When you’re in business, you know that your reputation matters — and that’s especially true these days of your online reputation.

Leaving yourself open for customer reviews can be an anxiety-provoking feat, but the benefits of a few good reviews online are so worth the potential drawbacks.

Why Online Reviews Are So Important

Consumers are increasingly selective about where they spend their money, and online reviews are one of the ways that shoppers decide where to shop. In fact, 68% of consumers use online reviews to decide what they think about a business.

Good online reviews are also a highly persuasive force when it comes to converting prospects into customers and driving sales. While many consumers will form an opinion about a place after seeing just one to three reviews, seeing five good reviews for your product or business actually quadruples the likelihood that someone will purchase something. Review sites also rank high in search results. Customers looking for your business may find your reviews before they find your site — which is even more reason to covet good reviews.

Unfortunately, unless you run a restaurant, a hotel, or a hybrid of the two, like a bed-and-breakfast, getting good reviews isn’t always easy. People don’t usually stop and review their nail salon, hairstylist, dog groomer or dentist — unless something goes wrong. Despite having a stellar reputation among most of your customers, your business can end up with a skewed online reputation very easily because of just one or two dissatisfied customers. Their negative reviews can put a damper on new business coming in.

So, what’s the best way to grow a positive online reputation? Turn your satisfied customers into your online advocates by getting their reviews.

How To Approach Your Customers For Good Reviews

Step One: Just Ask!

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for a review. In fact, your customers may be pleased that you’re asking for their opinion — especially if you let them know that you’re looking forward to their feedback! Approach this as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your customer, and the odds are good that your customer will reciprocate in kind.

For example, don’t say, “Please leave us a review — it helps our business!” Instead, say something like, “Please let us know what you like most about our products or service. We want to know what we can keep doing to make your experience the best!” That frames the question in a way that both involves the customer and encourages an upbeat, positive response.

If you don’t have a lot of direct contact with your customers, then you have to get more creative about how you ask for reviews. You can:

  • Email a request. Just make sure that you make it personal. Have the email come from directly from an account of your own in order to make the request more personal.
  • Ask for reviews on receipts. A lot of companies offer a small incentive in order to sweeten this approach. Reward points, coupons, and a chance to win a gift card are all effective incentives.
  • Ask for reviews on Facebook or Twitter. Again, a chance to win a gift card or a free product in exchange for a review can be a powerful motivator.

Remember: people want to be heard! Make it a point to let your customers know that you sincerely appreciate their commentary — and you’ll be reading what they write!

Step Two: Make It Easy!

In addition to asking, you have to make it easy for your customers to give you the reviews you need. Direct customers to the best places to give you reviews. The top sites for customer reviews include:

  • Google My Business
  • Facebook
  • Citysearch
  • Yelp
  • Foursquare
  • Yellowpages
  • Angie’s List

Since some sites don’t allow solicited reviews and others don’t allow you to offer anything (even a coupon!) in return for a review, be certain that you check out the review guidelines for each platform you use.

If you’re already interacting with customers on Facebook, it’s easy enough to prompt them with a link. If you’re communicating in email, you can do the same. When you’re interacting in person, consider using this fabulous (and free) review handout generator to give your customers crystal clear instructions on how to leave you a review. (You can also use the site to generate a mobile-friendly PDF form that you can send to a customer’s cell.)

Step Three: Do Something Worth Raving About!

Finally, you need to give your customers something worth writing about. You can encourage more reviews by simply:

  • Exceed your customers’ expectations. Meeting expectations is…expected. Exceeding expectations will prompt customers to tell others about it.
  • Provide great customer service. Put yourself in your customer’s place and ask yourself what would make an impression on you if you were the customer. Make that part of your expectations for everyone in your company that interacts with the public.
  • Resolve complaints quickly. Mistakes are bound to happen from time to time, but that doesn’t mean you should let a customer go away angry. Promptly acknowledge a dissatisfied customer’s feelings and then figure out how to fix the situation. Offering a refund, a free meal, or doing whatever you can to repair the relationship with an unhappy customer can help you avoid a bad review — and even prompt a good one.

The Takeaway

Online reviews are rapidly becoming an essential part of small business SEO and marketing. Your future customers are looking for reviews — so part of your job is to make sure they find some. If you approach your current customers with a request for feedback, make it clear that you’re genuinely interested in their responses, and make it easy for them to leave a review, you can get those positive reviews flowing in no time!