Saturday 15 December 2018

Incentivising for reviews - your questions answered

This topic is being brought up by clients with increasing frequency - mostly because there is just so much misunderstanding and uncertainty surrounding it. Lurking behind the question is the reality that, without the business in question taking some action or other, no one - no one at all, unless, of course, they have an agenda - will write a review. Why should they? Unless, that is, they are in some way connected to the business. 

Think we are exaggerating? According to Wikipedia, Aviva has 33 million customers. Looks like .0000004 per cent of them have written a review (actually, if you look at the reviews themselves - all of them ratings - we reckon most have been done by members of staff)!

So, the first point that we all need to agree on: your business needs to take action to get reviews written.

Next, for a sizeable minority of businesses, the obvious solution seems to be to select those customers most likely to write a glowing - and that means five star - review, and ask them. This is illegal. It is known as cherry-picking (even by the regulators) and if your business is considering doing it now is the time to look for - legal - alternatives.

A subset of that strategy is also illegal: paying customers to write reviews. Besides being illegal it contravenes Google's terms and conditions, so you risk Google taking down all your reviews.

So, before we go on to tell you what you can do, let's summarise the 'don'ts'...

  • Don't selectively invite customers to write reviews - it's illegal
  • Don't use a system that locks out categories of reviewers - it's illegal
  • Don't use a system that only allows customers to write a review when you invite them - it's illegal
  • Don't offer incentives - cash, Amazon vouchers, discounts, we've seen them all - to people to write reviews, to Google or anywhere else - it's illegal

The solution

That red 'write a review' button - the key to compliance

First and foremost: you must have a mechanism on your website that allows anyone to write a review - to you - at any time they choose. Some businesses initially object to both 'anyone' and 'any time' until it is pointed out to them that not allowing both of these is simply forcing the person set on writing the review to write it direct to Google. And those who are most motivated to write a review? Those with a negative opinion to express.

The next - and we strongly recommend this, especially for high value service businesses - independent moderation. Where complex transactions are involved (legal, accountancy, financial, medical, estate agency etc.) we estimate that at least fifty per cent of all negative reviews written contain factual inaccuracies or potentially misleading comments, and these benefit neither the potential customer or the business under review. 

Getting positive reviews

Now to the nub of this article: you have already enabled all your customers to write a review, so your business is compliant. Now you need to get the reviews rolling in. 

N.B. The following advice is not guesswork, it is the result of many years' tried-and-tested experience. 

First: what will not work...
  • emailing customers - response rates to stand-alone emails are very low
  • texting customers - the quality of 'reviews' is very low, often one word or an emoticon
  • sending cards/letters to customers - save the planet!
...unless your business will be happy with a response rate of plus/minus one per cent.

So: our standard advice to new clients...

...and see what happens. The above strategy will work for most businesses, providing it is scrupulously followed - and that means picking up the telephone.

So what about incentivising?

Clients have seen great results by adopting the following strategies, over and above those already discussed...
  • competitions amongst staff - often involving team rewards
  • individual rewards - financial or otherwise - per review written
There is nothing in the CMA regulations, or Google's T&Cs, that prohibits incentivising staff (did you realise that Richer Sounds, a business built firmly on its excellent CRM, pays showroom staff for every feedback form returned by customers?). 

Points to bear in mind: 
  • ensure the incentive is accurately targeted - to reward the specific member of staff that gets the review (we have seen instances when sales staff were rewarded but admin staff were responsible for getting the reviews!)
  • competitions can result in a run-away winner - and can therefore have a demoralising effect on 'losers', so be careful when designing yours
  • it is tempting to attempt to 'build Rome in a day' and then be disappointed when it's not - set yourself reasonable targets for both reviews to your own site and reviews to Google/Facebook etc. Remember that two reviews a month will results in twenty-four in a year and sixty in three years. We advise our clients to work hard to achieve the first hundred reviews on their own website and fifty to Google for the simple reason that their score will not then be adversely impacted by a single negative review

Like this (an example of a client that has adopted our 'standard advice' - i.e. not incentivised staff)...

...on their own site, and this, in search (drawn from the reviews on their site)...

...and this, on Google

...and this, in local search...

...and again, in mobile local search...

Here's a instance where we know staff have been rewarded...

...and on their own site?

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