earning reviews for a better online reputation with jon hall of grade.us (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/amagill/)

earning reviews for a better online reputation with jon hall of grade.us (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/amagill/)

Editor’s note: This article is part of a featured series, 2015: The Year of Customer Service. In this series, we’re interviewing customer service experts to find out how companies can take a more customer-centric approach to business in 2015 and beyond. Find out what customer service experts say you should be doing to support your reputation and make customers happy in this exciting series.

As founder and CEO of Grade.us, it’s Jon Hall’s job to read reviews, help businesses source, track, and monitor them, and ultimately, use them to improve their online reputation and internal processes. So we asked him to tell us about the most common compliments and complaints he’s seen in reviews, how to earn more positive reviews, and breaking down roadblocks to getting customers to leave a positive review.

Hall told us that ultimately, you’ll have to make your customers happy, whether than means offering extra special service or bonuses, or simply delivering effective communication. And when it comes to sourcing and using reviews, you’ll need to make it easy, giving customers a simple way to leave you a review — and read them at crucial moments in conversion.

Delighting Your Customers

Hall points out that often in academic literature on consumer behavior, you’ll see recommendations that you need to delight customers in order to encourage them to write a favorable review. He’s seen this frequently in Grade.us reviews, particularly in industries such as entertainment, dining, and hospitality where it’s easy to go the extra mile, typically by offering a freebie.

Often, customers who leave a positive review will mention the extras that a business has delivered on. These can include a free dessert or a bottle of champagne waiting in a hotel room.

Hall notes that these small extra touches often spark positive reviews because they make people smile — and get them talking.

Of course, not every business is in a position to add on extras that delight customers. In fact, he says most of Grade.us customers are in industries where it might even be weird to do what a restaurant or hotel can do to go the extra mile. These industries, such as health care, auto repair, or pest control aren’t in a position to encourage customer reviews with delightful surprises.

But, Hall says, even a “boring” product or service can delight customers with one simple concept: overdelivery. “When someone needs to see a doctor, get new brakes, or address a termite problem, they’re understandably nervous: about the cost, about the outcome, about being taken advantage of,” says Hall. “They are waiting for Pandora’s box to open.”

That’s why overdelivery is key to delivering a positive customer service experience in these industries, and often, businesses see positive reviews from this kind of effort. Customers appreciate having their minds set at ease. Communicating expectations and then beating them is a great way to make customers feel confident about the service you offer.

“What you see expressed in so many positive reviews in these industries is a narrative where the provider set strong expectations upfront and then delivered or, typically, overdelivered on them, says Hall:

“Brian saved my life by getting the job done in one day rather than two.”

“Phil came across faulty wiring while taking apart our unit and just fixed it, no extra charge!”

Avoiding Customer Complaints with Communication

Unfortunately, not every review Hall sees is positive. But, he says there are a few common complaints that he sees in negative reviews, and often, they have to do with poor communication.

One very common complaint that Hall sees (and business owners can easily address — but often don’t) is unresponsiveness. Customers reach out for an update, with a problem, or to ask a question, and they just don’t hear back, or they have to wait a long time for a response. This is understandably frustrating for the customer, and it’s bad news for the business, too.

“Unhappy customers take to reviews when they feel there isn’t another channel through which to be heard,” says Hall. But it doesn’t have to end up this way. Opening up lines of communication and ensuring that every customer is heard can prevent frustration, solve customer issues, develop a more informed business, and help to avoid negative reviews left out of desperation.

Hall notes that negative reviews for communication can happen even before a customer interacts with you as well. He’s seen far too many one star reviews left by customers who never got past the initial contact stage. “I can’t tell you how many one-star reviews we’ve seen that start with something like, ‘I never even had a chance to try them—I left three messages and never received a call back!,'” says Hall.

Another common customer complaint Hall observes: underdelivery. This happens when businesses promise to deliver, but don’t meet expectations, take too long, or simply never get it done. Communication is key here as well, as keeping lines open and offering updates or clear expectations can keep customers satisfied and happy — and less likely to leave a bad review.

Breaking Down Roadblocks to Positive Reviews

Sometimes, the problem with earning positive reviews isn’t with your service, delivery, or communication. Customers may be happy, even delighted with what you’ve offered them. But they don’t leave reviews. All too often, it’s only the complaints that get posted because it never occurred to happy customers that they might need to mention their experience with you. Unfortunately, this can lead to a situation where your negative reviews outweigh the positive ones — and leave you with a poor reputation.

Hall says that there are three roadblocks that customers experience that prevent them from leaving reviews:

  1. They don’t think to do it
  2. They forget to do it
  3. It’s just too confusing or difficult

Fortunately, says Hall, these are simple objections that can typically be overcome. He recommends asking, reminding, and guiding customers through completing reviews on the sites you care about to get better review numbers. This can be done through automated services like Grade.us, or by simply doing it yourself. For example, you can place links to review destinations on a single page on your website and ask customers to visit it in order to leave you a review. Of course, he notes that getting happy customers to wite reviews is still a numbers game. You can’t win them all, but you can give them the tools they need to get connected.

The Importance of Monitoring Reviews

When you’re earning reviews, it’s not enough just to get them and let them sit. Rather, it’s a great idea to monitor and track them. “Monitoring reviews provides insight on a business’ reputation and where it’s headed,” says Hall.

But perhaps more importantly, Hall says monitoring reviews is most useful to businesses that intend to act on the information. Monitoring reviews can help businesses transform negative reviews from liabilities to assets with a timely, well crafted response.

“As a business owner, a new negative review is an opportunity to perform top-notch customer service—in front of an audience,” says Hall. “The vast majority of consumers (79% according to one study) say they feel reassured by owner responses to negative reviews. Catching such reviews when they happen not only means that they’re not dangling out there in public doing damage, but that you’ve instantly transformed them into a showcase of your business’s care and attention.”

Monitoring, tracking, and managing reviews as they come in allows you to stay on top of your reputation and ensure that you’re reassuring potential customers — even if reviews aren’t initially favorable.

Making the Most of Positive Reviews

You’ve earned them. Now, how do you use them? Hall recommends making the most of positive reviews in two ways:

  1. Show them on a conversion page of your website
  2. Refer prospects to them

Consider the most crucial point of your online sales process: where customers make the decision to add a product to their cart and check out, or contact you to set up an appointment. That’s where you want to display your positive reviews. They can be added to your website in the sidebar to show your customers that this is a product or service they can trust. It’s also a good idea to set up a page entirely devoted to reviews. Visitors to your website can find it through navigation links, or you can point directly to it by adding a link on emails and other communications when needed.

Another great place to share your reviews? Hall recommends social media. “Reviews make nice, ready-made content for social media tweets and posts,” he says. But, he notes that on social media, you’re mostly reaching your existing audience of fans, and therefore, it’s less important to share reviews on social media than on a conversion page.

Developing a Word of Mouth Reputation

Hall says that it’s the little things over the long term that will ultimately make a difference in building a positive word of mouth reputation. But, he notes that if you’re just getting started (or have been avoiding working on your reputation), it can seem like you’re up against a tough and all powerful voice of the customer. He encourages businesses not to back down from reviews — because they are not going away. Rather, businesses should be ready to grab the bull by the horns.

Thanks to Jon Hall of Grade.us for weighing in as a customer service expert! To learn more about what Hall and Grade.us have to offer for businesses seeking a better online reputation with reviews, visit the Grade.us website.