Setting Up An Online Customer Review System The Right Way

In my opinion, sometimes it pays to be a control-freak. A Customer-Client-Patient-etc review system is one of those scenarios where it is also good to be a control-freak. Online customer reviews are often the primary source of a company’s online reputation management/crisis management issue.

What is surprising to me, is that even though I see businesses of all sizes FINALLY implementing customer review systems, most of these systems I’ve encountered all seem to just direct customers to all the popular local business review websites such as Yelp and InsiderPages

. My question for all of these businesses is: Why not try to control the flow of negative reviews and potentially nip the problem in the bud?

Before any negativity has a chance to attract attention on these local business review websites, business owners can setup their online customer review system to directly alert them when for example a bad review comes through. These business owners can also setup their customer review systems to alert them to ONLY negative feedback for instance, allowing them to address the dissatisfied customer/client right away. The great thing about a system like this, is that the online review system can still direct satisfied customers to the popular business review websites, essentially allowing all of the “positive” business reviews to be published instantly, but it gives business owners a chance to address any negative issues before they are published on any of the popular review websites.

What Should You Do?

What would be a simple way to setup a customer review system that gives business owners this type of “control” over the flow of reviews that are being published online? OK, I’ll admit if you don’t know anything about website development it is not exactly “simple”, but the process is “simple” to outsource to others that can do a good job for you. Finding someone on Odesk or Elance to help setup a “controlled” online customer review system for you will not take long, and the price quotes on freelance websites such as these are VERY affordable, so I highly recommend checking them out.

So, how do you go about setting up an online customer review system the right way exactly? The first thing to do is incentivize reviews! Alright, sounds easy enough. Just decide what type of product or discount you want to offer your customers that leave you a review, and you’re ready to move forward, right? WRONG, Google has recently stated that they do NOT want businesses to offer “money or product” for customer reviews. So, what can you do when you need to give people something in return for taking their time to leave a review? Rewards are motivating, no doubt about it and it is truly hard to get something for nothing these days.

Look at all the major “big box” retail stores. Look at all the popular “chain” restaurants. Customers that leave reviews for large companies are often rewarded with the opportunity to win a contest of some kind. So you would think that rewarding customers with “opportunities” (contests etc), rather than directly offering “product or money” may be the best way to move forward when setting up this type of review system, right? WRONG. In the Google Product forums, a google employee pointed out that this type of “sweepstakes entry for reviews” setup is also against the Google reviews guidelines.

A Google employee also said that offering to donate to a charity for a customer review is against their guidelines as well. So really, your absolute best bet might be to let your customers know that you will reward your employees if they provide great service to that customer or something similar. Not the best solution by any means, but it is better than providing no incentive at all. Letting your customers know that if an employee is mentioned positively in their review, then that employee will receive a bonus and similar offers might work. People like to help other people. This kind of setup also encourages your employees to perform their best and ask for reviews at every opportunity!

Simply reminding people that they can leave a review at “YourBusinessWebsite.com/CustomerReviews” is just not going to produce results for most businesses. The Internet is quickly evolving and so are the different ways that people choose to leave customer reviews. Smart phones are playing a MASSIVE role in all of these changes, as they enable and encourage instant feedback, as well as instant information distribution. User-generated content on popular local business review websites is growing, and the increased availability of mobile technology is certainly a major factor in this growth in my opinion. So you definitely want to take advantage of this when setting up an online customer review system whenever possible.

Once you’ve figured out how you want to incentivize your reviews in ways that won’t break any guidelines and Terms of Service on Google and other local business websites, it is now time advertise the review opportunity. You need to ask for feedback and make everyone aware that you are asking for feedback. This is also the stage where you might have to get a little creative, but getting creative is certainly not a bad thing. Start with the basics by putting the review opportunity/website URL everywhere it is likely to be seen by customers and clients. Make a huge banner for the URL. Make multiple posters and signs displaying the URL, and make them BIG. Put the URL on the bottom of your receipts. Put the URL on your invoices. Put the URL on your menus. Put the URL on tabletop displays. Set up a kiosk for the review opportunity. Setup a tent and table with an iPad or other laptop or tablet computer for the review opportunity. Out here in California “sign spinners” are really big, you could have someone holding a sign out front of your business advertising the URL where they can leave a review and also advertising your offer/discount/etc to them for leaving a review.

Using Mobile Technologies Like QR Codes For Efficient Customer Feedback

Example of a QR Code
Back to the importance of smart phones and mobile technology. EVERY poster/banner/flyer/card/piece of advertising that you create to advertise your review opportunity URL should include a QR code that directs customers/clients/patients/etc to your review opportunity website. The QR code just looks like a square bar-code and it can be scanned using the latest smart phones. Wikipedia has a comprehensive look at the QR code’s history and specifications. You can set the QR code to display your review opportunity website automatically once it is scanned, so this is a great opportunity to encourage instant and convenient customer feedback anywhere you advertise. ***IMPORTANT: You need to ensure that your review opportunity website is mobile-friendly and make sure that it displays correctly on all of the popular smart phones out there.

Keep Your Review System Simple

Do not make the process complicated for the customer/client/patient/etc. They should not have to do too much thinking in order to leave their feedback. Advertising something simple like: “Review Our Service At YourBusinessReviews.com And Enter To Win!” works well. “We value your opinion and would love to know how we’re doing and what we can do better! Just visit us online at BusinessReviewURL.com to submit your review today! We’ll enter you into our monthly contest!” is another idea. “Tell us what you think!” is simple and works.

Here is a good example I found given away on an online marketing forum:

customer feedback card example

You get the idea…

Controlling Reviews Through A “Back-End” Process

Now, once you’ve focused on doing everything you can to make your customers aware of the review opportunity URL, you need to focus your efforts on the actual “back-end” of your review opportunity URL setup. The “back-end process” of this online review system is what makes it so helpful for business owners and puts the odds in their favor in terms of “controlling” any negative feedback or negative issues that may arise. The back-end process is also where things get a little bit techy/nerdy. No need to fear however, like I mentioned before, there are tons of freelancers and companies on websites like Odesk and Elance that can easily help you setup this type of system. You can just explain to your employees/outsourced workers the type of setup you’re looking for (direct them to the information on http://www.ConfidentBrand.com), and they will be able to help you out. Anyone with decent web development skills should be able setup something like this very easily. Look at their feedback ratings on past projects and pick people that have worked MANY hours on the freelance website as they have experience and will likely be reliable. I really am surprised that I do not see more businesses using this type of technique. When I notice that a business has clearly spent upwards of $20k on web design and search marketing, but doesn’t have a system like this in place, it is even more surprising.

So, the general idea here is that you want your customers to go to your review opportunity URL. On the website that your customers are directed to, you want to AGAIN clearly and boldly advertise whatever your incentive is for leaving a review. People do not have long attention spans and are often very busy AND are doing you a favor (usually and hopefully at least), so be sure to remind them again why they are spending their time leaving a review when they arrive on your website.

Designing The Interface

Now I am going to talk about how the actual interface of the review opportunity website should be setup. This step is important and where A LOT of businesses mess things up, in my opinion. The “interface” I’m referring to is just whatever graphics/text/options you decide to display to the customer on the review opportunity website. You may have noticed that many times companies will give the customer like five different options to choose from when leaving a customer review. In my experiences, this is not the “best” approach to take.

For example, often businesses will have an online feedback form saying something like:

Tell us about your experience today.

  • a. It was fantastic, you guys are so helpful!
  • b. It was pretty good.
  • c. It was alright.
  • d. It was not good.
  • e. It was HORRIBLE!

With a feedback form like that, you are giving the customer too many options. They have to stop, read, ponder, think, etc. Second of all, are all the options really going to help you take action in unique ways? I don’t think “b. It was pretty good.” and “c. It was alright” are going to give any unique insights on any customer service issues, as the responses are so similar. Options that are so similar just don’t seem necessary when I fill out customer feedback forms, and I am sure others feel the same. If anything, I think providing too many choices for the customer/client/patient/etc can become a distraction and some people just won’t complete the surveys 100% if they are too redundant and long.

There’s A Better Way

The better approach is getting direct to the point from an online reputation management perspective and just giving the customer TWO OPTIONS. I REPEAT, GIVE THE CUSTOMER TWO OPTIONS. Did the customer have a generally GOOD or a BAD experience? That is what you initially want to know and it is information that is immediately actionable. So, if you give the customer two BASIC options to choose from instead of bombarding them with 10 minutes of redundancy, you’re on the right path in my opinion.

Before you ask the customer/client/patient/etc to select the available “GOOD” and “BAD” options though, you need to collect their information so that you can follow-up with them. Collecting contact details is also known as “List-building”, and it is VITAL for online marketing/ORM purposes. List-building will allow you to directly contact your customers and solve problems before these problems get discussed and distributed online and become bigger problems. Collecting customer contact details will also help you reward customers for performing certain actions such as leaving a review, etc.

Implementing A “Closed-Loop Communication” Process

The next strategy that you need to implement is essentially a “closed-loop communication” process. Sounds technical and scary, but the idea here is incredibly simple. You want your review opportunity website to “filter” the “bad” reviews by e-mailing and/or texting them immediately to the business owner/manager/decision-maker etc. You also want your review opportunity website to give customers leaving the “good” reviews a chance to leave their comments on some of the popular business directory websites. So, with this in mind, your goal should be to setup a review opportunity website where customers that had a “good” experience are presented with an opportunity to talk about their good experience on websites like Yelp, Google+, Google Places, TripAdvisor, InsiderPages, Superpages, etc. Customers that had a “bad” experience will be contacted directly by someone from the company ASAP. Sounds pretty solid from an ORM standpoint, that’s for sure.

Important Note: Whenever and wherever you direct customers to these popular review websites, just encourage your customers to check your business out on these websites. Do NOT directly and specifically ask your customers to leave you a review on these websites. According to Yelp’s Official Blog, directly soliciting reviews is against their Terms of Service. Soliciting reviews is against most other popular business review websites’ TOS as well. For example, your marketing material could say something like “Hey, check us out on Yelp!” or “Come find us on Yelp!”, rather than “Leave us a review on Yelp!”. You could also encourage your customers to check out other local businesses in the community on websites like Yelp and Insider Pages.

Generally speaking, most customers/clients/patients/etc expect to be happy and will not take the time to leave a review when they are satisfied. This is human nature and you aren’t going to be able to change human nature with your online customer review system. What your online customer review system CAN do is “catch” the people that DO want to take the time to make their opinion heard. Since we always expect to have a good experience, when things go poorly, we are much more likely to take the time to spread our opinions and experiences all over the Internet. This type of online review system is a win/win for the business and customer because it allows the customer’s complaints to be heard and addressed instantly and directly by a decision-maker within the company. The business wins because they VERY LIKELY get to keep that “bad” review from spreading online to all of the popular business directories if they properly address the customer’s complaints. I would think having a manager receive a text message and an e-mail with a “bad” reviewer’s contact information would be a lot more helpful and actionable for the business, rather than reading something like: “This place sucks. I’m never going back and you shouldn’t either! AVOID!!!” posted by username “HammerPants123″ on Yelp and other review websites the following week.

Username HammerPants123 is “John Doe at 123 Windmill Lane Smithville, OH 55555, his phone number is 111-222-3333 and his e-mail address is johndoe123@gmail.com”. John just wanted his complaints to be heard about a certain server at the restaurant he often visits always mixing up his order. John had a bad experience and a bad day in general, so he left reviews on all of the popular local business review websites. Wouldn’t the outcome have been better for ALL PARTIES if the restaurant in this scenario directed John to a simple review opportunity URL where he left his contact details, selected that he had a “bad” experience, was notified he would be contacted shortly, and was contacted by the restaurant manager within 20 minutes of selecting that he had a bad experience? At the very least the restaurant would have John’s contact information so they can attempt to directly address the issue, rather than trying to guess who HammerPants123 is, who might have been a server during that time period, etc. Right now, I see a lot of businesses scrambling trying to figure out questions like these when they start getting floods of bad reviews.

So, your review opportunity website is VERY simple. You’ve got a form at the top where you collect the customer’s information. (name, number, e-mail, address, employee they worked with, etc). After that, you present the customer/client/patient/etc with a question and two possible answers to choose from. “How Was Your Experience? A. Good B. Bad”. I’d recommend having an additional form field below this with a title like: “Tell us more details about your experience”. This additional form field will allow customers to elaborate a bit on their “good” and “bad” reviews and it will give the owner/manager/decision-maker more details they can address when they contact the people that leave a “bad” review. Knowing additional details about what you are doing right is never a bad thing for a business owner as well.

Following the forms where you collect customer details and information about their experience, you’ve got a SUBMIT button. When a customer clicks the SUBMIT button on your review opportunity website there are two possible things that will happen. If the reviewer selects that they had a “good” experience, they are thanked for their time (with a reward opportunity that you can send them via e-mail or direct them to from your website). Once they are thanked for their time, you can present them with an opportunity to check out your business on whatever business review website is most important for ORM purposes for your particular business.

If the reviewer selects that they had a “bad” experience, they are thanked for their time (with a reward opportunity that you can send them via e-mail or direct them to from your website) and notified that they will be contacted by someone from that place of business very shortly. Obviously, depending on the nature of the business, certain details of this process can and should be modified to better suit the business and its customers. The general idea and goal of obtaining actionable customer feedback and encouraging the distribution of “good” reviews, building a list, and “filtering” and addressing negative reviews is always the same though.

I recommend hiring a freelance employee from somewhere like Odesk or Elance to help you setup this online customer review system for a VERY affordable price.

Handling Customer Reviews Using Third-Party Platforms And Services

One popular customer review platform is GetFiveStars, and it looks VERY impressive. The reason I believe it looks so impressive is that it essentially accomplishes ALL of the online customer review system processes described above in an efficient and organized manner. I recommend checking the GetFiveStars platform out to help you manage customer reviews if you’re looking for a simple solution. Check out the User Guide for more details and video overviews. Usually the real “work” in setting up an online customer review system is ensuring that people are aware of the review opportunity URL.

If for some reason the GetFiveStars platform described above is not a good fit for your own business needs, someone on Odesk or Elance that is experienced in web development should have no issues setting you up with a system that is essentially identical to the review system I have described in this guide and similar to the review system offered by GetFiveStars. In my experiences, WordPress in general tends to let you accomplish a lot of “complex” web design/web marketing tasks very quickly and easily, so I always recommend using it whenever possible. GetFiveStars has a wordpress plugin you can use too. As mentioned before though, certain details of the process will differ according to exactly what your needs are, and an experienced web developer should be able to address your unique needs and provide you with a desirable review opportunity website and closed-loop communication process. Simply put, by using an online customer review system that is similar to the one I have described in this guide — along with using strategies mentioned in our basic guide to online reputation management — your business is likely to grow.

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