How to Boost Online Reviews for Your Business (And Deal With the Bad Ones)

Just how important are online reviews to your business?

Just how important are online reviews to your business?

Really important: we’re now up to 92% of consumers reading online reviews before they make a purchasing decision (up from 88% in 2014).

The reality is, whether you like it or not, your customers and prospects care about your reviews.

A lot.

It makes sense, of course.

After all, which business inspires more trust… this one?

Or this one?

But actually getting your customers to spend their time writing reviews isn’t just a lot to ask; it can be a tricky effort that, if done wrong, can make your business look bad.

So today, whether you want reviews on Yelp, Google, social media, blog posts or elsewhere, we’re going to cover the right way to get great online reviews for your business…and the right way to deal with the bad ones.

The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Get Great Reviews

When it comes to getting good reviews, there’s one thing that makes, by a huge margin, a far bigger difference than any other factor.

The bad news is that it’s not easy. It’s not a sexy “hack” or a silver bullet. It takes work.

But the good news is that it’s simple, straightforward and it works.

The single most important thing you can do to get great reviews is deliver an amazing customer experience.

In Oracle’s 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report, the company cites research that found that 86% of customers will pay more for a better customer experience.

Happy customers help you grow your business in other ways, too. One American Express survey found that on average, happy customers tell an average of nine people about their experience.

Focusing on customer experience isn’t just a good idea. It’s absolutely critical, especially if you want to build the foundation you need to ensure that you get your customers saying great things about you online.

5 Ways to Get Positive Online Reviews

There are a lot of ways that you can go about getting more reviews, but many of the tips you find online range from dirty and deceptive (“offer to pay for good reviews!”) to simply useless.

Here are five legitimate and effective ways to get good reviews.

1) Ask the Right Customers

There’s an old adage that you don’t get what you don’t ask for, and it’s persisted through the years because, quite frankly, it’s true.

One of the most underrated and underused tools that any of us can tap into is a personal, transparent ask.

Your customers might love you and be thrilled to be doing business with you, but you’re not at the center of their world; they are. They aren’t spending their free time coming up with ways to help your business. If you want that help, you need to ask for it.

But if positive reviews are what you’re looking for, then you need to be asking the right customers. The right customers are the ones who are getting the most value out of your product.

After all, the best reviews don’t just praise a product; they make it abundantly clear exactly who the product is right for.

There are a number of ways to identify customers who are getting value out of your product (and it’s something you should be doing regardless), but some of the easier ways to make this distinction are by:

  • Referrers: If a customer is referring others to your business, then they’re probably very happy with it themselves.
  • Promoters: If you’re tracking customer satisfaction with Net Promoter Score surveys, then you already know who your “promoters” are.
  • Most Engaged: A simple (though sometimes imperfect) measure of customer happiness is customer engagement. Who are your customers that are logging in and using your product the most?

2) Ask at the Right Time

How many times have you gotten emails asking for reviews that come days or weeks after you’ve last had any interaction with the business?

By doing this, you force your customer to do the hard work of remembering the details of your interaction, long after it’s already happened. We already know that customer loyalty is built on making your customers’ lives easier, and that principle extends to asking for reviews, too.

The best time to ask for a review is when the value that you’ve delivered to the customer is at the top of their mind, making it easy for them to recall what happened and write an honest review.

That could mean:

  • When they hit a usage milestone (measured by value that they’ve gotten or time they’ve spent)
  • When you send your invoice and reinforce the value of doing business with you
  • When they’ve contacted you with positive feedback (or had a positive interaction with your team)

3) Ask the Right Way

Want to lose your credibility as a business with a single word?

Send an email asking for “good” reviews. Or “positive” ones. Or any other adjective that suggests that you might be trying to tell your customers what to write, even if it isn’t true.

While you absolutely should be asking for reviews, you should NEVER ask for a good review. Instead, ask for an honest review.

Importantly, you might get some reviews that are less than glowing, and that’s fantastic, because it gives you an opportunity to improve your business. But you’ll also establish trust and credibility with all of the customers that you ask for reviews from, and you’ll likely see the average sentiment of your reviews improve.

How to ask for a review (an example)

Hey \_\_\_\_,

I just noticed that you (renewed your contract/bought another product/hit a milestone). Thrilled that you’re getting value from (your business)!

If it’s not too much trouble, I have a quick request: could you please leave an honest review on (Yelp/TripAdvisor/Google Places/their blog/etc…)? Here’s a link.

Even a sentence or two would be hugely appreciated. If it helps us get more awesome customers like you, it’ll let us keep making (your business) better for you 🙂

Thanks, and if there’s anything at all that I can do to help you, don’t hesitate to let me know.

4) If You Get Ignored, Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Again.

The functionality of most email marketing software these days is amazing.

Not only can you see how many of your customers opened your email, but most apps let you send emails based on whether or not a customer opened a particular email.

If your request for a review didn’t even get opened, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a customer doesn’t want to help you. You may have caught them at a bad time, or your email might simply have gotten lost in the fray of the average bulging inbox.

Here’s a trick that Noah Kagan uses to double the impact of his email campaigns:

Step 1. Take the SAME email you sent and CHANGE the subject line to something new

Step 2. Email it out a week later JUST TO YOUR NON-OPENS

The results speak for themselves:

11% more total opens so far which is 30%+ more opens than if I did nothing.

1 minute of work = 7,031 more people read my email.

This works for any email campaign, but it works perfectly for emails asking for reviews. Simply by changing your subject line from, say, “Would you share your experience?” to “Quick question”, you could capture 30% or more additional reviews.

5) Respond to ALL Reviews

Responses aren’t just for negative reviews (and yes, you should respond to negative reviews).

If you’ve been focusing on making your customer experience a priority, then your customers don’t just have a relationship with your product; they have a relationship with you.

If your friend promoted you online, you’d thank them, right?

Given how simple that is, it’s amazing how many businesses completely ignore customers who say positive things about them. Even a simple “thank you,” or a Tweet or Like can go a long way in reinforcing your relationships with the customers who leave reviews, and showing what kind of business you are to the future customers that are reading those reviews.

Getting Great Reviews Online

Positive reviews don’t just happen; they’re primarily the result of great customer experiences.

But if you’re treating your customers right, then there are certainly ways that you can make them more likely to say nice things about you to their peers.

But sometimes, no matter what you do or say, a customer will have a bad experience.

And sometimes, no matter what you do or say, a customer with a bad experience will write about it online.

So what can you do?

A lot, actually…

How to Deal With Bad Reviews of Your Business Online

There’s no way around it: bad reviews happen.

And seeing a customer say bad⁠—often hurtful⁠—things about your business on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, blogs or just about anywhere else? Well, it sucks.

We all work hard to make our customers happy, so the idea that some are so upset with us that they chose to speak out to the world about it can be painful to deal with.

But today, I’m going to show you why bad reviews aren’t so bad after all.

And yes, there is something you can do about them (but it might not be what you think).

First Things First: Bad Reviews Don’t Mean That You’re Bad

The first rule of dealing with negative reviews is to not take them personally.

That’s because as your business grows, you’re going to see more and more of them.

If you have 100 reviews, and five of them are bad, and you let those five get to you, then how are you going to deal with 50 bad reviews out of 1,000, or 500 bad reviews out of 10,000?

There are five important things to understand that can help to reframe our thinking about bad reviews:

1) Your Business Might Just Not Be a Good Fit for the Customer (And That’s a Good Thing).

Your business isn’t right for everyone.

And that’s a great thing, because you can’t be great for everyone.

In order to be the best solution for someone, your product must be the wrong solution for someone else.

Often, a bad review simply comes from a customer discovering that your product is not the right fit for them.

And that’s okay.

2) If Your Business Is a Good Fit for the Customer, Then Their Review Is a Gift.

According to a study by Lee Resource Int’l, for every customer who complains, 26 others remain silent.

That means that a bad review from a good customer is a generous gift that can help you make great changes, and ultimately make a lot more customers happy.

3) A Bad Review Is an Opportunity to Shine.

Businesses screw up. It happens.

But when it happens, an interesting opportunity opens up: if you recover from the mistake well, you can actually build a stronger relationship with the customer than you had before.

Marketing professors Michael McCollough and Sundar Bharadwaj call this the service recovery paradox:

The service recovery paradox is the result of a very positive service recovery, causing a level of customer satisfaction and/or customer loyalty even greater than that expected if no service failure had happened.

Good customer service isn’t about completely eliminating mistakes — an impossible task — but about leveraging the opportunity created by a mistake to build a deeper relationship with your customer.

4) The Customer Might Just Be Having a Bad Day.

We all have bad days.

And on those days, we’re far more likely to lash out at others; Roger Gil, MAMFT, a behavioral scientist, suggests that one of the most common ways that stress manifests itself is displaced anger.

On our bad days, we’ve probably all been that bad customer.

I know I have.

In any situation where you’re feeling attacked or offended, it’s helpful to take a step back and put yourself into your customer’s shoes; much of the time, their behavior has nothing to do with you.

5) The Customer Might Just Be a Jerk.

Some people⁠—very, very few⁠—are, quite frankly, jerks.

These are the customers who:

  • Make personal attacks on people not problems. This can include attacks on your support team, your customers or prospective customers. >
  • Are prone to non-constructive feedback, including excessive use of profanity. >
  • Have spiteful outbursts. >


Jessica Malnik

These are the customers you fire immediately, and move on.

How To Deal With A Bad Review

When a lot of businesses get negative reviews, their first course of action is to try and get the review removed.

This is a terrible approach.

A bad review isn’t the problem. A bad review is the result of a problem. The real problem is whatever happened between your customer and your businesses that created that result.

For real customer service wins, don’t focus on the result; focus on the problem.

Treat the upset customer just as you would an upset customer who hadn’t spoken up online: with empathy, compassion and a genuine commitment to making things right.

My favorite way to do this is with the technique pioneered by the Walt Disney Company, a business that hosts 135 million people in their parks each year, many of them angry parents that have to answer to even angrier five-year-olds.

  • Hear: let the customer tell their entire story without interruption. Sometimes, we just want someone to listen.
  • Empathize: Convey that you deeply understand how the customer feels. Use phrases like “I’d be frustrated, too.”
  • Apologize: As long as it’s sincere, you can’t apologize enough. Even if you didn’t do whatever made them upset, you can still genuinely be apologetic for the way your customer feels (e.g., I’m always sorry that a customer feels upset).
  • Resolve: Resolve the issue quickly, or make sure that your employees are empowered to do so. Don’t be afraid to ask the customer: “what can I do to make this right?”
  • Diagnose: Get to the bottom of why the mistake occurred, without blaming anyone; focus on fixing the process so that it doesn’t happen again.

Now, the technique was originally designed to be utilized with customers who approach an employee to have a conversation.

That conversation is the critical element missing from a one-sided online review. So the key to applying the H.E.A.R.D. Technique to customers who leave bad online reviews is that you need to create that conversation.

Yes, You Should Respond Publicly. But Not To Defend Yourself.

If you’re considering doing business with a company, and you see a negative review, which approach from the business would make you more confident in becoming a customer?

  1. Getting defensive and listing all of the reasons why the upset customer is wrong.
  2. Being human, empathetic, apologetic and demonstrating that they genuinely want to make the upset customer happy.

The answer might seem obvious when we look at it from that perspective, which is what makes it amazing to see how many businesses will lash out at seemingly reasonable customers on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

So yes, you should respond publicly, whether on the review platform where your customer posted, or in a comment on their blog, or in response to their social media post.

But that response should be an apology for how they feel, and a request for an opportunity to make things right.

One of my favorite examples of this is the way that Gary Vaynerchuk responds to nearly every negative review of his books on Amazon.

Here’s a one-star review from a customer clearly unhappy about his purchase:

And here’s Gary’s response (note the complete lack of defending himself or his book):

The level of empathy makes it easy to see why he has so many adoring fans (and happy customers).

Instead Of Trying To Get Bad Reviews Removed, Drown Them Out

What we’ve found at Groove is that the more we apply this approach⁠—solving the underlying problem rather than focusing on getting the review removed or amended⁠—the more customers who do leave bad reviews end up going back and taking them down, or editing them to include how happy they were with our response.

And treating those underlying problems, especially in the early days, helped us to build a much stronger, more useful product that our customers love.

One thing that any business⁠—especially one that gets customers from review-driven marketplaces like App Stores, Amazon or Yelp⁠—would be wise to do is to focus on getting more positive reviews.

After all, every positive review takes the sting out of a negative one that you might have. Ten positive reviews and one negative review might give a customer pause; but 100 positive reviews and ten negative reviews isn’t such a big deal.

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