Hello again. My last blog was all about customer reviews and how they can help visitors to e-commerce sites make better informed decisions when it comes to choosing products to buy. From a business point of view this can help to convert browsing visits into sales. Like all of the blogs in this series, the added benefit of taking on board the tips and incorporating them into your site is that you open up a new way of developing a regular source of fresh content for your site.

The thing is though that e-commerce sites aren’t the only type of website that can actively benefit from their users or customers reviews, far from it in fact. Any website that is designed to promote a service from training courses to restaurants; tourist activities to holiday homes, bed & breakfasts to garages can in theory be easily set up to enable customer reviews to be uploaded. The same aims apply and those are of course to help promote the service; sell it with a ‘soft’ approach and finally to keep the steady stream of fresh new content coming into the website through a non-labour intensive method.

There are two types of reviews you can have on a site like this. General reviews and specific service reviews. It is all pretty self explanatory but I will break them down anyway!


General Review

This is the option to go for if you have a company that provides one service or one option for the customer. The beauty from the website management point of view is that it is pretty simple being that all comments are grouped together and don’t need to be assigned on the site to the individual services. That comes next for the ‘specific service review’.

An example from those given above would be a bed & breakfast. People staying in a B & B are doing just that – staying there, having their breakfast and leaving. They can write about how comfortable the beds were, how tasty the sausages were at breakfast, how friendly the couple who ran it all were to them and how they didn’t mind in the slightest that they had brought their dog along with them and even let him sleep in the room and provided him with a doggy breakfast in the morning but at the end of the day these comments and all the others from the guests can be put in a ‘Guests comments’ section on the site.

I don’t know about you but if I was looking for a dog friendly guest house I would be inclined to book a room with the one I created above and that of course is the power of a good review (but a bad review can be just as influential).

A review is bringing to life your customer feelings in their words. It is this honesty and independence that can make them such a simple and yet powerful tool.

Specific Review

Well, as I started to explain above this is for the company or website that is promoting a range of services and therefore is keen to get feedback from it’s customers on the individual services they have experienced.

To illustrate this I will use the river tour company I mentioned earlier. The tour company has four different options – canoes, kayaks, rowing boats and a cruise in a motor powered launch – each of these will give you a different experience of the river. Put yourself in the shoes of a person looking at the site and thinking about which option you fancy going for and then discovering that you have the ability to easily find reviews relating to each of the river craft options. The volume of reviews will soon build up meaning someone browsing will get a thorough overview of the previous customers views and thoughts on each of the different tour options.

With this information they will be in a stronger position to make their choice then make the all important booking. Because the river tour company only has four different options to choose from, managing the in-flow of customer reviews is going to be reasonably straight forward and not as much of a headache as the e-commerce site with the hundreds of items for sale.

For the multi-service provider site to get the best of both worlds you can have the general review section perhaps with a tab on the home page and then once you head into the service options e.g. the river trips then you have the ability to see the reviews left by previous customers.

Two things are well worth remembering here; firstly, the trick to use is to have a reviews area which covers the entire range of services you provide. Secondly, remember to only show reviews in the general section that haven’t also appeared in the specific service section as if you happen to forget this it gives the impression that you are recycling reviews because you either don’t have many or don’t have enough good ones. Reviews and comments are there to boost prospective customer confidence not reduce it!

Now that we have covered the basics it is time to think about some of the finer details€:

Should You Ask People To Leave Their Names?

Give them the option at least as some people will want to and others won’t it is simple as that. Martin and Jenny from Leicester giving their names as that is hardly going to lead them having their identity stolen and used by on-line criminals (they would need a few more things than just their first names and the city they live in). Visitors to the site will then find the reviews have more personality and can relate them as the words of people and not a member of your team. No names can seem a bit to much like they have been made up even though (and I am not suggesting you do!) creating reviews and fake names would not be difficult. Trust your customers and they will trust you.

What Do We Do With Comments We Don’t Like?

“We reserve the right not to publish some comments especially if they make us look bad€¦” No seriously, there will be disgruntled people occasionally using your review section to have a bit of a rant and what you have to try to do is to think about whether they have a genuine reason to be cross with you for giving a bad service whatever that happens to be.

An uncomfortable bed in a B & B is pretty basic to stuff to get right and therefore you deserve bad reviews but if the weather is bad on a canoeing trip then that is nothing to do with the company running the river tours. As long as they provided their customers with waterproofs, dry towels, hot showers and a nice hot cup of tea when they came off the river, in other words €“ looked after them, then who can really complain? Complaints are best dealt with as soon as possible and whether you offer them a refund, a voucher or a discount off their next visit etc is up to you. Hopefully this scenario will not come about too often and what is more, the customers will not then head onto your site and leave rude comments.

If they do leave comments that are best off not seen by the rest of the site visitors then it is your choice whether to leave them up or not. Personally I would say that if you are using customer reviews as a marketing tool then you want to just leave the good ones up there and i think that most people will be happy with this as long (this is the catch) as the comments you publish are 100% genuine and aren’t made up.

Should We Put A Date Alongside The Comments?

Yes. The reason for this is that it helps people reading the reviews to get a better idea of the time context. Dates are a lot like names in that they create a much greater sense of authenticity. All companies go through good patches and bad patches. If all the reviews have no dates next to them then in theory at least an unscrupulous business owner could have outstanding reviews listed from years ago when in actual fact the current reviews coming in were pretty ropey but weren’t being posted. Once you go down this route you are opening up the possibility of all sorts of problems not least because the prospective customers are being given a false impression and one could go so far as to say they are actively being tricked.

Do You Remove Reviews After A Certain Amount Of Time?

This comes back to the previous point about whether you have a date alongside the comments listed. Personally, I think that reviews should be brought down periodically and replaced with newer ones just to keep the site looking fresh. It depends on whether you are an all year round business or maybe only seasonal in which case you may have to wait until ‘your’ season or seasons come back round before you can post some new reviews. Until this point the existing ones will have to suffice. The river tours company falls into this category as it will be operating in the spring and summer mainly and on the whole people will understand the need for this approach.

The revolving list method is a reasonably simple way of managing this. The oldest comments are at the bottom and the newest ones are at the top. As time goes on and newer ones come in the existing comments move down the list pushing the oldest ones off the bottom. If you set yourself a limit of say twenty maximum at any one time then at a rate of two new comments a week on average it will take 11 weeks for the comment to be listed, work all the way through the list and then eventually drop off the bottom.

Another method is to handpick the best ones that come in each month and post those so that over the period of say three of four months you build up a list of outstanding comments. If you wanted to be really honest you could call this section something along the lines of, ‘Our Best Customer Reviews’ so that site visitors don’t think that all of your comments are this good!

How Should I Encourage Commenting?

People are becoming increasingly used to receiving an email a month or so after an online purchase of say a hat or a DVD. Amazon use this to great effect and more and more smaller e-commerce sites are cottoning onto it too. Giving people a bit of time to get used to using their new product and testing it out will give them a better chance of A) responding and B) responding with positive comments – what I call the ‘new album effect’. The first listen is often not great then with subsequent listens it just gets better and better until you want to tell all the world about how much you love it. If you asked the customer to respond straight after buying it they may not give a great review (or not bother responding at all) neither of which you want.

The situation with a service review is different to all this though! The time to get peoples thoughts and opinions on their stay in a B & B,  car repair at the local garage, trip down the river is as soon afterwards as possible for unlike the hat you buy on-line or the new power tool you bought for putting up those shelves in the bathroom, your not going to be using it over and over again.

An email out to them with a link to the section on the site where they can find the simple form €“a box for their own mini review and a tick box to confirm that they are happy for their comments to be posted on the website is all that it takes. If you have customers come into your business premises then the old fashioned hand written card is not a bad idea to use in conjunction with the online form as well complete with a freepost address for people that are not able to complete and return it there and then.

If your business is not that ‘sexy’ and you think that people are not going to comment without some incentive then an incentive is exactly what you should give them. After all, the importance of positive comments as we have already found is significant and therefore out weighs the work and trouble you must go to to get them. Probably the easiest way is to offer a small prize, automatic entry in a raffle or some other way of rewarding them but this will depend on the business type and your budget.

Time For A Rest

Well there we have it. If your not convinced by now that customer reviews are good then I’ve failed. If this is the case then do your own search of sites with review sections and see how they work and think about what your site would be like with one and if this doesn’t work then good luck to you. The world is changing thanks to the web and the web is changing thanks to the power of commenting.

For those of you who are convinced (and those that still need a bit of a nudge in the right direction) then these are the key things to take away. Allowing reviews and comments will help the website and the visitors to the site. Remember that people (not all people) like to write about things they have done and places they have visited and in doing so help other people share their advice and experience.

However you choose to draw the comments in, to categorise them or not, to only show the best and if your really confident then show all of them (even the bad ones…) one thing is for sure you will be letting your customers help you and in turn you will be helping your customers.

Have faith in the quality of your business and what you offer and the chances are that people will write good stuff. If they don’t then take a long hard look at their comments and try to work out how you can turn the negative ones into positive ones (and not by writing them yourself!) Make the most of the power of reviews and in doing so you will be joining the massed ranks of websites that have embraced this clever marketing and content creation tool. Go get ’em.

Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

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