Who do you believe more? A marketer, your best friend, or complete stranger who bought your product or service and offers an honest opinion? Good or bad—what customers say matters.
Today’s guest is Denise Blasevick from The S3 Agency. Denise explains how to generate more positive reviews and how to handle negative reviews (or if you should deal with them at all).
Ben: Hey, Denise. How's it going this morning?
Denise: I'm doing great, Ben. How are you?
Ben: I'm not bad. I really can't complain. It's now December here in North Dakota and it's above freezing.
Denise: That is a good day.
Ben: We don't get too many of those around this time of year. What we're going to be talking about is customer reviews and the art of generating more customer reviews. I've seen this in my own experience. I've seen it from a lot of marketers, a lot of business owners, a lot of even just creative professionals and solopreneurs who are trying to sell things on the internet. It's really hard to get people to write a review.
Denise: It is. They'll write it if they're really unhappy, and that's not the best time for a break.
Ben: Right. That's absolutely true. We've had some recent guests in the show talk about how to turn negative reviews and the opportunities to set things right. Ideally, that's not what you want. I don't know if you want people leaving those glowing five star reviews for you.
Denise: I would say, even the four stars are really great. Sometimes they're more believable.
Ben: I agree. If I'm looking at something and I see a bunch of five-star reviews, I will admit, the first thing I will go to is like, okay, some of these are legit, but are they all? There are these many people who just organically decided they were going to drop these five star reviews. I think that's a great point, but sometimes like a four seems more honest.
Denise: There's an author who I love. His name is Mike Michalowicz. He's written some really great business books. He has told me before, and I got this from him, when you look at reviews, if you see it's a great review, but there's something that is a little bit off like, I love this, but I just wish they do this one thing differently—that humanizes it. You really feel like, oh, okay, I can get with that.
It's great that something isn't 100% perfect. I'm cool. I don't need that little part of me, perfect, okay, this is for me. I've thought about that because that is very human. I think he's absolutely right about that.
Ben: Yeah, I think that's super fascinating because there's a lot to be said for setting expectations. You can't be disappointed if you knew something was going into it.
Denise: I think that's especially true now. When people are short-staffed and there are issues, we want everyone to be more accepting. We do want to set that expectation in a way that, yeah, we are a great brand, we deliver a great product or service, but we're also humans. It's not going to cure all of your ills, but it'll do this one thing really great, and that's what you want us for.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. We've kind of touched on this in some ways already over the last couple of minutes here. But more broadly speaking, how impactful are online reviews when they come from real customers? How much impact do those actually have on consumer behavior? Are they something that people actually do read and trust? What's the case there?
Denise: The numbers just continue to grow and they're extremely high of how many people actually do look at reviews. Do they trust them? It depends on the view, but they do look at reviews. Just look at Amazon.
When you are searching for XYZ product, you think commodity. I'm looking for a pillowcase. You go on there and you look for that magical combination of price and Amazon reviews. That's really what drives you to that. I think it's even more important when it comes to brands’ own websites.
If you have ecommerce going on, you aren't comparing against others. They’re on your site. They just need to have the reason to push them over the edge that yes, this is why I want to buy your product or service. They don't have you there. Ecom is so huge. They don't have a salesperson there to talk them through it or other people that have bought from them, but they do.
They do have it there if you have great reviews, and it's critical. It's like 90 something percent or 80 something percent. People trust those reviews if they are written in a way that seems real. They trust them just as much as if their mom told them to do it. It's amazing.
Ben: Sure, yeah. I believe it. I think this is one area where I can say that when I hear things like that, it 100% mirrors my own experience as being a human person shopping on the internet. If I'm on the fence about something, if I'm comparing two different things, or if it is something, like you mentioned, like a commodity-type product like a pillowcase, I don't spend any amount of time thinking about what's the best pillowcase. When I go shopping for a pillowcase, I don't have a brand in mind.
Denise: Which by the way means there's a real opportunity for a brand in the pillowcase industry to stand out.
Ben: A hundred percent. If anybody listening to this episode launches the next great pillowcase startup, please cite this episode as your course of inspiration and give us a tiny bit of credit. I think that's absolutely right. So conversely though, how much should marketers worry about negative online reviews? Because everybody's going to have someone who's pissed off and leaves you a one-star review. If they have a lot of reviews, it's rare to see nothing.
Denise: I think it's unrealistic. Even Starbucks, like the haha of brands, they're going to get negative reviews. I think that's acceptable. I might be breaking with some of my colleagues, but I don't think you need to go and try to mollify every one-star reviewer out there, I don't think so.
Some people aren't worth mollifying, and I don't mean them as human beings. It's not worth trying to get them on the plus side. They hated you, they hated your brand, okay, move on.
As long as the way you're moving on is if they have a legitimate point, try to do something about it in terms of the way you deliver your product or service, if you can. If you can't, hey, your coffee was too hot, is there something I can do about that? Coffee's hot.
But then, really focus on cultivating positive reviews. Create a positive product or service and experience, and make sure you are putting your policies in place to really go after making those reviews happen, and making them happen as easy and frictionless as possible for your customers. There are a lot of ways that you can do that that don't seem out of the blue begging for things, that just seems like part of like, hey, we hope you loved your experience, here, give us a review. But then, also down the road, there are opportunities. Are you familiar with NPS, Net Promoter Score?
Ben: Yes, I am.
Denise: That's a huge thing to do. You check-in. You check in with your customers. You can do it once a year, twice a year. The one question, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or family member up to 10? That's huge. You get your 9s and your 10s, those are your promoters.
Immediately, reach out to them with a personalized note or something that seems like a personalized note that says thank you so much for being a fan. We would love it if you would leave reviews so that you can share your experience so others online can know what to expect from us. You've reached out to me personally. You've said like I'm one of your biggest fans. It's like the top fan badge on social media.
I'm one of your biggest fans and other people should know how great this is. Yes, of course, people have an ego. You want to hear my words about my experience, I will do that. You have a much higher likelihood of getting that person than people who are lower down. But does it mean that the sevens and eights who are the neutrals on your Net Promoter Score can't be cultivated? No, it doesn't.
You could certainly try to get them. Maybe send them an offer or something that will make them seem a little happier, and then next time maybe they'll give you a higher score. The ones who are lower, maybe there's something you should be figuring out. Maybe you can get some intel on them. I wouldn't worry so much about the super lows. Again, a certain amount of energy and dollars to go after people. Go after the ones that are going to make a difference for your brand and for your reviews.
Ben: Sure, yeah. I will say that that does conflict a little bit, I think, with what the prevailing wisdom seems to be when it comes to one-star reviews, but I think that makes a lot of sense.
Denise: If the one star reviews are salvageable, if you really screwed up and can fix the issue, I think it's worth putting the mea culpa out there, I definitely do. But if it's just somebody who is just a grumpy pants and that's what they do, you can tell it, and they have incredibly unrealistic expectations, what's going to happen? You're going to say, we're really sorry. We'd like to make your experience better next time. They're going to come back and go, it's terrible. To me, the ROI on that really isn't there, not for a human to be interacting with them.
Ben: Yeah, you have to think about your opportunity costs with a lot of these things. I think that that's extremely sound advice, honestly. On that note, what are some common mistakes that you see marketers make with regard to acquiring more reviews? Maybe chasing after every one star, I think there's room for debate with that, probably. Or at least there are probably multiple valid viewpoints. Maybe it just depends on what resources you have.
Denise: And maybe what your brand is. Maybe it's a brand that does need to attend to that, but I think that is a personal decision.
Ben: Yeah. Setting that aside, I think your argument makes an incredible amount of sense. What are some other common mistakes, things that are actually mistakes?
Denise: I think beating people over the head begging for reviews. It looks desperate. If someone didn't review you, you can give them a nudge, hey. You can give him another nudge, but then let it go. Don't be so naggy. That's just going to be like, hey, these people wouldn't leave me alone, and that's the frame of mind you want to review written in? I don't think so.
I think it's very important to, again, cultivate the review experience. Make sure you're getting them at a good time. When has enough time gone by for them to have experienced your product or service? This actually really annoyed me. I won't say who it is, but I ordered a product for my son for Christmas and it's a personalized product.
As part of the service, they send you proof to approve before they create it. That's smart. Before I even got the proof, right after I had ordered, they sent me an email saying, hey, can you tell us about your order experience? They wanted me to rate it. We know you haven't gotten your product yet. We know that, but we want you to rate the experience of ordering. I thought that was odd. So I just let it go.
Then a couple of days later, another, hey, you haven't done this yet, which I find very annoying. Don't set me up to be annoyed to give a review. So I think that's a big no, no, in my book. Give them time. Let them experience it.
If you look at Disney, again, another holy grail of brands, they send you a survey, I think it's 42 days after you take a cruise, you go to the park, or whatever. They have a whole timeline in there, but it's timed to coincide with when you get your credit card bill because that way, you're thinking about this was worth it. I'm paying my bill. I know it's expensive.
The mouse doesn't come at a discount, but it was worth it and I'm going to remember that. They ask you these questions that are kind of like, did you have a great time with your family? Yes, I did. What is that worth? Okay, write the check or submit it online, pay your credit card bill, and that's it. I think really thinking about that, that's a customer journey. Reviews should be part of your customer journey.
Ben: Something that’s important to remember here is that people leave reviews very often just because they want to be heard, that’s it. They just want to know that their opinion matters and that their experiences are valid. Whether they’re good or bad, and that’s especially true when dealing with negative reviews.
So no matter how you approach negative reviews, whether you address them, ignore them, answer all of them, or answer some of them, it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s not about you. No company is perfect. It doesn’t mean that you’re a colossal failure, by any means. But ultimately, what matters most is whether you give people the space to be heard, take what they say for what it’s worth, and strive to provide the best products and the best service that you can. Now, back to Denise.
If I had just ordered something and I was immediately being asked to rate what that experience was like, and then assuming that once I do that, I'm going to be asked to review the product, no. That's extremely aggravating. It's not like it would even take that much time. I don't even know why I think that's annoying. So I think that's a good point.
Denise: Also, what's the value that that's going to provide to people? I haven't gotten your product or service yet, you're asking me to put my authenticity on the line to verify your authenticity, but I haven't gotten your product or service yet. Was it pretty easy to order? Yeah, it was. But are you going to go, hmm, should I order this product? How easy will it be? I don't think anybody's thinking that. It's an online order.
Ben: The only thing that I'm thinking is how fast is this going to get to my door. That's about it. If marketers are interested in making review acquisition a more serious part of their strategy because not all marketers, not all businesses necessarily treat this like something they try to solicit proactively, but if they want to change that because they see the value, they understand the benefits this can drive, where would you recommend they begin? What's step one?
Denise: I think step one is looking at the customer journey and finding the different points that would be natural for review, and also adding in, what are some places that I can cultivate that like NPS and just making that part of my ongoing strategy? But then I also think the third opportunity is the fun one.
Just having randomly rewarding people who leave reviews and then featuring that, whether it's in your email marketing, on your website and your social media. Hey, thanks, Ben, for the five-star review. We love the fact that you thought that our socks were "the greatest thing since sliced bread", and therefore we're sending you some bread for you to have, here's $100.
Putting that out there, people go, oh, that's really cool they did that, I like them too. Without asking for their views, naturally gets it because everybody, again, wants to have the opportunity to get something and wants to put their words out there. If they see the brand really reads this, they reward some fun ones, it speaks to the ego as well as the essentialness.
Ben: Sure. Maybe not all their reviews are positive, but how can they take steps to ensure that most of them are both positive and authentic? Part of the reason why I asked is I get emails fairly frequently from all kinds of different places. They're like, hey, would you like to leave a review or take a survey and we'll buy you a Starbucks, we'll send you a [...] code to Amazon. I will make a marginal amount of effort for $10, for a free coffee. Why not?
Denise: You might even get two free coffees for $10.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Rationally, there's no reason why people wouldn't do that. That review is absolutely going to be the barest minimal thing that was required to get that incentive because people have other things to do. I just want to share that because that's really what's at the root of this question. How can you make sure that you are incentivizing people to leave reviews, but you're not bribing them?
Denise: I think part of it is giving people rails. Wide-open space like a blank sheet of paper is daunting. If you are very clear as a brand about what differentiates you, what's special about you, and you deliver on that, it makes it easier for people to know how they should review you, the points they should make, and it makes it more valuable for you.
If you're Starbucks and you go, we want people to know that the baristas make it special here, you're going to really push that. Then when it comes time for the review in the different forms that you're asking for it, and even if you're not, the real trick is to get people to do it without asking for it by delivering that great extra that is unexpected.
But for the ones that you're asking for, if you can give them some guidelines, even in the review request, we'd love to hear what you thought of our barista's delivery of your coffee today so that they can speak to that specific because you know as a brand that's what's going to convert other people if they're buying, I guess, a cup of coffee online. You know what I'm saying?
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. I really like that. It sounds to me like you're incentivizing people with the opportunity to be hurt with the opportunity to feel like their opinion actually does matter in a way that's not hollow. I think that makes a ton of sense. I think that's going to probably net you reviews that are a lot better than one sentence that says, works great. And then [...] back and wait for your gift code to wherever you show up.
Denise: I was just going to say I also think like personalizing. If you can incorporate the personalized element and people know that their personalized review makes a difference. If I go and stay at a hotel, and I only do this because I've worked with hotels and I know this is the case, or a car dealer, I will—in my review—mention people by name because I know that impacts them. I know that they will likely get some sort of a bonus or some sort of reward because I did that. If they were meaningful to me, I'd like to be able to return the favor.
So if there's a way to know your review doesn't just fall on deaf ears. In fact, if you mention someone by name, they will know about it. We will make sure they know about it. If you can let them know that it actually impacts, we bonus people who have a positive impact on our customers. I think that sort of transparency is important.
Ben: Yeah, 100%. Last question I'll throw your way because I imagine if you're a marketer in any capacity at any level, at some point, if you're trying to build the case to do something new or to just invest more time and resources into anything, somewhere along the chain of command, someone is going to ask you what the return is going to be.
So when it comes to generating more customer reviews, more online reviews, maybe it's trying to move up your average review score. Maybe your goal is you want to see that average go from 3.1 to over 4, like what a goal could be. What are some ways that marketers can measure the ROI so that they can show their boss or they can show stakeholders, look, we had this review acquisition plan? We put it into place. This is where we were before, this is where we're at now.
How do you do that? How do you actually try to quantify maybe not the exact dollar value, but maybe a net positive business impact from doing this?
Denise: Sure. I think it's a combination of metrics. I think looking at the growth of impact, and the metrics for that are easily available online of reviews on actual sales. I think then looking at where you stack up against your competitors. Hopefully, you have some idea of their sales. Then also looking at how have your sales trended based on or in correlation with your scores, your average review score?
So if you see like, we used to have a score of 4.5 and now we're down to 3.1, and we're seeing fewer people are converting or a percentage of people are not converting, I think that's a pretty realistic mechanism to put in place. Ultimately, if I waved a magic wand and told you you could increase your review score by XYZ or your review volume and score by XYZ, would that impact your sales?
I don't think there's a marketer out there that would say, no, it wouldn't, not if you're an online marketer. I don't think so. I think the digital discovery element, and this is, for me, the big key of it, we are discovering things online at an unprecedented rate. I don't know when it's going to take hold again the other way, maybe never. But that means there's more and more competition online.
There are more and more reasons to shop around. It's too easy to jump from page to page and site to site. The volume has to be right, the kinds of reviews have to be right, and the stars have to be right. Making sure that's an integral part of your marketing plan, to me, has never been more important.
To me, one of the saddest things that happen is you're a marketer, you spend all this money, you get people to your site, they're interested. They go to a product, they're interested. They go there, they don't see enough compelling reviews, or oh, my gosh, they see no reviews, the chance of bounce is high. They know it from their personal experience, it doesn't take a lot to convince someone of that. My experience is not that people don't want to invest to do that, they just want to say, how's it really going to happen?
Ben: Yeah, okay. One thing I want to pick out from there that I think is really interesting because this is something that I think of myself whenever I look at pretty much anything I might buy. If I don't see any reviews, it leads me to believe that there's probably a more popular product in that category, and that's probably the one that I should buy because that's the one that other people are buying. If other people are buying it, it's probably because it's better.
That statement is loaded with logical fallacies, but it's the way I think. It's the way people operate. I think that that's super, super important to keep in mind. Your product could be better, but what people say about you is what people are going to believe.
Denise: Especially, you're not picking it up, feeling it, or smelling it. You're not having that opportunity. It's almost like another sense. Your sixth sense online is reviews.
Ben: Yeah, 100%. Denise, this has been an awesome conversation. If people want to find you or they want to find The S3 Agency online, where are the best places for people to go?
Denise: The best places are my agency's website, which is s3.agency. You can find me on LinkedIn, Denise Blasevick. You can also find me on Twitter, @AdvertGirl.
Ben: Awesome. Great stuff. Denise, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.