How to Get Amazing Online Reviews For Your Garden Center

Whether it’s Amazon, Yelp, Trip Advisor, Google, or Facebook, we all love a five-star review while at the same time feeling hurt or angered when someone gives our business a low review. While some of us have been on that roller coaster, other small business are hesitant to jump into allowing online reviews on any form of website or social media.

What should you know about online reviews? Most importantly, should your garden center have a place for people to review your products or services online?

The answer is yes.

Reviews are incredibly important to customers

Nielson surveyed 28,000 internet users and found that online reviews are a very trusted source of brand information and second only to personal recommendations from trusted friends. In another study, the Local Consumer Review Survey (2014) found 85% of respondents read online reviews and 79% of those readers highly trusted the insight on those reviews. Almost 73% of respondents said the presence of positive reviews make them trust a business more, especially one they haven’t visited or purchased from.

How many reviews are enough?

The Local Consumer Review dove deeper and asked respondents how many reviews they typically read before they make up their mind. The vast majority (85%) of respondents said they read up to ten reviews on a website and will use those reviews to decide if they will shop at your store. These potential customers aren’t just reading the positive reviews. An equally overwhelming majority (88%) of customers will also pay attention to negative reviews. Their study shed light on how customers approach reviews; they are doing their research and weighing the good and the bad to make an informed decision.

How do review ratings affect customer attitudes toward your business?

After seeing positive reviews online, a slight majority (57%) said they would visit a local business and 72%  would take some form of further action like making a phone call, visiting website, or social media.

The LCRS broke down the ratings and how they influence customers’ decisions to shop at a store for the first time:

92% of consumers would use a local business if it has a 4-star rating.

72% of consumers would use a local business if it has a 3-star rating.

27% of consumers would use a local business if it has a 2-star rating.

13% of consumers would use a local business if it has a 1-star rating.

It is no surprise that 92% of people would visit a business if it had a 4-star rating or higher. What is surprising is that a strong majority (72%) would still visit a business if it had an average rating. Things change dramatically when a business falls below three stars. Once a business falls below three stars, fewer than 30% of customers are willing to take a gamble and visit that store.

Are reviews even an honest indication of your business?

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Many people feel that reviews may not be an honest indicator of their business and the products and offerings they sell. They may be right, but the reasons why may surprise you. In a study published in MIT SLOAN Business Review in the summer of 2015, researchers were able to highly influence the ratings, viewpoints, and tone of responses to online news articles by randomly giving them a positive or negative rating. Here’s what they did

The researchers manipulated news article rankings with a random up or down vote. Their positive manipulations (casting a positive vote) created statistically significant bias toward more positive reviews that lasted over five months and increased the final ratings by up to 25%. By being the first person on a news article to leave a rating (whether positive or negative), they were able to influence all other ratings over a five-month time span. If you think of it in a 5-star scale, this could be the difference between 2-3 stars. Interestingly enough, these results seemed to be isolated only towards the positive comments.

When the researchers negatively manipulated the post (voted down or low ), other people came to the defense of the article and voted it highly. The researchers determined there is a bias toward high scores and that, upon seeing a high rating, people were 30% more likely to vote more positively, even up to an entire rating level. If anything, the researchers showed that reviews tend to creep into the overly positive realm provided the business is operating well and pays attention to customer needs.

It’s a product of social herding. 

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The answer could be found in behaviors that are linked to our biology, a herding instinct. We like to go with the crowd, even if we’re not consciously aware of it. We want to fit in. We are easily influenced by our friends, peers, and it turns out, other online reviews. Since people want to run with the rest of the pack, we are highly influenced by their opinions, especially if they are positive. When readers encountered a positive ranking, they created positive ratings that were significantly higher than when they were not influenced by the manipulation. A behavior called social influence is also in play. When we see people experiencing something positive, we want to experience it too and will join in by rating it positively. Our herd instinct mixed with our social influence behavior makes us want to gravitate towards positive experiences.

How does this research shape how we approach reviews?

There’s some good news here. People tend to rate businesses highly online provided they offer a good product and good experience. Research we are currently conducting will agree with this. We’ve looked at over 380 Facebook accounts of garden centers across the United States, and the mean rating was above a 4.0. Since people trust online reviews, it’s important to note the herd mentality could push your reviews higher and thus be a great way to advertise your business.

But what about negative reviews?

Many businesses shy away from online reviews because of the possibility of that dreaded negative review. In general, there are two types of negative reviews when it comes to small business. The first is the negative competitor. Sometimes competing companies will post a 1-star negative review on their competitors’ pages. The second type of bad reviewer is someone who simply had a bad experience. Whether right or wrong, that is their experience. You have to approach both of these cases in the same way and use the opportunity to show the rest of the community, and all potential customers, that you are actively engaging in the customer experience and doing what you can to make it right. Many companies have turned a bad review into an incredible marketing experience by offering a great, thoughtful, and caring response. The best way to combat poor reviews is to create a buffer with good reviews.

How to facilitate good reviews

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The most important thing to realize is that people need a call to action. People who are very angry or upset with an experience are quick to offer a negative review. On the other hand, people who are satisfied, happy, or even elated won’t think about going online and writing a review.

How do you encourage the positive review?

Invite the happy customer

Positive reviews rarely happen by accident. You have to ask for them and do it correctly. It would be unwise to send out a link to a review site with every receipt or product because that could easily attract scathing reviews. Instead, prep your sales staff to make sure they are listening to comments that could indicate a delighted customer. For example, pay attention to when customers give great feedback on their experience, the product, or level of service. Employees that are helping load plants or products into cars are in an ideal place to listen to these cues and prep the customer for a positive review.

Make sure each of your employees carries around a business card with a link to the online review site you want to promote. This could be Google, Facebook, Yelp, or Trip Advisor. Have your sales staff say a phrase like this, “Thank you, we’re glad you enjoyed it. We’d love to hear about your experience.” Then hand them the card to fill out. Try not to incentivize people with free products or discounts in exchange for a positive review because that can often backfire, and companies like Yelp discriminate against this practice. Companies in the restaurant business have had great success with this approach.

Train your staff

  • Make sure you train every employee, no matter how little interaction they have with customers, about the signs to look for that customers are delighted and happy.
  • Equip every member of your staff with a business card or some other promotional card that offers a quick link to the review. This could be a Facebook page, URL, or a QR code.
  • Have the staff understand that they are only to focus on how happy the customer currently is and that they could choose to let everyone know what they thought.

The destination

 There are five main places that consumers interact with customer reviews.

  • Amazon
  • Google
  • Yelp
  • Trip Advisor
  • Facebook

Each one of these has special challenges or attributes. Unless you are selling across the nation, you probably won’t have to deal with Amazon reviews. So we are going to focus on the four other platforms that accept reviews.

Google

Google is the king of all search engines and they are continually finding ways to make reviews more relevant. Not only do reviews show up in Internet searches for local businesses, but they also show up on mobile searches for applications like Google Maps. It is important to note that Google will not show reviews until you have five or more. A customer can even rate your business without you having a dedicated page. However, even after customers have rated a page with your name on it, you can take possession of that page by verifying your Google business. The reviews will stay on there, but you now have a place to interact with customers.

Yelp

Yelp is incredibly popular in urban areas and the online recommendation hub is steadily growing into suburban and rural areas as well. Like most websites, businesses give up a certain level of control when it comes to customer ratings. There has also been some controversy over whether Yelp will hide positive reviews and show negative ones unless you purchase a premium account.

Trip Advisor

Trip advisor may not be the perfect place for every small, rural business. However, if your business can be classified under agritourism, food and beverage, or a niche market, Trip advisor may be beneficial to you.

Facebook

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With one billion users and growing, Facebook is still a vast social network that has one out of every two U.S. adults owning an active page. One important thing to understand is that if your company doesn’t have a Facebook page yet, people can still use Facebook to leave a positive, or negative, review. As of this posting (August, 2015) Facebook has also begun to factor in the page-review score into its Edgerank algorithm which influences who will see the posts you create on Facebook. The higher the review, the better the chance is at your content being seen by others. Lastly, people view Facebook pages as more open, honest, and trustworthy when they allow reviews.

*update (1/28/2016): Facebook just launched a services finder website that compiles businesses by customer reviews and a few other metrics. The link is HERE

The land of online reviews can be complex and intimidating, but these steps can help you win at the online rating game.

  1. Offer a place for people to review your business.
  2. Have a strategy for encouraging happy and delighted customers to positively review your business.
  3. Educate and train your entire work force on searching out customers that might leave positive reviews if prompted.
  4. Interact with those who leave positive or negative reviews on your websites or social media pages.

You have more control over positive reviews than you think, and they don’t happen by chance. Train your staff to identify delighted and happy customers, and teach them how to casually ask these happy customers to leave a review on your Facebook page. You already have great products. Your services are exceptional. It’s time to make sure everyone else knows too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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