Martin Shervington of PlusYourBusiness Interviews Jon Hall: Reviews and Reputation Management

Garrett SussmanCustomer Reviews, Interview, Reputation Management, Review Marketing, YelpLeave a Comment

Last week, March 18th, Martin Shervington of PlusYourBusiness interviewed Grade.us founder, Jon Hall about the current landscape of reputation management and reviews.

Listen to Martin’s Interview here.

The full transcript of the interview continues below:


Martin:

Myself and Jon Hall, in this session, will take you through a load of info, around the importance of reviews, and also how you can improve your customer service, and help people display that in search. After all, we do dig reviews, and the space is going to grow like crazy over the next few years. Hope you enjoy.

Hello and welcome! I am chatting today with Jon Hall from Grade.us.

Welcome Jon.

Jon:

Hello Martin

Martin:

What are we going to be talking about? Reviews! You know we’re going to talk about reviews. So Jon is an expert in the review space. He’s got a wonderful platform system that we’ve used as well and are using in Plus Your Business. Let’s start up with, what is going on with reviews? Do you think that this is a rising tide that people need to pay attention to? (Loaded question)

Jon:

Well, I do and I hope it is, because it’s what our business is. I think it’s been waiting in the wings for a long time, in the sense that, historically we needed to look to experts to give us their opinions, from on high, to convince us a restaurant was good or not good, or a product was good or not good. In the internet age over the last 20 years, we’ve seen consumers increasingly looking to other consumers and having other consumers and their opinions to look to, to make decisions about what’s worthy of spending our time and money on.

On the one hand, I just see that trend continuing and expanding into industries where maybe it isn’t so mainstream or habitual for us today. You would never place a reservation at a hotel without checking a hotel’s reviews, today, at least 99% of people. But it’s not necessarily the same for folks who are choosing a doctor or specialist. A lot of people look at reviews, some don’t. For some businesses, there just aren’t review sites and channels today to find customer opinion. So I see an expansion into new industries, but there’s also a threat from the standpoint that, reviews are something that marketers, white hat and black hat alike, look to today as a source of influence. There’s no question that fraud is a problem when it comes to online customer reviews. That’s a threat looming out there that could affect how much trust consumers have in reviews.

Martin:

You’re talking now in a broad spectrum about review sites. It could be Yelp, it could be TripAdvisor. Where do you think things are at with the Googlescape? You’ve watched this over the past few years. What is your experience? You’re watching thousands of sites and the data that’s coming from there.

Jon:

No doubt that Google and specifically review content that’s native to Google, whether they’re Google+ reviews or Google My Business, or whatever they’re called.

Martin:

Yeah, I don’t think any of us know yet. Just Google Reviews, or for local we’ll just say Google My Business Reviews.

Jon:

I see them as probably THE most important, across the board, when all things being equal, Google Reviews are probably THE most important for businesses to look at today, from the standpoint of reviews as providing two prongs when you think of them as marketing assets.

From the consumer’s perspective, they’re information assets to help them make a choice, but as marketing assets, you need to think of them as fulfilling two functions. One, as providing visibility for the business, and you can’t talk about visibility these days without talking about search. A business’s Google My Business Page plus its reviews attached to that page, are going to be top in terms of search results for that business and for anywhere that business is going to appear in organic results for various keywords, so they’re very important from a visibility standpoint. The two punch of the one-two punch that reviews give you, is really the influence.

Going forward from what I said about reviews in general, they are trusted today. Consumers trust reviews and therefore reviews are very influential in getting consumers to move from evaluating a business to actually making a call to that business. Reviews deliver that second punch that’s going to convert the prospect into a customer. But they have to trust the source of those reviews.

I think people trust Google to vet the information that they publish, the information that they put in front of people that search Google.com. I think Google delivers both of those, where some of the other review sites matter in their industries, so we cover a lot of territory with our product. We think the industry review sites definitely matter, because their audiences are highly qualified to begin with.

Martin:

You mean insurance or some medical ones like that. As opposed to the other ones like Yelp and TripAdvisor. When you say industry specific, you’re talking about a niche review site that you wouldn’t necessarily even know about, unless you’re in that space?

Jon:

Yeah. An example I like to use is Zillow, which I know is big for real estate in the States, but I don’t know how big it is internationally. It’s essentially a site that pulls together their property listings and real estate data. But alongside all of that information, where Zillow’s audience is millions of prospective home buyers and home sellers, looking at this real estate data, you find business listings or real estate agents or mortgage brokers, and attached to those listings are reviews. Just like any other kind of review site. So you think about how the business owner exists in that ecosystem, it’s different from a generic search someone might do. For a real estate agent, they’re appearing there alongside information that consumers are consuming, because that audience is already interested in buying or selling a home. They’re going to need those services. It’s different from search, but it’s sort of the same phenomenon of reviews driving both visibility and influence within an audience of prospects for your business.

Martin:

What are the best ways for people to be getting reviews, because we know it’s a challenge for businesses?

Jon:

It’s hard, but it’s a principle that we have to constantly go back to, because we do provide a review acquisition solution, but we have to go back to the ground floor saying, “At the end of the day, the business has to do the heavy lifting of providing a recommendable product or service in the first place.” That’s the floor that you need to be able to then go back out to those customers via various channels and tactics that we facilitate to ask, remind, and guide customers through the ‘write a review’ process. The heavy lifting comes from both providing a recommendable product or service, having a relationships with your customers such that they are slightly more motivated than they otherwise might be to go and do this. Either for you as a business that served them well, they want to reciprocate. Or because you provide something that is unique or important or great enough that they want to share it with others. These are the motivations that we try and tap into to get customers to do it.

Martin:

Because it’s so important that people don’t incentivize, that when you say they’re motivated to do it, I’ll use the example that you can’t say, “Leave a review and I’ll give you a muffin.” But the motivator is that actually, they are the fans of the business. They want to tell the world how great this business is. They want to spread the word. That’s something that I think is a cultural thing, and I look at what Google is doing now with the local guides programs and I know Yelp has done it with the levels people have got. I think that that’s part of it. It’s the culture of helping other people make good decisions and this is the information that helps them. You can see it with Amazon reviews. So I think that’s one of the things that’s shaping, and I watch the Google ecosystem, and I do think it’s a cultural thing. You’re there to help. You’re there to help future people.

Now that’s an interesting thing, because that brings us back to the principles you were mentioning earlier and the fake reviews side of it, or people being slightly more nefarious with these things and that just used to be weeded out. One of the things we can say over the last how many years is that people’s Google accounts, as soon as you see a face or that they’re within your circle of people, that does increase trust, because you know them or because they’ve left a hundred reviews.

One of the things for businesses listening, what you said, it’s about customer service. It’s about doing a good job. That’s the starting point. But in order to get them to leave reviews, the system that you’ve got, what does it do?

Jon:

Key to running a review campaign is to have a process in place. The name we’ve given to that process is the ‘review funnel.’ It is what it sounds like. It’s a single destination to drive every customer to, after every transaction to activate them to write a review.

What does that actually look like? Well, first of all, you have to get the customer into the funnel in the first place, and we have a bunch of tools for this. But a common one to use is an email and not just an email, but an email ‘drip,’ that’s going to ask them to write a review right away after their experience. If we don’t hear from them, we’ll follow up a few days later. And if we don’t hear from them again, follow up a few days after that, increasing the urgency, but also making sure you’re hitting them a few times. Hopefully, it will be convenient for them to complete the process.

You’re driving them into a funnel. A pure expression of the funnel is a landing page, which most of our users use. That’s going to do a number of things. One is to segment that customer, based on their level of happiness. If they’re an unhappy customer and you’re proactively reaching out to them for feedback, you don’t necessarily want to just drive them on to leave their feedback on Google+, you want as a business owner to have a second chance with that customer.

Martin:

And that’s a filter really, that’s putting something in place, like a little firewall, which a lot of the banks back, saying “Okay, we need to deal with this before the review. Let’s make them happy.”

Jon:

Right. I don’t love the term filter, because what I think this essentially is, is good customer service. It’s not just…

Martin:

It’s not just let the bad ones through. All you’re saying is that you need to know, you just need to get the feedback. Which is the best way to get the feedback? And you want that to be an internal thing.

Jon:

Exactly. When you’re a business owner and you’re trying to get more reviews, it makes sense to be very proactive in reaching out to customers. What we don’t want is the business owner to feel they have to be very selective in who they’re asking for feedback. The idea is to make it part of every customer’s lifecycle, ask every customer for feedback, but have this mechanism in place to make sure, because you’re proactively reaching out to all customers, this is giving you a two-pronged attack.

On the one hand, you’re asking and reminding and activating those happy customers to share a review on one of those public channels. It does not just help your business, but helps other people who would be interested in your business. The other prong is you’re proactively reaching out to those customers who may have had a less than thrilling experience and giving them a channel to communicate with you that’s immediate. Other than letting them fester out there until they feel they have nowhere to go but to blast you on Google or Yelp or some other site.

Martin:

It’s customer service. This is the way to think about it. Reviews are really an evidence point of the customer experience, and what you’re trying to do is guide to get more feedback. These channels then become the expression hopefully of the more positive stuff, when the time comes.

That’s one way. We got the electronic way. They can click a link on an email. Go through to the landing page.

When I did my 3 month walkabout in San Francisco, in the Bay Area, and the bars, the restaurants, designers, everybody, the biggest thing is not asking. That’s the reason people aren’t getting reviews. One of the things is a cultural thing, is that Yelp, you’re not meant to ask.

Jon:

Right

Martin:

So Google and TripAdvisor don’t seem to mind. Never incentivize, but you can ask. So, QR codes. I know you’re keen on this approach, and even though it’s almost old fashioned, QR codes, plus a URL, plus NFC tags. Moo now are doing NFC enabled business cards. When we get to beacons, it’s all going to be the same. Because all that does, all of those methods are just ways of people being able to get to that landing type page, on mobile or on a desktop, but we’re talking mobile a lot of the time, when people are out in the field.

So do you see that people are using those? I’m finding that that is working, but on your larger sample size, are people using mobile to review? Are people using those methods?

Jon:

Yeah. Absolutely, although unfortunately, one of the things we should have done, but didn’t from the get go was have something in place to measure QR usage per se, so we don’t actually measure that, but we do know anecdotally that that approach gets some usage, but it does depend on, (you know we work with so many different types of businesses that serve so many demographics) some of our customers base just opts to not try it. They’ll use some, but not all of these channels. They might leave out the QR code.

What’s interesting is that, some of the most effective, and this goes back to what we were saying earlier about customer service, but also about the relationship that the business has with its customer, some of our most effective campaigns have been done where the ‘ask’ for the review, came face to face or with a handwritten note. So that kind of thing, that personal ‘ask,’ can get a lot of traction, because at the end of the day, what motivates the customer to complete, is those two things we talked about earlier. Either a sense of reciprocity towards the business that served them well, or a sense that that cultural thing, that you talked about, that they really want to share and help others discover this great thing that they experienced.

Martin:

Yeah. And I think there’s another aspect of the first part about the business is actually about the person that served you. It’s really personal. That’s one thing that I’m seeing. I’ll give an example, I was in David’s Tea in Burlingame, and David’s got about 160 locations around the country now, did an IPO earlier this year. One of the staff members and the manager there, at the time, may still be there, they said that they used the reviews, Yelp, Google, etcetera, in their meetings for feedback on what was going on. How have we done this week? And I went, this is interesting. So it’s not only about more people choosing, because in a way, for them, they’re a tea shop on the high street, they’ve got foot fall, they’re going to let people through.

But they’re using this as a way of assessing, really, internal performance. Or, if they’ve got a bad review, they can talk it through and say, no, that’s an unreasonable response to that person. I watched that interaction, but the thing is, these third party sites, aren’t just about the business, it’s about how these people in the business are actually then being assessed. And I think this is all part of a movement around the transparency and around the communication, and I do think that the platforms that people are leaving their reviews on depends on the culture, as to what happens next. Do you know what I mean? In a way, some of the platforms have got into, can I leave a funny review, as opposed to, can I serve? Or at least it feels that way sometimes.

I think we’re in early days with it, but different platforms have got a different feel.

Jon:

Absolutely. If you look at Yelp as an example, and you talked a bit about some of Yelp’s cagey-ness around how business owners talk about reviews, or ask for reviews, or don’t, but if you look at reviews on Yelp and see how they are evaluated by the audience that they’re written for, you can click to see if a review is funny, helpful, or cool. Those are three very different things.

Martin:

And reinforcing, in order to get that click on your profile, it’s interesting isn’t it? How we don’t have that on Google. I think that it does mean that there’s a difference of potential psychology when you leave the review. I’m going to pop out this evening, and there’s a place up the road here, I’m going to say the name, it’s the Lime House outside of Clevedon, I’m just outside of Bristol. And I looked online where were they, and I saw that they didn’t claim their Google Plus business page. And I went, Wow they’ve got no reviews. In this territory, people don’t understand, it’s going to happen. People are going to go, and you’re going to have claim your listing, you are going to start getting reviews. Then you want to reply to people. They you build relationships with them. Then you want to make them your fans, your local fans. Because essentially, they’re telling the world that they like you, if it’s a good review. And this is why I think it ties in here. Create great customer service. Have good systems that allow you to have the conversation in appropriate fashion as long as the platform is okay. In other words, you’re not supposed to ask on Yelp. Everyone seems alright with that. Make it easy for people to leave reviews and make it a part of the fabric of your business. And there’s an opportunity with Google to shape the culture of it being a really useful service for people to use.

Jon:

Sure, and I think that, we come across that point a bit, from business owners, from marketers who look at smaller markets, where it just hasn’t penetrated yet. These businesses are listed on Google Plus and Yelp and other review sites, that aggregate this listing, but they have zero or one review. There’s not a lot of activity there. So they’ll say, well, reviews just aren’t that important to my market or in my industry. And I think you’re right, that maybe today there’s not the urgency of being competitive and building that asset today, because your competitors don’t have it and it’s not well used in your market or by consumers in your market. The trend is clearly in that direction. So for folks in that market, I believe it’s a tremendous opportunity to get started early. It takes time, it’s not something that you do overnight, if you do it right.

Martin:

One of the other things I found when I was out and about, doing research, people really dislike (the business hates it) when they get that 1 star review, which happens. It seems like the only way to protect against that, is to build up a war chest. To think in terms of hundreds of reviews, not ones and twos and tens. That way, if you’ve got a hundred 5 stars, and you’ve got it as part of your business, and you’ve got your process out. If you happen to get that 1 star, an unfortunate time, when that person was grumpy on that day, didn’t serve well or whatever, you’re protected. I think that’s the thing, that people assume now, that well, people are missing that opportunity of getting started and putting it in place.

If you do it now, and your competitor doesn’t, then you’re ahead of the game. Did you see, Jon, about the Moz report? Do people consider that reviews are a ranking factor? And it’s like, yes, they are considered to be one of the ranking factors, but nobody’s really evidenced and proved that. If Google’s about delivering relevant results, then these become recommendations. There’s a little filter now, to filter by 3 stars and above, or 4 stars and above, or 5 stars and above. Stuff’s going to change. Google keeps on evolving. So I think you’re right. I think the opportunity to get started is now. Don’t leave it everybody. Reviews are going to happen. Google is really really pushing to build this ecosystem.

Jon:

And just circling back to the Moz report, this is one of the things that you and I have talked about. Doing that canonical research, that would show this, we have the data to show this. If we can just run it over time, and the reason, I don’t think there’s a huge need for that, it’s just that everyone seems to know that’s the case. We don’t know the exact mechanics and how exactly Google weighs one factor over another, but we know that, everyone who pays attention to their local search results, will figure out that reviews are a ranking factor. And beyond Google, right? So when you have that audience on a site like Zillow, which I talked about earlier, a highly qualified audience, reviews are going to be a factor, influencing which 3 real estate agent listings get shown in the sidebar to all of those prospective buyers and sellers who are using that site. It’s a phenomenon that goes beyond search per se, or Google per se.

Martin:

It’s a mentality about reviews. Thank you for joining me today Jon.

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