Unlock the Power of Online Customer Reviews: Harnessing User Feedback for Business Success

Online customer reviews for businesses matter and can help bring more customers to your business. They can also hurt when the majority is negative. Keep in mind, though, that a good mix of positive and less-than-positive online reviews shows that your brand is used by many and can make it appear more authentic.

Take Apple, for example. I’m an Apple fanboy. I use the iPad where I’m currently writing this, the iPhone, and love the AirPods. It would take a lot to get me to move from Apple to other devices. But yet, I don’t unconditionally love the products. I have even blogged about some of the shortcomings – like with the AirPods microphone.

In this article, I will discuss:

  • Where online customer reviews for business matter
  • How to solicit online customer reviews
  • The decision of when and how to respond to online reviews
  • Star ratings
  • Facebook reviews, including how to turn them off

Of course, businesses want to strive to have that perfect review score, but studies say it can hurt when companies look too perfect in their reviews. Certainly, some customers have negative experiences, and when they share them, they can make your company look more human and can boost the credibility of positive reviews.

Where do online reviews for business matter?

It depends on your business to an extent, but reviews are in a lot of places today, including:

  • Yelp
  • Facebook
  • Google (10 reviews even help you rank higher!)
  • Apple Podcasts
  • Amazon
  • LinkedIn (called recommendations)
  • Niche sites that are industry-specific
  • Glassdoor, where job applicants and employees rate companies
  • Etc.

Figure out where customers and potential customers leave reviews for your business, and make sure you can monitor those channels and have the correct company pages set up.

For example, if you don’t set up a Facebook page, Facebook will just set up a community page, and reviews go there. On Google, make sure to claim your Google Business Profile, which SEO Expert Greg Gifford explains in this episode of the Business Storytelling Podcast.

Gregg Gifford mentioned in this episode of my podcast that businesses should make it easy for users to leave a review wherever they want to. Create a landing page that has all the different sites listed, and then users can pick. Send them that link on receipts, emails, and other places where you interact with them. QR codes are also making a bit of a comeback, are easier to use than ever, and are worth considering in your marketing materials to ask customers for reviews. The best QR code generator would allow you to customize your codes and track user engagement.

All the different channels have different roles in the ecosystem. For example, Yelp reviews for physical locations are actually showing up when people use Apple Maps for directions. So a one-star total cumulative rating can hurt when people use Apple Maps.

Read next: Workplace issues: Are you walking on eggshells at work?

How to solicit online reviews

Online reviews of one of my books

One way to get online reviews is to solicit them. Whenever you know that somebody bought your product or services, reach out to them to ask for a review.

I do this personally in a number of ways:

  • When I know somebody listens to my podcast or is an engaged guest, I ask them to consider leaving a review on Apple, the only place where podcast reviews can currently be left. You can also set up a Rate This Podcast landing page to make this even easier.
  • Once I know somebody bought my book or talked to me about it, I ask kindly.
  • After somebody hired me for a project, I ask them for a review or a LinkedIn recommendation.
  • Send people reminders in the mail, email, and other places, and let them know specifically where they can review you.

Reaching out to customers of related products

I also ran across a new tactic that involves this strategy. Here’s how that looks using the example of publishing a new book, but it can be applied to other product types:

  • Somebody’s new book is almost done
  • Search for similar books or books mentioned in your book
  • See who left a positive review of those books
  • Contact those reviewers

Hello, Christoph. We noticed you left a review for <that other book>. Would you be interested in getting a complimentary copy of <insert own book>? We thought you might be interested in it. Once finished we would be happy if you consider a review.

I typically don’t participate in this, but if you choose to, make sure you follow FTC guidelines and disclose it.

Of course, sending out these copies is a marketing expense, but if a publisher can get just 30-50 more reviews from that target audience that are positive, I would say it can be worth it. Plus, sending Kindle or PDF versions of books is free. You could even share a shared document with read access, which I’ve done before with podcast hosts who wanted to talk about my book.

When to respond to online reviews

Businesses, products, and even doctors are reviewed online now. Everyone has a license to be a critic is one way to look at it. Another way is that people have the right to participate, share their experiences, and help others in our communities make better decisions about those things being reviewed.

Of course, with people sharing their opinions and experiences – real and perceived – questions of responding to all these reviews come up:

  • Should we respond to only negative reviews or all reviews?
  • Who will do the responding?

Most of the time, people leave reviews when they feel strongly about something. They are either upset or dissatisfied, or they are super happy about it.

Think about the stories we share with friends. We don’t say: “Oh yeah, I had an average (experience.)”

We typically say:

“Can you believe this!!!!!! It was so bad. Here are the details….”

Or we might say:

“I’m in love with… The service is the best. So helpful….”

People often share the best and the worst – for the most part. I have seen more and more “neutral” reviews from time to time but they don’t really help me make up my mind to buy or engage with that organization.

Also, when you run a true sentiment analysis of a brand on social media, most comments are usually considered neutral. Interestingly, that doesn’t seem to the case with reviews proper.


Responding to positive reviews

I look at reviews as an extension of life. Our lives used to be offline only. Now they extend online.

What would we do if somebody gives us a compliment offline? We say “thank you. I appreciate it.” We respond. We wouldn’t just stand there, say nothing and ignore it. That would be rude, wouldn’t it be?

I think of responding online similarly. If somebody talks to me, I respond. If my service caused a problem, I’ll fix it and respond as well. When I left a positive Google review after a shop fixed my lawnmower, they responded with “Thank you.” While the email and note weren’t necessary, I did appreciate it.

The timing can matter. If somebody replies like that to a  review I posted a year ago, I may not even remember posting it. But since this was shortly after I posted it it was fine.

And that’s not just the case when people post things online. Once, I was presenting at a conference and gave away books to people who participated in a session. I changed the rules along the way.

One person rated my session six out of six but also called me on the book thing afterward. The person sitting next to her did as well. They said they should have gotten a free copy after the rule change. That was true. And I missed it, unfortunately, during the session.

These were conversations by instant message, so they were not even public. Either way, it didn’t leave a good impression on them. It was easy to correct, though:

  • I apologized
  • Explained myself
  • Handed over another signed book

Try that with online reviews. Be open, honest, and helpful.

Read next: Elevate your content performance: 9 habits of good writers

How to respond to negative reviews

Responding to negative reviews is no different in concept. Try to identify and understand the main problem addressed by the person. Sometimes that can be harder than it sounds when people ramble on.

Respond appropriately but never with a canned message. Always customize your responses – even when the base comes from a canned, standard response.

Move the conversation to a private channel when necessary, but keep in mind that not all conversations need to be private. Just because it’s negative, that doesn’t mean it needs to be moved. If an answer would release private information, it certainly needs to move to another channel.

The key is to acknowledge the issue, emphasize, respond quickly and with a solution – as applicable.

Responding to reviews and mentions online can help us strengthen our brands. Certainly, it can be harder for larger brands. For smaller brands, the owner might be able to handle responding or a small team can. The larger the brand the more people you’ll need to hire to respond! Airlines do this well. Delta and American Airlines, for example, respond quickly and it appears to most public messages. Delta even says that they do that in ads.

Reviews, blog comments, social media questions all fall into similar models for me. When people talk to us – positively or negatively – we should respond. It’s the nice and right thing to do.

It shows that we are listening, participating, and caring.

One note: I’m not a lawyer, and what may or may not be said by your organization or business may depend on different laws. They all apply, so make sure processes are hammered out ahead of time to comply with laws while you are also a valuable and transparent member of your community.

You’ve probably heard me talk about that response to online reviews, and really any customer feedback, publicly or not publicly, are usually better than no response at all.

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Customers may not want to elaborate on their online review

But sometimes, additional discussion from the perspective of the customer, i.e., the person leaving the review – is not something that’s desired.

This really hit me over the head when I visited a business and really didn’t enjoy most parts of the experience. As I often do I decided to leave it a review on Facebook. Sometimes I leave a written review and sometimes, I do star reviews only. In this particular case, I gave it one star and moved on. I left no written details further detailing what I experienced or what I felt justified the one ⭐️.

Less than two hours after I left the review, the business responded with something that I actually would recommend as a response in a case like this.

In a nutshell and paraphrased, they said:

We’re sorry for your experience, and we would love to hear more.

It’s really great response and pretty much in line with what I teach my social media clients. But here’s the thing that dawned on me as I was reading this. In my own personal scenario, I would’ve written a review with more detail if I actually wanted to share more details of the experience. In this situation, however, I just didn’t want to share anything else from the beginning.

So I was really torn on what to do based on professional experience, the perspective of the business owner and then of course myself as the customer.

From professional experience, I recommend the responses.

From a business owner’s perspective, I certainly would want to know why people feel the way they felt.

From a customer perspective, I can see how customers sometimes don’t want to provide anything else and don’t want to discuss anything else about it.

And I have been there before myself. Somebody would leave me a negative comment – for example on a speaking feedback form and I wish I could ask them more questions about it. In fact, if I knew who left that particular comment I probably would ask for more details. But the next response might not come naturally or wanted to attendees.

There was a time when I asked attendees of talks to text me a score. The reason I did that is that it gives you immediate feedback after a talk and it also allows attendees to ask any follow-up questions if there are any digitally and privately.

At one conference, one person came up to me after the talk and had a couple of questions and then before she left asked if I could remind her of the phone number to leave her score. It was pretty apparent to people that this was my cell phone and I would see the score right away. Of course, I gave her the number and she left and literally walked around the corner and texted me the score, which was really positive but nonetheless she still didn’t give it to me in person and instead left and then texted it literally seconds later.

It probably has something to do with that giving negative feedback for sure, and maybe even positive feedback is hard. Or we think it’s hard or at the very least, uncomfortable.

And then, of course, when we do get feedback, people ask for more.

“That was great.”

“Oh, thank you. Which part exactly?”

“How could I’ve made it even better?”

That kind of conversation can go on for a while and most likely is not what the person who offered one piece of feedback signed up for to begin with. They just wanted to give you a quick comment.

Something to keep in mind is what is the user’s intent? For example, when people come up to me after a keynote to tell me how much they enjoyed it I really only say one thing: “Thank you so much. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.”

Do we really always need to know more? It can quickly feel like those surveys teams send out to customers that go on and on and on.

Of course, the channel matters too. On social media, for example, the response is for the person who left a review but it’s also for the other people who are reading the review later. Because responsiveness actually signals engagement and at least an attempt at good customer service.

That would not apply in a one-on-one conversation after a talk at a conference.

Something to keep in mind and it was certainly not something that crossed my mind until I was on the customer’s side of things.

Read next: Hotel shows how to respond to Facebook review

How important are star ratings in online reviews?

The other day I went to a three-star restaurant (Yelp) and even accepted a ride from an Uber driver with a 4.1 rating.

Both went great, though. Five stars in my book!

Then I stayed at a five-star hotel (Facebook and Google) and hated it! That’s not what I would call a five-star hotel.

What are people basing their ratings on? That’s exactly the problem with star ratings. My five-star rating isn’t necessarily yours.

Some people like chatty Uber drivers. Sometimes I do, too. Depending on what we are talking about. Other times I have to attend to email.

Star ratings for restaurants are similar. If I’m not a big fan of one kind of cuisine but end up having to eat dinner there, it will never be a five-star place for me.

It’s all a bit arbitrary. I once had dinner with four people – two even ordered virtually the same meal. I got out my phone to leave a review.

“How many stars do you think?”



How could it vary so widely? For the record, I was going to give it a 5. So we had everything from two to five stars.

This leads me to the whole thing of following the masses. I almost changed my rating to something lower.

There have been times I was getting ready to leave a review and was wondering why the average was so much lower (or higher) than what I was considering. Should I change mine? Maybe I’m wrong? NO! Stick with your opinion.

Healthcare can be similar! Many rate parking low. And parking is difficult in most major metro areas. After that, it can get more personal.

Yes, we want good personal care, but people communicate differently. Some need to talk things out at length. Others just want the facts.

One doctor once shared his opinions on Obamacare with me. That’s risky. If I had an opposing opinion or didn’t enjoy discussing things like that or at least want to understand other viewpoints, I may have given him one star just because the discussion felt uncomfortable.

Wouldn’t it be nice if reviews were personalized to us as opposed to being so mass audience-focused?

That would mean I’ll get different reviews served than somebody else with different interests and preferences. I would get the ones most relevant to me.

If I like chatty drivers, I get served those options when researching things online. It could be a sortable rating system based on personal preferences.

But yet we should listen to our ratings and even post them.

Cross-posting of online reviews

I really don’t buy anything online anymore, book a hotel or do anything that costs me money or time without reading the reviews. I know many others do the same. That’s likely why review sites and embedded reviews (think Amazon, for example) have become so popular.

We trust other people’s opinions – especially if we hear the same opinion over and over. Social proof: When everyone likes a product, we think we are more likely to enjoy it as well.

Some people have hired others to file fake positive reviews for them. That’s not good, of course. Once you are caught your credibility will have tanked. But, asking people to give fair reviews is a great way to remind those who love your service to leave a public review.

Then there’s the offline component. I’ve seen more and more offline mentions of online reviews in recent years.

One example is from a hotel in the Boston area. They posted ratings in the lobby.

In Iowa, a business posted their ratings in the business as well and asked people to go online and leave their own ratings. Both of these are great because they connect offline and online channels. The times where both are operating in a vacuum are or should be long gone.

It’s probably best to embrace reviews, encourage fair ones and use the negative ones to learn from and improve. If a customer leaves a negative review – for example saying that parking was bad – maybe parking really was bad. Perhaps there’s something we can do about the parking.

At the least, we should respond to reviews – positive and negative ones – and offer our insights as necessary. Then, when it’s appropriate do more of what’s working and less of what’s not. Changes are OK!

Also, consider posting your online reviews from one channel on other channels.

For example:

  • I posted my Amazon book reviews on my book landing page on my website
  • Add Facebook reviews to your homepage
  • Highlight Google reviews on a product page

Facebook Reviews: Notifications

From a professional and consumer perspective, I even subscribe to email notifications for reviews given to organizations I work with or that I particularly care about.

And of course, Facebook keeps rolling out and testing new things all the time. So this latest notification I ran across maybe a test or maybe it’s brand-new and I just hadn’t seen it before.

I have received a Facebook notification of a friend leaving a review-a really positive review – of a local hospital.   Here’s how that looked in my notifications:

Once I clicked the notification, I ended up here:

Interestingly, I didn’t get sent straight to that review but I get sent to the overall review page. So the first thing I actually see is the aggregate average rating, which in this case is 4.2 for this hospital. So this is why a good average rating matters because that’s the first thing people see.

So what were the factors of why I was showing this notification?

I’m friends with this person. Then I like the hospital Facebook page. And I recently interacted with a post of my Facebook friend.

And while the hospital does get a fair amount of reviews, this one seems to be the first one recently left by one of my friends. I wondered why I’d never seen a notification like this before and also why I saw it from the other hospital in town. That might be part of how those notifications work:

  • You like the page
  • A friend leaves a review

These notifications are most relevant for consumers when they are truly customized and show up at the right time. As a potential patient, it really didn’t come as anything close to the right time. I’m not looking for healthcare options right now at all. But of course, since it was a friend’s review I might still be interested because I care about the friend, and then, of course, that will keep that specific hospital top of mind if I have to make a healthcare decision in the near future.

But as a consumer, it would be nice if notifications-no matter the industry-show up when they are most relevant to us in addition to that they were left by a friend.

For brands, this is important to remember because reviews matter and can help spread our brand awareness in a positive way – assuming the reviews are positive – in our communities.

Encourage people to leave reviews. I do it all the time. When I’m speaking I encourage people to leave reviews, I ask people to leave reviews of my book and I ask for testimonials from clients.

How to hide Facebook reviews

In 2020, Facebook reviews were kind of glitchy. I tried to leave a few for businesses I bought something from and the review wasn’t posting to the business page but to my own personal timeline. It looked like this:

Facebook reviews not posting correctly

That of course leads to confusion by others as the mis-posted online review doesn’t even tag the right company. This issue and maybe other considerations may make you consider just turning Facebook reviews off. That’s possible if you choose to go that route.

Go to the Reviews tab and click the little wheel. This screenshots are from the iPad Facebook app.

Hiding Facebook Reviews

To get it back simply re-add the tab.

How to show Facebook reviews on your page

Online reviews conclusion

Reviews are a great way to get a pulse on what people are saying about your business. They also give you a chance to learn about issues, address and fix them. Finally, online reviews can be a great marketing tool.

Use them, embrace them and work with them.

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