How to Get Customer Reviews without Begging, Bribing, or Buying Them

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize reviews are incredibly important to businesses, both online and brick-and-mortar. In fact, rocket scientists think reviews are pretty relevant too, as evidenced by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. TripAdvisor lists reviews of the lab and it gets “stellar” reviews.

How important are reviews?

There’s ample hype about the need to have lots of reviews (and good ones) to survive the cutthroat world of 21st century commerce. But here’s the question most business owners are asking: Just how important are customer reviews in reality? Will a business implode and cease to exist without them?

In the not-too-distant past, personal recommendations were the most essential goodwill a business could hope to gain. Today, online reviews are taking over that role. The following chart compares trust levels between third-party reviews and recommendations from family, friends, or colleagues.

Survey respondents who always trust reviews as much as personal recommendations have grown to 19%. Multiple reviews are seen as necessary to 25% of the respondents. But one of the more telling stats is that those who trust reviews if they believe them to be authentic has declined from a high of 31% to 19% today. Together, these numbers tell us that you want as many authentic, verified reviews as possible.

How many reviews are enough?

A survey of young shoppers — ages 18 to 24 — found that they expect to see a lot of reviews, as many as 203. Think about that — 203 reviews per product, not per business. It’s no wonder so many business owners and executives are pulling their hair out over collecting reviews!

How do you help your company clear this high bar? Well, unfortunately, many businesses take the low road. They buy reviews. The internet is awash with companies that will generate fake reviews, likes, follows, and any number of online indicators of authenticity. It’s a real problem for both consumers and legitimate businesses.

Have fake reviews caused the loss of trust?

Remember that 12% decline in the number of people who trust reviews? I blame fake reviews. That’s not just my opinion. A quick search using the longtail keyword “dangers of fake reviews” returns 113 million hits. Sources as diverse as insurance companies offering protection against fake reviews to publications like The New York Times popped up voicing concern. Interestingly enough, fake reviews are not a new phenomenon. Way back in 1881, Walt Whitman wrote several anonymous positive reviews of his own book Leaves of Grass after it received terrible reviews from the literary scions of the day.

“Aside from damaging a business, fake negative reviews deprive consumers of objective, truthful information with which to make a purchasing decision.” Michael Ambros, CEO eKomi

Positive fake reviews aren’t the only issue

Fake reviews that provide positive feedback are bad enough. By themselves, they can lead consumers to buy something that doesn’t live up to the reviews. When a consumer “falls” for a fake review, their trust in the company plummets. The company can experience further damage if the dissatisfied consumer takes to other outlets to vent their rage and slam the company. Pre-internet and social media, we all assumed that a happy customer would tell a couple of other people while an unhappy one will tell 10. Today, the reach of a dissatisfied customer is literally worldwide!

But even worse are fake negative reviews. Yes, these are a thing. Companies can use these to try to damage their competition. And it works. One Amazon merchant lamented that fake negative reviews “destroyed our [product] ranking, increased refunds, increased customer service issues and complaints as customers read the manipulating negative reviews post-purchase.”

Aside from damaging a business, fake negative reviews deprive consumers of objective, truthful information with which to make a purchasing decision. And they can further increase consumer wariness of reviews in general.

The challenge of getting reviews

At this point, we can all agree that:

  • Reviews are important
  • Real reviews are the only option
  • Getting said real reviews is hard work

So, what is a company or organization to do other than hope and pray that customers drop by and leave reviews? When business owners or executives ask me about getting more reviews without committing fraud, I usually share one of these five tips.

1. Build a social presence

Set up profiles or create accounts on all the online review sites relevant to your business starting with Google My Business. Relevant is the operative word here. If you own a luxury hotel, you would want profiles on both Google and TripAdvisor and perhaps also Yelp. If your business offers plumbing and drain services to residential and commercial accounts, you’d want to collect reviews on the Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List.

2. Ask for reviews

Yes, it’s legal and ethical to ask your customers for reviews. Notice the lack of any modifier here. Don’t ask for positive reviews. Just ask for reviews. Take the good with the bad. Use the bad to fix processes in your company that ultimately led to the negative customer experience and the bad review.

3. Make it easy to leave you a review

People are busy. Writing a review takes effort. You need to make it easy and convenient for your customers to leave reviews. This could be on your website via your embedded Google My Business profile on your website, on Google My Business itself, or on another online review platform.

4. Say thank you

Publicly and privately thank your reviewers. If a customer goes out of their way to leave you a review, take action — reply to the review saying thanks, reach out to them via email or SMS, or offer a verbal thanks the next time they pay your company a visit in person. If someone leaves a negative review, reach out and see how you might correct the problem they experienced. Recognition is a powerfully positive customer experience. It’s only human to want to be heard and have our needs recognized. Sometimes, a bad review is just a request for support. It’s easier than you might think to turn a one-star review into a five-star one!

5. Treat reviews like a business process

Make collecting and managing verified reviews a part of your company’s daily operations. Whether you ask for reviews at checkout points or include survey links on receipts, consider customer review requests as important as opening shop for the day.

Trust but verify

You’ve probably noticed how I keep saying verified reviews. People trust online reviews to a certain degree, but because of the prevalence of fake reviews, a growing number want to be able to verify that the reviews are authentic. If you go to all the effort of getting reviews, how are customers going to differentiate between your genuine reviews and fake ones? Here are some ideas:

  • Post your review policy. State clearly that you will never fabricate a review, leaving a review of any kind is strictly voluntary, you may ask to feature a review, and so forth.
  • Provide a quick tip on how to tell if a review is real or fake. For example, if a business or product has hundreds of five-star reviews and nothing four stars or below, that’s potentially a sign of fake positive reviews.
  • Engage a third-party platform to verify your reviews. In the same way that e-commerce sites have used trust certificates to showcase their site’s security, savvy businesses are engaging companies that verify the legitimacy of any review left. This service bolsters the confidence consumers will place in your reviews.

Love reviews or hate them, if you’re a business owner, you need to pay attention to them. You want genuine reviews of all kinds. It’s hard work, but gathered correctly, reviews pay off. Resist the temptation to buy your way to stardom. Incentivizing positive reviews or buying fake ones only ends badly. Try the strategies in this article and you may find that your online presence populated with genuine reviews that your customers can trust.

Michael Ambros is CEO of eKomi — The Feedback Company, which has helped over 14,000 companies increase their search traffic and conversion rate through verified, authentic product and customer ratings and reviews. Learn how to collect more authentic feedback and improve customer experience at your business at www.ekomi.com.