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Sarah Barnett discusses why we need to think more broadly about consumer reviews, and explains why smart operators will also leverage feedback to attract and retain customers.

For today’s digital-savvy consumers, subject-matter expertise isn’t as valued as it once was. To avoid competing on price alone, businesses need to deliver consistently high-quality customer experiences. But how do we assess what constitutes an amazing experience? And how do we balance the need to collect glowing online reviews with asking for genuine, constructive feedback?

What’s the difference?

Reviews Feeback
Purpose Marketing Continual improvement
Messaging “Please write me a review to help me attract new customers” “Please provide me with feedback to help me better service my customers”
Format Standard 5-star rating and testimonial combination Bespoke. Best practice includes quantitative measures (e.g. NPS, CSAT), along with free text questions on what was done well and what can be improved.

Feedback versus reviews

The insights gleaned from customer feedback can give businesses a competitive edge – in a truly customer-centric way. Along with helping you pinpoint what to stop, start or keep doing to win and retain customers, asking for feedback sends a compelling, brand-strengthening message.

The merits of collecting customer reviews are of course well-founded. As small business owners we experience the power of social proof first-hand. We understand that word-of-mouth is increasingly moving online. We know that customers Google our name when someone recommends us to them.

And so – with our sales and marketing hats on – many of us choose reviews – whether it’s posted on our own website as a testimonial, or perhaps published via a third-party platform. Reviews act as evidence of the great work we do and are hopefully compelling enough to help us convert the next prospective customer. Mission accomplished.

However, anyone who’s tried to collect customer reviews knows that – like many good business practices – it’s easier said than done. First, as self-reliant types, we may not be any good at asking for help. We know our customers are busy; perhaps we don’t want to impose.

Even when we do streamline the process and pump out those invitations, response rates can be low. There are myriad reasons for this, but it boils down to customers choosing not to make the time to leave you a review.

Instead of wondering why customers aren’t writing reviews, the question we need to address is: Why should they? 

Think about the customer’s WIIFM

When you invite your customers to write you a review you’re essentially asking them to help with your marketing efforts. Provided you’ve done an exceptional job – and usually with a few nudges – they’ll often oblige.

When you ask for feedback, you’re signalling that you value the customer’s opinion and are keen to collect insights to improve your offering.

Making customers feel heard builds trust and positive anticipation for future interactions. Asking for feedback strengthens your brand and positions you as someone who is committed to continual improvement. Your customers can therefore expect an even better experience next time. 

The power of customer feedback

  1. Encourages customers to reflect on their experience and acknowledge their satisfaction
  2. Shows you value your customers and are committed to continual improvement
  3. Helps you make evidence-based decisions on what to stop, start or keep doing

The insights you gather by inviting your customers to share their thoughts on your service will help you refine your offering and exceed their expectations again and again.

But what about reviews?

Reviews are undoubtedly a vital part of growing your business – especially given customers trust online reviews as much as they would a recommendation from a friend, and more and more people research online before making a buying decision.

The great news is that this doesn’t need to be an either/or situation. With a well-worded invitation to your customers to share their thoughts, you’ll be on your way to collecting both reviews and feedback. 

You can apply the norm of reciprocity (i.e. quid pro quo) and Leverage-Salience theory – which gives your customer a more compelling ‘why’ to share their thoughts. Keep in mind that customers want to know what they’ll get out of it. Invitations should include:

  • A reminder of the outcome you delivered
  • An explanation of how providing the feedback will benefit the customer
  • Clarity around what’s published and what isn’t

Incorporating constructive feedback with the usual 5-star rating and review combination will let your customers know you’re keen to hear more than the usual platitudes; that you truly value their opinion, as well as satisfy the imperative to collect those marketable, SEO-friendly reviews.

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