I was recently targeted by a major supermarket to join a new club of theirs. In return for sending me free samples and promotional offers for their products, their request was that I share my feedback of these, not just with them but also with my contacts on the social media channels I frequent.
This got me thinking about how important the review/recommendation phase is now in the buying process – so much so that businesses who are keen to cultivate positive endorsements are allocating considerable time and marketing resources to it.
Historically, marketing and sales strategies have focused their energies on the phases leading up to the purchase, rather than what then follows it. The importance of reviews and recommendations to buyers, however, took real hold in the recession and its legacy is intensifying. Even with more upbeat economic forecasts, there is still a need on the part of buyers to try to avoid wasted or ‘disappointing’ purchases. Times are still tough for many and it’s important that the product or service you eventually buy does indeed deliver on its promises.
Technology of course has fully supported the review/recommendation evolution, enabling people to leave their thoughts and opinions on online retail sites or social media platforms. So much so that the act of consulting relevant posted reviews, has now become a regular feature of the buying process for many of us – especially if we deem the purchase to be important or of a high value.
So how do you make the most of this as a small to medium-sized business?
It’s clear the big corporates are recognising the value of fostering positive reviews and now are allocating serious marketing/promotional resources to it. Before we look at some smaller-scale examples, there are five fundamentals that are at the heart of positive reviews:
1. Quality of output
Of course you have to be doing something well for people to rate you favourably. Without a good quality product/service you are going to struggle securing recommendations and you certainly want to avoid negative feedback being sent by your customers into the public domain. To help avoid this, be clear about the product/service’s features in your descriptions of it. Aim to wrap a prompt and responsive customer service approach around it, with a transparent (no hidden extras) pricing model.
2. Get your timing right
In reality you only have a short timeframe to harness the goodwill a customer feels on purchasing a product/service that delights them. The exact timescale will depend on what your product/service is and how expensive or important it was to the customer. There will, however, be a point post-purchase where the customer evaluates the purchase for themselves. If they’re pleased and satisfied, then that’s the moment the warm fuzzy feeling they have for your business can be encouraged to produce reviews and recommendations. This means getting your timing right, before the customer’s attention is drawn to other things in their lives. Start to build a picture of the typical ‘hot spot’ for customer goodwill post-purchase of your product/service. Find out by trying different tactics at different times to identify which generates the best response. Use this insight to make sure communications, focused on capturing reviews and feedback, appear at this time.
3. Make it easy
To encourage them to do so, it needs to be quick and easy for a customer to give a review or testimonial. More than likely they will have little time and have other things they need to get on with. So help them share their goodwill by asking for only a small number of criteria about the purchase to be rated. Don’t send them customer surveys that take an age to complete or have questions which are ambiguous and confusing. Where possible, try to just ask for their thoughts, as the descriptions and phrases they use will resonate more with potential customers.
4. Be prepared to incentivise
People really value their time and, whilst a number see value in sharing their views for the greater good of mankind, the majority will want incentivising in some way. So, without falling foul of current anti-bribery legislation, think of ways to encourage customers to share their positive feedback.
5. Monitor and respond to their efforts
If a customer does go out of their way to endorse you, then make sure you immediately acknowledge it and thank them for it – especially if the review has gone onto a social media channel. They’ll be pleased you were listening and will be more likely to do this again in future. Others will also see your timely response and be impressed too.
You don’t have to have the sophisticated technology of Amazon or major online retailers to try and foster recommendations. As a small business you probably have a good knowledge of your customers and plenty of opportunities to develop a dialogue with them in person, over the phone and online. Harness the goodwill you build here, to show you appreciate their business, and that it would be really helpful if they articulate their positive experiences in a review or testimonial. Here are some other activities we’ve seen smaller businesses use successfully to stimulate positive feedback and goodwill:
- A timely ‘thank you’ email with clear links to the social media sites the business participates in and encouraging the customer to share their experience
- A follow-up telephone call by a senior person in the business to check all’s well with the purchase and exploring if the client would be happy to give a testimonial or act as a referee
- Sending a small token that enhances the product/service they have just purchased (for example a professionally taken family photo session voucher to customers who’ve just undergone a dental implant treatment)
- Inviting the customer to join an exclusive customer club where they’ll receive relevant news, offers, invites to special events and product samples
- In a B2B environment, following customers’ social media, posting nice comments and buying their products where feasible
- Developing a points system for each review the business receives which leads to a donation to a charity
- Offering an incentive if they recommend a friend
The more you know about your customers, the more you can fine-tune your product/service offering to them and this in turn will help to build their loyalty, goodwill and endorsements. There is also the point that you may not be able to please everyone and there may come a time when you may have to face a less favourable review. In this situation it’s important to respond quickly and try to rectify the issues at the heart of the review. But if you feel the nature of the review or content was incorrect, then it’s important to have a raft of customers who will provide a wealth of positive feedback to help counteract it and present this as ‘clearly a one-off’ occurrence.
What’s your experience of business reviews – let me know in the comments below…
You can read more great articles by Michelle here!