How to ask customers for reviews (and actually get them)

Outside of the food and hospitality industry, it can be a real struggle for businesses to get positive reviews.

Consumers don’t typically review their landscaper, gym, car rental agency and many other business types that they interact with on a daily basis unless something goes wrong.

Because of this, we talk daily with companies who do outstanding work and have a great real-world reputation, but have more negative online reviews than positive.

For business owners, this disparity between offline and online reputation is beyond frustrating. So what’s a business owner or general manager to do when they find themselves in this situation?

Ask happy customers for reviews.

Tip the review balance back in your favor by getting those happy customers to be your online advocates. Below, I’ll share some tips, best practices and tests you can run to get more positive reviews.

But first, you may be wondering: Is it okay to ask for reviews? For Google, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Yelp, however, has issued conflicting statements on whether or not you’re allowed to ask customers for reviews. I asked Yelp directly, and they told me that it is okay to ask for reviews as long as there is no incentivizing (See #2 in “5 Yelp facts business owners should know”). For all of the other review sites, you’ll need to check their terms of service and guidelines.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive in…

The gold standard: Asking in person

There’s no better way to ask for, and get, reviews than to do it in person. The person-to-person request is incredibly effective, particularly if the requester has spent a lot of time with the customer. We’ve found that asking in person can garner you seven to eight times more reviews than asking via email.

Let’s take a furniture store as an example. A sales associate might spend an hour or more helping a customer pick out and customize just the right couch for their home. They get to know each other over the course of that time, talk about where they’re from, their families, and so on. A mini-bond is built in the time spent together.

At the end of the sale, there is now no person better positioned to ask for a review than this sales associate. The associate can explain that it helps other customers who are researching them and gives a true perspective on the business.

If you’re thinking about asking customers for reviews, first try to figure out the customer touch points and who within the company builds the deepest relationship with the customer. That is likely the person who should be asking for reviews.

The “tip” trick

The “tip” trick is one of those review growth hacks that can work really great in particular industries. The strategy is that someone who has spent a lot of time with a customer then asks for a review, but throws in the kicker of, “If you had a good experience and include my first name in the review, the company gives me a $10 tip.”

This little “sweetener” gives a customer the extra incentive to leave an online review, particularly if he or she had a good experience.

We’ve seen this strategy work best with services provided in and around customers’ homes. This includes landscapers, exterminators and movers.

The service providers work hard, and people sometimes want to tip them for their work; this strategy gives customers a free way to tip someone who did a good job.

For the right companies, this can drastically accelerate the number of review that come in.

Asking via email

Asking for reviews via email is a bit trickier. There are cases where you don’t have a lot (or any) face time with a customer. In those instances, email may be your only option.

If you’re going to ask for reviews via email, we strongly encourage you to pre-screen your customers via an internal survey before following up with another email asking them for a public review. While this may sound like cheating, it’s no different from what you would do in person.

If someone is clearly upset, you wouldn’t ask them for an online review. Likewise, using triggers from an internal survey allows you to apply this same human logic, just algorithmically.

Here are some of the best practices for your email request letter:

  1. Have the email come from a real person’s email address (Even better, have it come from a name they’d recognize, such as someone they worked with).
  2. Have the email written as a personal request from that same person.
  3. Have a very clear call-to-action link/button. Remove random social media or website footer links — just as with good conversion rate optimization, have a singular goal of users clicking the review button.
  4. Test using a plain-text email versus an HTML email.
  5. Test different subject lines: We’ve found that using the person’s name in the subject line works well in many instances but falls completely flat in a few others.
  6. Test different email copy to see what performs best.

As with any good campaign, test everything until you’re getting the best conversion-to-review rate possible (not just open rate). Email will almost never perform as well as asking in person, but it can still be very effective at scale.

An organizational initiative

We’ve seen that reviews tend to be a slow trickle until getting them is truly adopted as an organizational initiative, not just some side project done by marketing. The best strategies for making reviews a priority across an organization include:

  1. Making better reviews a top-down focus; executives need to communicate the importance.
  2. Obtaining organizational buy-in on the importance of reviews by helping employees understand the direct impact they have on the business.
  3. Training key employees on how to ask for reviews.
  4. Developing a scorecard that tracks reviews by locations (similar to our SERP score, but for reviews).
  5. Providing bonuses and awards for the locations that have the best online reviews.

Putting the C-suite behind the online reviews initiative is the absolute best way to get action to be taken.

Fight back

The simple act of asking for reviews starts to put the power back into your hands. Many business owners just throw their hands up in the air and assume there is nothing they can do. But as you can see, it’s quite the opposite.

Asking for reviews doesn’t require any special tools or technology, just a commitment to see it through. Using these strategies, you can fight back against the phenomenon of businesses (outside of the food and hospitality industry) only getting negative reviews.


About The Author

Brian Patterson
Brian Patterson is partner and co-founder of Go Fish Digital, and is responsible for researching and developing strategies for Online Reputation Management (ORM), SEO, and managing web development projects. He blogs on the GFD blog and can be found on Twitter@brianspatterson.