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 Grade.us 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 [https://local.viewpoints.com/customer-feedback-stats] 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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Customer Reviews as Marketing Channel: How to Create a 'Review Funnel'

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image of Jon Hall

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