Getting customers to write a review

11Apr08

A few months ago, I noticed a neat looking noodles place that opened up a few blocks from me. I checked out their menu online and it looked promising. Then I went to Yelp and looked at the reviews. Apparently, a lot of other people noticed the place too, since there were quite a few reviews for such a new restaurant. And these reviews were less than flattering: many people reported cold food, poor texture of the noodles, and other issues. With this info in mind, I abandoned my plan to try the noodles shop.

I think my experience indicates a larger trend. There is a small but growing group of people who read online reviews before going to new restaurants, stores, and other local businesses. For these people, good reviews can bring them in the door, and bad reviews can keep them away. None of this should come as any surprise, since it’s only natural to be interested in how our peers perceive a certain product or service. But there are interesting implications for how local businesses should go about soliciting reviews from their customers.

Specifically, I think local businesses should make an effort to get customers to write reviews. Let’s use a restaurant as an example. Perhaps they might offer a 20% off coupon for your next meal if you leave a review on Yelp and send them the link to it. They could advertise this with a little stand-up sign on each table, or at the takeout counter. To ensure that people are being paid for their honest feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, the restaurant must promise to honor this offer no matter what the actual review says.

But what about the negative reviews? Do we really want to give people more motivation to share negative experiences? Isn’t that the source of our concern in the first place? I propose a simple solution to this. When they promote the discount for writing a review, the business could also make a special offer for customers who were unhappy with their experience. Something like “If we let you down today, tell us about it and your next meal’s on us.” Then, ask those “second chance” customers to leave a review explaining how you handled their concerns. This approach helps you address people’s complaints before they become public, while giving you valuable insight into improving your business.

On the balance, you should end up with more reviews for your business, and a large percentage of them should be positive. This helps bring in new customers. At the same time, the coupon you provide for leaving a review will motivate existing customers to return. And what about the people who take you up on the free meal offer? If you properly handle their concerns, these customers — who would otherwise be lost forever — might turn into loyal evangelists for your business.