Convince and Convert: Social Media Consulting and Content Marketing Consulting

How Not to Ask Your Customers for Reviews

Editor’s Note: This post is one of Convince & Convert’s Top 10 Posts of 2016.

Unless a majority of them are negative, having more reviews is better than having fewer reviews. Sometimes, the total number of reviews for a product or company is prominently displayed on the website, and can serve as visual shorthand that helps consumers decide to click or purchase.

It‘s good business to ask your customers to provide reviews, as long as it isn‘t too aggressive or a quid-pro-quo. There‘s a fine line between encouraging reviews and demanding them. Even Yelp, which, without a steady stream of new reviews, would be as useful as a knife and fork in a hot dog eating contest, discourages businesses from overtly asking for reviews.

Personal Connections Matter

As a practical matter, however, businesses do often ask their customers to provide Yelp reviews, says Martin Shervington, who runs Plus Your Business, a local reviews consulting firm. “What we‘ve found is that when there is a more personal connection between the business and the customer, whether it‘s a server, a manager, an owner, customers are more likely to provide a review,” he says. “TripAdvisor and Google do not prohibit or discourage review solicitation the same way Yelp does, but businesses everywhere are asking for reviews, and they should.”

An Amazing True Story of Asking for Reviews

Last week I was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico hosting the annual retreat for my team at Convince & Convert and their significant others. This is a great tradition where we figure out what we’re doing for the year, and celebrate the prior year. We stay all together in an enormous villa, which is great for margarita drinking team-building.

This year we went to dinner one night at Le Kliff, a breathtaking waterfront restaurant south of the city. One of the most spectacular places I’ve ever been, the entire place is a giant palapa on a hillside. No doors. No windows. No walls.

Our party of 20 was attended to with exceptional grace and good humor, but it was what the head waiter said when he presented the bill that was so remarkable (and noteworthy for this post):

“I am Ramon. It has been my pleasure to serve you tonight. As you may know, Le Kliff is very popular at certain times of the year, but in the summer we are closed in July, August, and September. I do not work at Le Kliff those months, so I am not paid in the summer.

We rely very much on reviews from TripAdvisor to generate our customers, since we are far from the city center. Our manager knows this (note: his name is Everado Vazquez. I talked to him afterwards, and he is an extraordinarily good restaurant manager), and he encourages us to ask our happy tables for reviews.

The way it works is for every review that shows up on TripAdvisor mentioning my name – Ramon – I am paid for one summer day.”

I was gobsmacked. What a brilliant method of encouraging your staff to solicit reviews in a human way! I would probably have reviewed Le Kliff anyway, because it is so extraordinary, but when Ramon asks us personally because it will benefit him personally, the psychological impact of that appeal is quite powerful.

And then he gave each of us – all 20 – a small card with his name on it, with the TripAdvisor logo, and contact information for Le Kliff.

From Ramon, with Love

I really, really wish I had experienced this last year, as I would have included Ramon in my new book, Hug Your Haters. Speaking of which, the book is available for ordering now at HugYourHaters.com or Amazon.

A Cautionary Tale: the FTC v. Amerifreight

Remember though, there is a line that shouldn‘t be crossed when it comes to demanding reviews. It can even be illegal to do so. In April 2015, the United States Federal Trade Commission settled a case with Amerifreight, a Georgia-based vehicle shipper. The settlement also required the company to stop using terms such as “highly rated” and “top ranked” in its advertising.

The firm charged customers an extra $50 if they did not write an online review of the service at transportreviews.com, and removed the $50 charge if a review was written. Customers who wrote reviews were also entered into a “best monthly reviews” contest. Compensating customers for reviews without disclosing that information is a violation of the FTC‘s online marketing guidelines first released in 2009, and updated in 2013.

The best practice is to do it Ramon’s way: let customers know you participate in review sites, and that you care about their feedback, however and wherever they choose to provide it. But charging customers who don‘t write you a review is half-pushy, half-stupid, and wholly illegal.

Lots more on this subject, plus proprietary research on the state of online customer service in Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers, about which Guy Kawasaki says: “This is a landmark book in the history of customer service.”