review and you work with them to find a resolution, this signals to other consumers that you’re committed to providing good service, not to mention that you stand behind your product. Most review sites also allow users to update their reviews, which can further boost your reputation.

  • If you garner a few negative reviews early on, remember that if you actively work on improving, you can still achieve a high rating in the future (it’s only an average).

Already moved past your fear? Great! Let’s discuss the right ways to ask your customers for reviews.

Asking Your Customers for Reviews—the Right Way

Based on what we’ve talked about so far, the general guiding principle is that if you’re going to ask for reviews, do so in a way that doesn’t create biased, one-sided, or inaccurate information about your business. 

Here are some ideas to help you accomplish this:

1. Ask Everyone

No cherry picking. Don’t just ask your happy customers.

For example, if you’re asking your customers for their reviews in a follow up email (every time I buy a book on Amazon, I receive an email asking me rate it after 3-4 weeks), ask everyone, not just customers who’ve already expressed their satisfaction.

Remember, your can’t please everyone, but you shouldn’t fear a negative review. If looked at from the proper perspective, negative reviews can help you sharpen your customer service and build a better overall business. As long as you’re focused on quality, you have nothing to worry about over the long term.

2. Mind How You Ask for Reviews

It’s easy to get overzealous about reviews and pressure your customers to leave one immediately, which can be harmful. Instead, Yelp offers a good suggestion:

“There are ways to let your customers know you're on Yelp without being overly solicitous. There is an important distinction between "Hey, write a review about me on Yelp," [BAD] and "Hey, check us out on Yelp!" [GOOD]. It's the difference between actively pursuing testimonials and simply creating awareness of your business…”

3. Don’t Offer Incentives for Positive Reviews

Instead of using rewards or other incentives to convince customers to leave reviews, ask for honest feedback without “buying” it. 

It can be tricky though. Why? Because something as seemingly harmless as a monthly random prize might lead customers to feel they should leave positive feedback, even if this doesn’t truly reflect their experience. 

Yes, incentivizing reviews might give you some short-term gain, but it won’t necessarily provide an accurate representation of your business.

4. Make It Easy to Leave Reviews

The reality is that most people consume the web; they don’t add to it.

So for the few customers who actually decide to leave a review for your business, be sure to make it a simple and straightforward process. This includes posting badges and links in visible places, where customers can click and easily leave a review.

Also, be sure to include the same badges and links in your email correspondence, blog posts, social networking sites, newsletters, and so forth. The last thing you want is to lose a good review because a customer couldn’t find a way to leave one!

5. Use Review Websites to Genuinely Engage Your Customers

In my opinion, this is the most neglected tip on this list, since most companies leave their online reviews in “limbo” by not responding to them and letting the opportunity to engage with their customers slip by. What a missed opportunity, not to mention the free, authentic marketing!

But by actively engaging your customers just as you would in real life, you’ll be able to 1) express your gratitude, as well as 2) to own up to and resolve any problems they might be experiencing. Remember, most customers consume the web and don’t take the time to add anything by leaving reviews, so if they do, it’s a big deal! 

And if a customer does leave a negative review, it’s important to address it as quickly as possible. Remember that Zendesk survey we talked about at the beginning? A full “69% attributed their good customer service experience to quick resolution of their problem.” You have the power to turn things around!

What if a customer is wrong? Sure, the customer is technically always right, but if they’re mistaken and they hold their ground, the best you can do is articulate your perspective in a respectful, authentic, personal, and non-confrontational manner. Even if you don’t change your mind, you’ll signal to other potential customers that you’re open, honest, and willing to keep an open dialogue. 

6. Build Your Purple Cow

If you’re looking to build positive customer reviews, the best long-term strategy is to create a great product or service and back it up with outstanding customer support. Kate Morris summarizes this point well when she states, “Give them no choice but to tell people about you.”

Where does all of this leave you?

When It Comes to Reviews, Authenticity is Key

If I could summarize everything we’ve discussed here in one word, it would be authenticity

In other words, in order to gain as many positive customer reviews as possible, you need to be authentically involved with your clients; from the product or service you provide, to how you engage with them and how quickly (and effectively) you solve their problems.

Why? Because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that consumers are interested in doing businesses with authentic companies that make their lives better. And if you’re not among these ranks, your business’s reputation will suffer, since negative reviews spread like wildfire.

Dmitry Ozik

As a co-founder of HighYa, Dmitry focuses heavily on consumer issues & smart financial/health choices. He lives in Seattle with his wife and three very active boys and loves books, family life, hockey & entrepreneurship. @DmitryOzik