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Customer Reviews as Marketing Channel: How to Create a 'Review Funnel'

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I talk to marketers all the time who assume there's nothing they can do to get more positive customer reviews for their businesses or clients. I mean, you can't control customers, can you? You certainly can't run your clients' business for them, either. And, seriously, if you want to keep your good name unsullied and avoid PR catastrophes or fraud, you absolutely, positively cannot buy or create fake reviews.

So, marketers and business owners end up feeling powerless and victimized. They think reviews "just happen," and they take a wait-and-see approach—forever.

It's true that getting real reviews is a "numbers game," to some degree, but this article is about how to improve your numbers and turn reviews into an addressable marketing channel. I will outline the specific tactics we at use to get more happy customers sharing the good word about almost any business, product or service.

Namely, I cover how you can create a "review funnel" that...

  • Provides an easy way for business owners to invite and remind customers to share their experience
  • Drives customers to a single destination specifically designed to convert them into reviewers
  • Guides reviewers to complete reviews on the best possible site for both them and you

The Challenge of Getting Reviews

Real customer reviews make for insanely effective marketing for small and local businesses. Reviews are far more trusted by consumers than what you or your ads have to say. Reviews convert lookers into buyers in droves. And they can also give business listings a huge visibility and SEO boost to boot.

Imagine how powerful and satisfying it would be if you could get just a fraction of your clients' or your own happy customers to consistently share reviews on major third-party sites like Google+, Yelp, and TripAdvisor?

You can, but you have to ask yourself, Why don't happy customers consistently write reviews in the first place? Well, did you write a review of the last restaurant you visited or dry cleaner you used? Why, or why not?

Better yet, ask 1,017 typical consumers (LocalViewpoints [] did) why they rarely or never write reviews, and clear answers begin to emerge. By far, the top two reasons are...

  1. "Writing reviews is too tedious."
  2. "I forgot to write the review."

Enter the Review Funnel

A "review funnel" is a system designed to minimize these two obstacles. We know that customers who intend to write a review won't do so if it's too hard or they just plain forget. An effective review funnel must therefore offer assets and triggers that...

  • Make writing reviews easier
  • Remind customers about writing reviews

Here's how we do it.

Step 1: Get the Customer Into the Funnel

How you engage customers about reviewing a business depends on the nature of the business. If you collect customer information, such as an email or phone number, you might send a post-transaction message inviting her to give feedback about her experience. Or if the business has a social media audience, you might periodically poll them:

"If we've served you this month, thank you for the opportunity! We'd love to hear about your experience, and no doubt others would, too..."

For many local businesses, however, collecting emails or building a robust social presence is impractical—or just neglected.

When business transactions happen face-to-face, such as at a restaurant or doctor's office, we like to arm the business owner (or server, or front desk) with printed review "invites," small takeaway cards with friendly messaging to encourage and remind the customer:

"Please take a moment to review your experience with us. Your feedback not only helps us, it helps other potential customers."

Something tangible handed to the customer (or client, or patient) makes your intentions easier to communicate and less solicitous. It also serves as a reminder until the customer accepts, loses, or jettisons the invite.

Note that we've diligently avoided solicitous language, asking for a positive review, or offering any incentive. Such practices typically run afoul of review site terms of service—and ethics.

Step 2: Keep the Customer Focused on Reviewing

So, now that you're engaging customers to review a business, where should you drive them? To the business website? Directly to a review site? Somewhere else?

Remember that our goal is to make reviewing easier, so be sure to drive them to an accessible online destination that offers few distractions, choice of several review sites, and just enough education to help them pick one and complete a review if they are not already a "superuser."

For example, a dedicated landing page on the business website can work, but it should be stripped of all other calls to action. The page should highlight those review sites that matter to the business, with links directly to the listings where the customer can leave a review. Ideally, it would also provide cues to help uncertain customers select a review site, such as by identifying those that accept a Facebook login. (People hate creating accounts!)

The following are some additional elements of effective review funnels that we've found particularly compelling:

  • Put the page at an easy-to-remember URL and provide a QR code on any printed invite to make it easy for customers to visit on their downtime.
  • Make sure the page is mobile-friendly (duh!).
  • Offer choice but not too much choice: Show just a few review sites at any one time and highlight the ones you currently care most about
  • Educate reviewers onsite (briefly!) about the review process for each site you link to so they know what to expect.
  • Provide a way for disgruntled customers to get out of the funnel before posting a review, such as a prompt to contact the business directly.

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Jon Hall is the author of The Marketer's Guide to Customer Reviews and founder of, a print/online "review funnel" solution that helps businesses get customer reviews on the sites that matter.

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  • by Vinay Bhagat Wed Dec 4, 2013 via web

    Good comments Jon. All too often, companies, and historically many review sites were passive and did not proactively ask for reviews.

    While I see your focus is B2C, the same principles apply to B2B. B2B marketers have to however become more comfortable about the inevitability of embracing transparency, and less obsessed with controlling message i.e. what a customer may say, and more focus on listening and responding. Here's a related article that I wrote:

    Vinay Bhagat
    CEO, TrustRadius - the trusted source for business software advice #forusersbyusers

  • by Chris Finnie Wed Dec 4, 2013 via web

    Some very good points. Because I live in a small rural area that is some distance from surrounding metro shopping, I often shop online. And I always read reviews. I have decided against purchases when there are significant negative reviews, or ones on topics that are important to me. So I've always wondered why product development and marketing professionals don't pay more attention to them. My favorite example of this was an email I got from HP some years ago.

    I was interested in the wireless printer in the email. So I clicked through to the web page for it. I was horrified to discover that every single review said it overheated and broke down almost immediately. Not some. Every one, without exception. Several people said the replacement printers did the same thing. This told me that HP knew about the problem because they'd already had to make warranty replacements. But they still advertised the printer--mistake #1. And they hadn't responded to the comments on the product page--mistake #2. If HP had said on their own web page that they'd found and fixed the problem, I might have bought the printer anyway. Since they didn't, I didn't. So they not only missed a sale, but wasted an email, and lost an opportunity to show themselves as a responsive, responsible vendor. So many missed opportunities!

    The lesson I take from this is that companies who allow online reviews should always read them. They might find them very educational.

  • by Dean Iodice Wed Dec 4, 2013 via web

    Jon, its always a challenge for people to leave reviews, we would love to leave them on Google but like you say if they don't have an account they don't want to sign up. Even if they do for the technology challenged its not that easy. What we do is create a page with a couple of options like you mention mainly Yelp, Google and AngiesList. Angieslist because we deal with contractors. Worst case scenario we have an option where it just goes to their website. Not great for Google maps data but at least we get it and it helps for website conversion.

    But its a challenge that I hope someday will be made easier.

  • by Martha Cichelli Wed Dec 4, 2013 via web

    Anything different when involved in B2B? I could set up a review page on our website and I could remind customers about it in our monthly newsletter. Would that work well or is there something else you would suggest. Our business is a software development company specializing in systems for newspapers.

  • by Jon Hall Wed Dec 4, 2013 via web

    @Vinay, great point and article. Companies that comfortably enjoyed the information asymmetry of decades past must learn to operate under increased transparency, whether B2B or B2C. And that transparency is probably a net good, so we embrace it to our benefit, painful though it can be. Good to see you guys bringing it to the B2B market -- we will have to look at that more closely!

    @Chris, exactly! There are business owners who would like nothing more than to hide from customer opinion completely. Of course, not only is that *not* an option, in many ways it would be worse than having customers publicly bad-mouth you--at least if people are talking, you're on the radar and can do something about what isn't working!

    @Dean, agreed, testimonials are the easiest to capture and not without value, but of course they lack the visibility/SEO/marketing punch of reviews on the big review sites where new customers discover new companies, products and services. The key is to decide what you want. We have a laser focus on converting customers into reviewers on review sites. Other solutions capture "feedback" first which serves a purpose, but from the customer's standpoint, their job is done after they give feedback so they simply won't go on to complete a review.

    @Martha, as others have said, B2B is not materially different, though you are likely dealing with customers who are even more discriminating and research-prone than your average Joe or Jane looking for a place to eat lunch. If there are no significant channels where your customers would typically discover and evaluate software systems for newspapers (and I don't know if there are) then capturing testimonials from some existing customers has value inasmuch as it may help convert leads who have already discovered you. But you also might reach out to industry bloggers or thought leaders to see if they'd be willing to review your offering -- that's what we did when we launched, for example, tapping local marketing guru Phil Rozek to review out of the gate:

    One thing about reviews, and this is *definitely* true of B2B: substantive is better than positive!

  • by Sarah Bauer Wed Dec 4, 2013 via web

    As per the ideas for a dedicated landing page on a business website, here are some tips to encourage more customer reviews:

    - Showcase logos for the specific review sites you are directing users to. Instantly recognizable logos take away the hassle factor if users know that these platforms are easy to use.
    - Be transparent in your copy. Encourage reviews of all kinds. Use a conversational, human tone.
    -Thank customers for submitting a review with a follow-up email.

    Thanks for the great article!
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  • by Jon Hall Wed Dec 4, 2013 via web

    @Sarah, agree, agree, agree! Thanks for the comments.

  • by Abdullah alghadouni Thu Dec 5, 2013 via web

    Interesting topic, it is also invaluable for business if you want to think of how can you harness these reviews to generate more business then it gets more crazy good. There is an interesting approach I have seen that works and really delivers.. The topic of harnessing consumer happiness and how NOKIA has implemented that dynamically..

  • by Chad Horenfeldt Fri Dec 6, 2013 via mobile

    Great post recognizing the need for more online referrals. Many of my clients have built their advocate marketing strategy based on this goal.

    @martha For B2B, you should check out Influitive as it provides a comprehensive approach to mobilizing, managing and recognizing advocates. Part of this of course is to encourage online reviews. Note: I work for Influitive.

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