How To Ask For, and Respond to, Online Reviews

5 star reviews using phone
How To Ask For, and Respond to, Online Reviews
Time to read: 13 minutes

As Digital Marketers (and people of the year 2023), we know that your reputation online can make or break a business.

So many of us look for assurance (and what we in marketing call ‘social proof’ — validation from ‘others like us’ that the company is trustworthy and the investment is a great idea), before purchasing a product or service. Positive reviews are one of the biggest contributors to that ‘social proof’ and reassurance.

But it can be hard for businesses to get these reviews to start with, to know how and when to ask for them, and how to deal with the dreaded negative public review.

So we’ve created this article to cover some of those most important questions to online reviews — from the importance of asking customers for reviews, how to nail the timing, how to respond diplomatically to negative reviews, and why Google sometimes removes reviews.

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How do I get more good reviews?

Review platforms: where should you focus?

There are many different review platforms out there, where people are likely to leave reviews and search for reviews. Of these review platforms, the areas to focus on, from our professional opinion, for most cases are:

  1. Firstly, Google Reviews. If you focus on one, focus here.
  2. Secondly, anywhere else you might already have reviews. Especially if they’re negative.

Why are Google Reviews the most important to focus on?

Google Reviews are the most important to focus on, for a number of reasons;

So for all of these reasons, Google is the most important review platform to focus your efforts on. If you need a single source of truth for your reviews, Google should be the one. However, for other review platforms, if you already have a bunch, if there’s one in your industry that’s important (like TripAdvisor for tourism and hotels) or one you have a bunch of negative reviews on, that’s also an important focus.
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The importance of asking your customers for reviews

Here’s why it’s important to ask your customers for reviews.

The number of reviews matters

The number of (positive) reviews makes a difference in how much trust your reviews give your customers.

One 5-star review from a questionable source is a lot less convincing than 120 5-star reviews (that are organic and are obviously real customers). So the more 5-star reviews you can get, the better.

100+ reviews and a high average star rating tell people that 100+ others, just like them, have had a positive experience with you. So they can expect the same.

The numbers also matter for Google itself, and how you will perform organically for relevant searches.

It’s important to ask your customers for reviews, in order to increase this number. But it’s important to make sure you’re only pushing for good reviews. More on how to do this later.

It’s probably important to note at this stage that it should be a focus to provide excellent service to your customers, in general. As a rule of thumb, happy customers means you’re doing something right and providing a service or product that is of benefit and value. This of course bodes great for the longevity of your business and your ongoing success. If you keep your customers happy, the reviews you do get are most likely going to be positive.

Your star rating matters - and every single review contributes

Your star rating makes a big difference. Take a moment to think about how someone with a low Uber star rating (as a passenger) is perceived. It can be a red flag as to a person’s character. Businesses are the same; a low star rating, or anything less than 4.5 stars, can be a cause for concern. Every single review contributes to this star rating. Two negative reviews can make just as much impact as 5 positive reviews.

Positive reviews can offset negative reviews

The good thing is that positive reviews can reduce the impact of a smaller number of negative reviews. 

If you’re looking at a new restaurant online, and the only reviews are negative (let’s say five one-star reviews), you’ll think the restaurant isn’t great. If you see the same five negative reviews, but fifteen five-star reviews, not only does the star rating go up significantly, but reading through the reviews, you can see that more people enjoyed the restaurant than those who didn’t. If you see five one-star reviews and one hundred five-star reviews, you see the negative reviews as outliers. And probably just cranky people. If that restaurant replied to that negative review in a respectful and positive, professional manner, the weight of the negative reviews diminishes even further.

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There’s power in numbers — and people like to follow the pack

It’s also important to think about the power that the numbers have. It’s human nature to jump on the ‘bandwagon’ where reviews and comments are concerned, positive or negative. You’ve probably noticed it with viral social media posts, where a few hilarious comments set off a popcorn-worthy comments thread of jokes, reactions and replies. People build off each other. You may have noticed it with negative posts as well. People are most likely to comment if others before them have done so. And reviews have the same effect. The behaviour of others online can often reaffirm our own experiences, whether they are positive or negative, and entice us to feel comfortable in adding our own (similar) opinions.

You know who your customers are. So you can determine their experience first

Your customers are a safer bet for asking for reviews, as you have already done business with them. They’ve experienced working with you, and what your services or products offer them in benefits. 

Prospects, on the other hand, are less controlled. Maybe someone couldn’t get through to you on the phone, or got fed up after you took too long on a quote. Maybe one of your vehicles out on the road had a driver with a driving style that is a not-so-great representation of your company. 

You know who your customers are, you’ve most probably got their contact details, and you’re likely to know if they’re happy or not. And you have the means to find out, in most cases.

How and when to ask your customers for reviews

How to ask customers for reviews. So you know how important it is to actively ask your customers to leave you reviews. But how do you do it? Here are some of the most effective ways to do it.

Asking for reviews via email

Asking your customers for reviews via email is an effective method as you can include an easy, clickable link to your Google Reviews or other focus review platform.

You can include a reviews push in an email automation workflow, but keep in mind you’ll want to enable some form of method to remove unhappy customers from this workflow before they get the reviews email (if you know about them). 

A safer way is to template an email to manually send to customers you know have had a good experience, or template a section of an email that your salespeople can add to their communication with your client/customer and send off, for a more customised, personable approach.

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Asking for reviews via phone call

Asking for reviews over the phone is a great, personable way to solicit reviews, especially as you’re able to sound out how happy the customer is before asking — and you’re able to emotively communicate how much it would mean. You can do so in a follow-up ‘just checking you’re happy with everything’ / ‘how did we do’ style phone call, or over the phone at another opportune time. Try using words like, “if you have a moment, we’d absolutely love for you to leave us a review on Google – it makes such a huge difference, and we literally do a happy dance every time”.

Encouraging your team to responsively ask for reviews

It’s always a great idea to let your team know about how important reviews are for your business, and to encourage team members to actively ask for reviews, whenever a customer verbally tells them that they’re happy. You could even incentivise your team to ask for reviews — for example, you could award prizes for 5-star reviews for whoever requested the review, or for whoever was mentioned directly in the review.

Review cards

Depending on your business, review cards may be a way to go. You could leave review cards with your team out on the ground, with instructions to give them to customers who seem pleased. This works best for home services like carpet cleaners, commercial cleaning, landscapers, and installation teams; where a positive, friendly interaction and an immediate result can be great timing for a positive review. A review card is simply a designed card that asks customers to review you. It might feature a URL, short link URL, or a QR code.

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When should you ask customers for reviews?

Timing is everything in asking for reviews. So it’s all about finding the steps in your process when it would be ideal to ask for the review. Here are some tips for consideration:

The key thing is to have a process for asking for feedback before asking for the review (which gives you a chance to uncover anything more you can do to make sure the customer is 100% happy). One of the best ways to do this is to pick up the phone and ask them.

How to encourage reviews

A personal approach is the best way to encourage customers to review. You can do this in three ways;

  1. Let the customer know how much it means to the individual asking; for example, “If you do have a moment to leave a positive review on Google, that would be a huge thing for me, as my bosses see that and they’ll know I did a great job with your (service)”.
  2. Let them know how much it means to the business, for example; “reviews make a huge difference to our business, and we celebrate every one”.

Let them know how much it means to others, for example; “if you have a moment to leave a review on Google, we’d love you to spread the love – so others know about (the benefits).”

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How to help ensure your reviews are positive

To improve the chances of getting positive reviews when you do ask, the obvious, but important factor is to make sure your customer is 100% happy before asking.

In general, it’s important to deliver great customer service and do your best to keep your customers happy. Good business practices, an ethical and honest approach, great quality of work and excellent customer service are key. 

This is good business practice anyway — to make sure your customers are happy! It translates to good word-of-mouth referrals and good reviews. At the very least, it prevents people from feeling the need to tell the world about a negative experience — and we all know, it’s the angriest people that are the loudest.

Goodwill generates loyalty

It’s important to remember, it’s not about tricking your customers into giving you good Google Reviews! It’s about making sure you actually have happy customers who are so happy they want to leave a review! 

And it’s not just about the review – it’s about all the behind-the-scenes goodwill and word of mouth that happens when you have genuinely happy customers!

Have you ever seen a social media comments thread where an angry ‘ranter’ triggers a bunch of responses from happy customers defending a brand? It happens. And it comes from great loyalty and excellent customer experiences.

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How to respond diplomatically to reviews

If you’ve ever got negative reviews, you’ll know they can be stressful. But it’s important to not react emotively. Diplomatic answers can help you recover the situation.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Try to make contact with the person, and resolve the issue offline. Once it’s resolved, you can usually ask them if they wouldn’t mind taking the review down now that the issue has been resolved. Explain to them how much reviews matter, and how their experience does matter to you and be sure to apologise for the inconvenience and problem. It’s important to demonstrate that first though.
  2. Respond publicly if they do not take the review down. But do so diplomatically.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of publicly berating them, or getting into an online argument. It’s really not a good look.
  • Be very careful with how you communicate; don’t accuse.
  • Be clear that you’re trying to resolve the situation in a mutually beneficial way.

An example of a public reply that is diplomatic is along the lines of:

“We’re sorry to hear of your experience. We care a lot about providing a great experience for our customers and are disappointed to hear when an experience is less than ideal. Our customer care team has reached out to you, as we’d love to discuss this further with you and also help find a better resolution for you.” 

Be responsive to both positive and negative reviews. This shows that you care, while also drawing equal attention to positive reviews.

  • Comment in a timely manner.
  • If you have negative and positive reviews around the same time, comment on the negative review first, then the positive review, so the most recent activity is on the positive review.
  • Comment just as long of a response for positive reviews as you do for negative ones. Don’t hold back on the good vibes. But keep it professional.

An example of a great positive review comment is: “Thank you so much for leaving this positive review, Tina. We are super passionate about delivering the best possible quality for each and every customer, and so we’re thrilled to get such great feedback. So, from the whole team, thank you!” Keep it in context, of course — a 5-star review with no comments, only needs a simple “thanks so much for the 5-star review”.

For reviews that you suspect are fake, unfair, or competitors, report them to Google but also be very tactful in how you reply.

For example, “Hi Bob, we are having trouble finding you in our system — we have no recent customer with your name in our system, and can’t find any previous job in your system that match the details and specifics of the experience you’ve mentioned — we’d love to speak to you to get to the bottom of this situation, locate you in our system and resolve the matter positively for you, so if you can please get in touch with our Customer Support team, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.” This is much better than “We know this is a fake review from a competitor, we don’t have anyone of your name in our system. How dare you attack another small business. Not cool, man”.

We recommend never taking this latter approach, as it looks unprofessional and accusatory. A carefully worded ‘we can’t seem to find you in our system - please get in touch to resolve the matter’ hints at the same, without outwardly accusing the review of this.

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Help! Google removed my positive review!? Why legitimate reviews get removed

Legitimate Google Reviews that are being taken down are becoming a common issue. If you have had some Google Reviews randomly vanish, it is likely because of Google’s active algorithmic filter, which is in place to block reviews that don’t comply with their policies. 

The problem with the filter is that sometimes it will remove legitimate reviews. And can also miss obvious fakes. 

The reviews filter works periodically to remove reviews that the AI declares to be not legit. The periodical nature of it means a review can be fine for a few months, and then totally disappear. Why, you may ask? There are a few things that it could be.

  • If the reviewer was an employee
    • Internal reviews (by employees of your business) aren’t allowed on Google Reviews. The algorithm can tell with indicators like the history of logging into company Google Accounts, company Google Business Profile listings, and shared IP addresses when in the office. 
  • The IP address of the review 
    • If the IP address is the same as someone else who left you a review. This happens when people are on the same internet connection at the time of leaving a review. Even if the second review happens months later. 
    • This can also happen if they log into your wifi to leave their review. Or a public wifi space another wifi user was logged into when they reviewed. If you’re logged into your Google Account when you connect to a public wifi, it can leave a trail that tells Google (falsely) that you may be part of the company you’re reviewing. 
    • If you have an iPad or something that you use to get reviews on-site, they’ll probably be filtered for this reason.
  • The review contains a URL
    • URLs are not actually allowed in Google Reviews, and they cause it to be filtered. If you are a ‘trusted’ reviewer on Google Reviews (ie if you’ve left a few reviews before) it can take a while for it to filter. Others can happen immediately. 
  • The review contains a swear word or something similar
    • Google doesn’t like reviews that contain swear words or socially unacceptable terms. Reviews will be filtered and hidden until the swear words are removed. 
  • Incentivised reviews aren’t allowed
    • So many do it, but if caught, incentivised reviews will be removed. This can happen if a competitor reports you, or the bots somehow get wind of incentivising your reviews. 
  • It could have been deleted by the reviewer
  • If your Google Business Profile gets suspended, you’ll likely lose all of your reviews. If it gets reinstated, they’ll probably pop right back up, though. 
  • Duplicate listings 
    • If you have two listings you merge into one, the reviews could move from one to the other.
  • It could be a bug
    • This is common. Unfortunately, it does happen.

What can you do about this?

If you notice a review left for you has swear words, you can ask the poster to edit the profanity to avoid it coming down. Refrain from swearing in your replies. 

And if you have public wifi, or your clients and customers are likely to log into your wifi while visiting, ask your IT team about getting a dynamic IP address, and how you can get this reset regularly.

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A final word to leave you with…

While great reviews do make a big impact on your credibility and trust, it’s important to always strive for happy customers, regardless of their reviewing-power. 

Providing a great experience and real value doesn’t just lead to great testimonials, reputation and referrals. It also goes a long way to ensuring your business longevity. Great reviews tell you you’re doing something right. It’s as simple as that. 

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