How to Use Customer Reviews to Grow Your Small Business

Positive customer reviews are a vital part of growing a small business. In a recent Vistaprint survey of 1,000 U.S. small businesses owners, 66% said word of mouth was their top method for promoting themselves. In today’s digital age, online reviews are the new “word of mouth” that can spread the word about your products and services. Review platforms such as Yelp, Google and Facebook can act as search engines, helping customers in your area find your business. When consumers visit Yelp and search for a local business, your average rating and number of reviews influences your company’s rank in the results. 

When customers take the time to write positive reviews, it reassures prospects that you’re a reliable company they can trust. That trust matters. Almost half (49%) of 1,000 U.S. consumers in a February 2019 Vistaprint survey said that reputation was a top factor in their decision to spend money with a small business or not. It’s smart business to embrace reviews that customers leave for you and to solicit reviews from those who have had a positive experience with you. But how does a small business successfully increase the number of positive reviews it receives?

The art of asking

Sometimes, the obvious answer is best. If you need reviews, why not ask for them? Start with asking your current, regular customers. You’d be surprised at the power of simply asking, “If you enjoyed your time in our store, would you consider writing about it?” There is a reason your regulars keep coming back to you, so if you are uncomfortable getting started, this is the perfect way to practice. 

For some small business owners, asking customers for their feedback is intimidating. It might feel like an imposition, or even an invitation for negative feedback. But Megan Hines and Meagan Barfield, co-owners of St. Louis-based LGBTQ+ baby boutique HelloPride, find that giving their customers a little extra service goes a long way toward encouraging them to leave reviews. HelloPride’s handmade baby onesies are a popular gift, so they always include two postcards with each online order – one for the purchaser to give to the gift recipient, and one as a preprinted thank-you note. It’s really all about courtesy and how you ask. Giving that little extra postcard for them to personalize, saying, “We really appreciate your business – let us know if you love it,” makes the review feel like a natural continuation of the transaction.

Post-sale conversations can be a great opportunity to ensure your customers are satisfied and ask them to show you some love online. It’s also a natural time to bring up reviews, because it’s such a service-focused moment. If you haven’t had a review from your customers in a while, consider sending out a follow-up email to make sure they’re happy with their most recent purchases. If they’re still feeling warm and fuzzy from their last interaction with you, a quick reminder is all it takes to get the review.

Be prepared, however, for less-than-stellar responses. You may find that the reason they haven’t left a review is that there was some kind of  issue. This gives you the opportunity to make it right and provide excellent service. 

When asking for reviews, make the process as seamless as possible by including a clear call to action for your customers. That could be a URL to Yelp or Google Reviews, a form field, or just a written invitation to “tell us what you think!” The easier this is for them, the more reviews you will receive.

Getting social with your customers

Contacting your customers via social media channels is sometimes easier than asking them to leave reviews on Yelp, Google or your website. It can also lead to more views online, a larger social media following and ultimately more visits for your business. In Vistaprint’s consumer survey, 41% of respondents indicated they are more likely to find out about a small business through social media. There’s also a snowball effect with social media reviews: Customers who see others sharing reviews of your business are more likely to do the same. 

For Carla Lyles, founder of Carla Sue Greeting Cards and Gifts in Houston, social media is a key generator for customer engagement. She wants her relationship with customers to be like a conversation where they listen to each other.

How do small business owners successfully start that conversation through social channels? To grow her social following, Lyles incorporates branded signage and postcards in her shop and at popup events that specifically encourage customers to follow her brand on social media. With each order, she includes a thank-you note that invites reviews in a lighthearted way that’s perfect for social media: the selfie. 

What to do when you have great reviews

If you’ve already managed to amass an impressive library of great reviews, congratulations! At this stage, it may be time to consider some unconventional ways to use them and build your customer base.

Online reviews don’t have to stay on one medium, like Yelp or even your website. Positive reviews look great in print. When Linda Hill, CEO of boutique publisher Bella Books, sets up her exhibit space at conferences and expos, she pairs each book title with a custom bookmark printed with standout reviews from fans and book critics. It’s a small touch, but it gives her products a personal recommendation and helps her customers find their next favorite read. 

For popups and maker markets, HelloPride’s co-owners like to merchandize onesies by hanging colorful postcards with customer reviews specific to each item. Authentic reviews from real customers lend the products instant credibility, and shoppers won’t need to pull out their phones to fish for reviews.

Another note about packaging – whether you promote in shops, at fairs or online, the presentation of your products speaks volumes about your business. Too often, packaging is treated as merely a necessary way to protect and carry products, but it’s a great way to stand out and create a memorable experience with your brand. You can use reviews in decals and stickers to put your customers’ words directly onto your product’s packaging.

Opportunities to improve

Small business owners can learn a lot from customer reviews, both positive and negative. By asking your customers to provide feedback, your business makes them feel valued. When the customers feel listened to, your brand will have positive connotations for them and direct their good experience back at you. This can lead to more sales in the future.

Embracing feedback helps you understand what your customers love about your business – and what they might not love. Paying attention to reviews can help you expand on the positive and fix what’s not working. It’s not easy to hear negative feedback from your customers, but it’s important to take it seriously and objectively examine what your customer is trying to tell you. Don’t be afraid to face your shortcomings head-on; this will only make your business stronger!

With the passion and drive it takes to own a business, there can be pressure to self-promote, and marketing often takes a back seat to more pressing tasks. Luckily, using your customers’ positive reviews allows them to do the talking on your behalf. It’s one of the most authentic and cost-effective ways for small businesses to promote themselves and build lasting trust with their audience.

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