Most of us read reviews before we place an order, as they help us decide which products to buy – and which not to buy. These reviews are provided by ordinary consumers like you and me. So, within a few days of receiving a product we have ordered online, we get a review request from the supplier. And since we know how valuable reviews are in the decision-making process, we give our feedback: positive feedback when the product lives up to (or exceeds) our expectations, and negative feedback when it does not.
All this works very well for products. But with services, it is slightly different, in that negative comments seem to be shared much more readily than positive ones. This might be because people like to let off steam when they have received poor service. (I know I like to vent my anger on the computer keyboard, and the world does need to be informed about cowboys and charlatans, after all!) Or it could also be that service companies are less likely to ask for customer reviews – or go about it in a different way, such as asking customers to rate their experience by means of a short survey at the end of a phone call, which ends up as more of a broad opinion poll and less of a testimonial.
But there are a lot of great companies out there that deliver a really tip-top service (I’m thinking of Vision Vauxhall in Stafford and Your Move in Winsford, which have both gone the extra mile for me in the last couple of weeks to help sort out a juddering Corsa and an equally juddering house sale!) And when companies do something well, they deserve to be recognised for it. But it is the small business that stands to gain the most from positive feedback, as word-of-mouth referral is one of the best ways for SMEs to gain new customers.
Small enterprises tend to provide a more tailored service than larger companies. And unless a company offers a truly unique service, the chances are there are many businesses in their local area providing a similar offering. So with oodles of competition and high customer expectations, a lot of small businesses already understand the importance of excellent customer service. A lot of businesses are therefore very good at moving mountains for their customers. What they are not so good at is asking for testimonials.
Question: So if you are a small service business, how can you encourage your customers to leave good feedback?
Answer: Ask them!
- Email customers following completion of a job/piece of work and ask them if they will give a testimonial for your website. Most people agree to do this but never get round to writing the testimonial, so include in your email a suggestion of what they might want to say about the service and ask them if it is all right to use that as a testimonial. People are usually happy with this, as it saves them time.
- Send a LinkedIn Recommendation request to satisfied customers, networking colleagues and other contacts, who have experienced your service or something related to your service, such as a workshop or a presentation.
- Use a survey tool such as Survey Monkey to devise a questionnaire about your service, and send customers a link to it by email. As well as ‘yes’ ‘no’ type responses, include a free text section to allow people to give their own comments. Once the survey has been completed, ask if you might post any positive comments they have given on your website. Explore any negative comments and decide whether it is something your company needs to improve on. If the negative comment arose from exceptional circumstances that do not constitute the norm for your business, offer the customer who made the comment an incentive to revisit your service so that you can change their opinion.
- Hotels, tourist attractions and restaurants can list their business on Tripadvisor. Tradespeople might consider listing their service on a site such as Rated People. Both of Tripadvisor and Rated People encourage customers to give feedback. N.B. Some online business directories, such as Freeindex, allow you to add reviews from your customers and will rank you in accordance with how good they say your service is. All the businesses on thebestof directory have been recommended by local people and their reviews are listed.
- When someone has bought from you, give them a card along with their receipt (or send them an email, if appropriate) saying, ‘If you have enjoyed your stay/experience/meal with us today, please complete our short online questionnaire for your chance to win a day out/meal in our monthly prize draw’. This questionnaire could sit on your website.
- There is a place for the hardcopy feedback form too at the end of any workshops, courses or events that you are running. If the person gives their name on the form (which should be optional to encourage honest responses), you could follow it up with a phone call or email to ask their permission to use any positive comments in your marketing.
- Ask your customers to nominate you for an award and post their nominations on your website and social media – or simply say ‘We have been nominated for…’ on your online platforms, including your email signature. N.B. Entering your business for an award such as the Best Business Awards is one of the most cost-effective ways of generating positive PR.
- Keep an open dialogue with your customers via interaction on social media. This free-flowing communication paves the way not only for asking for and receiving testimonials, but also for keeping in touch with your target market’s preferences.
- Be generous with your praise for other businesses too. Generosity makes the small business world go round, and if you acknowledge what other businesses are doing well, they are likely to do the same for you in return.
Exactly how you approach your customers for feedback will depend on the type of business you are, but hopefully you’ve found some useful methods that are relevant to your business in the list above. If there is something you think is missing from the list that works for you, please feel free to contact me and let me know.