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Why and How to Integrate a System for Acquiring Customer Reviews

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In the old days, hardscape business came largely through referrals and word of mouth. The digital era has shepherded in new ways to promote business and also new ways for customers to search for products and services. Online reviews have become an incredibly powerful tool that customers use regularly to decide who to hire. When your landscape business has positive online reviews, those reviews serve essentially as online referrals. In fact, 88 percent of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Why Are Online Reviews So Powerful?

Online reviews have several significant qualities that make them especially effective at driving your clients’ and potential clients’ choices of who to work with and how often.

They’re a cheap and convenient source of information.
People can access online reviews easily and, in most cases, for free. They do not need to elicit the counsel of hardscape experts or drive to a store to discuss the details of a product with someone who works in the industry. Because of the ease with which people can find and digest them, online reviews are often where people begin their search for landscape services.

They provide credibility through social currency.
People are much more likely to be convinced about the quality of a hardscape job if they hear about it from someone other than the person or company that performed the job. Unlike the person or company trying to obtain business, someone providing an online review about a hardscape contractor is assumed to be loyal to other potential clients, who, like them, want to find someone who can perform hardscape jobs well. The social proof associated with online reviews makes them more credible to hardscape customers than marketing efforts or advertisements, which are transparently self-serving.

They are story-driven.
It is much easier for people to make sense out of information that is provided in the form of a story, complete with characters and events. Online reviews about completed projects innately involve at least two characters: the reviewer who hired someone for a hardscape job and the reviewed contractor who performed the job. The details of the review create a narrative that involves a hero, villain, or some other character, as well as a chronology of events that the reader can easily follow. This high digestibility of online reviews increases the chances that these reviews are consumed (and consumed in higher volumes) than other forms of evaluation that may be more technical in nature.

How Do You Implement a Good System for Acquiring Online Reviews?

You know that you need good online reviews to be found and deemed credible in the hardscape industry, but how do you go about getting those online reviews? The best way is to implement a consistent strategy that minimizes the burdens on your time and resources and maximizes the likelihood that you develop a high volume of positive reviews. Here are some of the key steps to developing a successful online review acquisition system.

Make asking for online reviews part of your process.
People who request online hardscape reviews get significantly higher volumes of reviews. On top of that, asking for reviews makes it more likely you’ll end up with a higher proportion of positive reviews. Absent requests for reviews, the customers most likely to take it upon themselves to write online reviews are those who are unhappy with their hardscape experience. Similarly, extremely happy clients are also more likely than others to initiate online reviews. However, the vast majority of people who are perfectly happy with their contractor will not leave an online review unless they are asked to do so. Each of these people represents a potential positive review. By adding a request for an online review to your normal client relations process so that every potential reviewer is asked to submit a review, you can receive a high volume of positive reviews.

Ask in the right way.
The specific details of your ask matter. For instance, if you phrase your request as an “invitation” to leave feedback about the experience rather than a plea for a review, clients will deem the request more professional and be more likely to leave a positive review. Referring to the online review as “feedback” rather than as a “review” can also lead to more positive reviews because the client does not feel a need to provide a comprehensive “review” that features both pros and cons. Instead, they feel comfortable providing general information on how they felt about the product or service.

Lead positive reviewers to review sites.
A benefit of requesting online reviews is that it puts you in control of the outcomes to some extent. For instance, if you create a landing page that asks people if they were happy with your landscape services, you can direct those who respond with a “no” to an email message that can provide you with highly valuable information on how to improve your services rather than to the review site where they could leave a public negative review. At the same time, you can direct those who respond with a “yes” to the review page and include an invitation to provide feedback.

Provide inspiration.
Writing an online review can be laborious. For people who neither write well nor enjoy writing, the task can be downright burdensome. To increase the number of positive online reviews you receive, you should make it as easy as possible for people to leave you a positive review. Anything you can do to reduce the time it takes them to provide the review will help, and doing so can also provide an opportunity for you to shape the nature of the review. For instance, you can provide a link to an example of a glowing customer review. You can also prime your clients with topics that you would like highlighted in your review by asking them questions related to those topics. Additionally, you can list the aspects of their experience that you’re most interested in learning about; these may include assessments of your professionalism, friendliness, and timeliness, or the cost and quality of your hardscape work.

Lastly, systems like grade.us can make it easier for you to collect reviews. Yelp is likely the best-known platform for online reviews, but in the case of landscape contracting, the leads generated through Yelp tend to be of poor quality. Facebook and Google – which are also popular for online reviews – are superior for outdoor living project reviews, and industry-specific sites like Houzz.com can be even better resources. More important than where your potential customers find you, however, is that when they do find you, they like what they see. Consider the strategies above as a way to improve your online reputation, and help you acquire and maintain promising client relationships.

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