Update to this post (2/6/2012)
Ratepoint is no longer in business. Feel free to read over the article anyways, but no need to hunt for Ratepoint. They got bought out by a competitor and totally changed their services.
In recent years, another benefit of the technological revolution has been online customer reviews. Whether they are buying a tractor, a trundle bed, or a toothbrush, people will check out customer reviews on any number of websites. Today, the majority of homeowners will research your company by searching for reviews by your previous customers before calling to set up an appointment.
This trend was started several years ago by Amazon.com, as well as local restaurants in various locations. Soon, it spread to sites like Yelp, Google, Angie´s list, Wal-Mart.com, and the BBB online reports. When a customer has an experience, good or bad, they can go to any number of sites to describe their satisfaction or anger about a product or service. Now some of the major search engines are beginning to give first place rankings to the companies with the most reviews.
Obviously, this means you want reviews—good ones, and lots of them! The problem is that your satisfied customers are contentedly quiet, and the ones that make online noise are usually those who are dissatisfied or have a chip on their shoulder. Also, many of the clients of the companies I work with are busy, wealthy homeowners who have never heard of Google Reviews or Yelp. They might read some reviews on these sites before hiring a contractor, but afterwards they don´t remember the sites they used.
So what can we do to get our satisfied customers to leave excellent reports about us? Generic emails asking them to write a review won´t work. A service company has to get a little more creative and personal. As you conclude a job, talk to the customer by phone or in person and ask them to write a review for you: “Can you do me a favor…” or “Can you help me out with something?” Briefly explain how it helps you to keep down advertising costs and assists other homeowners in finding you online. Give them a quick overview of how long it takes and what they need to do. If they seem willing, then send them an email with detailed instructions, preferably with screenshots.
Besides making it personal, you need to make it easy. Many customers won’t write a review because they have to register for an account or follow complicated instructions. To make it easy, I´ve started using a program called Ratepoint. This is an independent online review program that makes everything a piece of cake, and doesn´t require customers to create an account. A company can install certain widgets or graphics on their site that will encourage visitors to read recent ratings and testimonials. It´s like having your own Amazon.com review system right on your site. Because it is 3rd party, it also has many Search Engine benefits. For example, Google can discover the reviews and post them on Google Places. Ratepoint has also made it even easier for customers to share their thoughts on other major review sites: after writing a review (again, without needing an account), customers are invited to share their thoughts further on other major websites.
Another key benefit to Ratepoint is that it can handle your email marketing and any surveys you want to conduct. It can replace your current email system completely. I’ve used it for a few clients and I do like it. However, my favorite email program continues to be MailChimp. It is just really slick and easy to use.
So remember, personally invite your satisfied clients to write reviews, and tell them how. Make it easy for them. Give Ratepoint a try: Here is a sample of how it looks on a website: Brennan’s Custom Painting