Customers are your greatest assets. A third-party endorsement sells your product better than a brochure, trade show, or many other efforts, so how do you go about getting customers to support your products and services?
Many ways of leveraging happy customers to achieve your business goals exist, but one good place to start is with customer reviews. These are written testimonials describing the customer's experiences with your products and services. These reviews can be made public on your Website and/or used in sales materials and in publications. Below are 10 steps to help get you started:
1. Ask. A simple enough action, but one that's often overlooked. Salespeople may not want to "bother" customers who have already signed on with your company. And yet, asking for their reviews can lead to stronger relationships with them. They may be flattered, and happy customers often love to talk about their experiences. Better relationships may lead to upsell opportunities, product development, and improved customer satisfaction.
2. Make it painless, and provide an alternate path for constructive feedback. Make sure it is easy, simple and fast for customers to provide the review. If you are using Salesforce.com AppExchange, provide a link to the area on the site where they can write the review. Don't be afraid to give them guidance on what you are looking for. Provide examples or an outline they can adapt to their own experiences. Make it clear where they should enter basic information such as name, title, company, rating, and comments.
Obviously, you would like them to attach their name and company to the review, but if they'd prefer to remain anonymous or only weigh in with part of your requested review, that's okay. An anonymous review is better than no review, and over time your customer may change his/her mind as they see others participating publicly.
Should they have constructive or very specific feedback, give them an alternate path to provide that information, as it may be inappropriate for a public review. You want to be sure to capture and address specific comments or concerns to direct them to the appropriate person, e-mail or site.
3. Get a few easy ones under your belt first. No one likes to be first, so when starting out, seek out a few of your most trusted and friendly customers. They may be more tolerant of a process that has not yet been tested and can help you to work out the kinks in a risk-free environment.
Don't begin with your largest customer or the one with the biggest brand name. Once you have gone through the process a few times with "easy-going" customers, you can then confidently move onto bigger or more strategically important ones.
4. Pace yourself, and remember to do your homework before plowing ahead.
Now that you've practiced on a few friendly customers, you're ready to begin asking others. But before you get too ambitious, make sure you do your homework. Sending out an impersonal e-mail blast to all of your customers asking for reviews is a mistake.
Instead, take a targeted approach. Review who your most active users are, who has participated in private or public forums with your company, and who has expressed satisfaction recently. In many cases it will make sense to reach out to the specific salesperson who sold the product or talk to the customer service representative who has a good relationship with the customer, as it will be much easier to get a review if you leverage existing relationships.
Also, remember that a constant flow of good comments is better than a whole bunch at one time and then nothing for a while. Pace yourself.
5. Ask more than one contact within an organization. Once you have identified your target customers, make sure you're contacting the right people within those organizations. If there are multiple individuals using your products/services at one company, go ahead and ask as many of them for reviews that make sense. Again, remember to check to make sure there are no open issues with any of these individuals before you make the requests.
6. Be sincere and express gratitude. You want good reviews, but you also need to make sure they are real and credible. Ask only active—or in some cases, former—customers who have real experience with your products or services. And as you do receive good reviews, make sure to reach out and let those individuals know you appreciate their support. Use this as an opportunity to build a stronger business relationship.
7. Consider integrating your requests with an existing campaign. It makes sense to check with marketing, billing, and other departments to see what kinds of communications campaigns are going out to customers. For example, if there is a newsletter going out to all your current customers, you may want to evaluate the opportunity to include a simple message requesting reviews that encourages happy customers to share their experiences. Remember to make it easy by providing clear instructions or a quick link to the review site.
8. Don't be afraid to ask for more. Folks willing to review products and services may be references in waiting. Just because they provided you with something once doesn't mean you can't ask for more from them. Perhaps they would be willing to be a more active customer reference who speaks directly to your prospects. Or perhaps they would be willing to provide comments for an upcoming relevant news release. Use your best judgment, be respectful, and ask appropriately, but remember to watch for these potentially valuable opportunities.
9. Assign an owner. If you don't have an owner to oversee the reviews, you need to assign one. If it is left up to everyone and no one all, you aren't likely to receive the kind of results you are hoping for, and you risk alienating customers. Consider assigning this important responsibility to someone in marketing, communications, or sales operations, as these departments are closest to customers and understand the sensitivities around caring for and servicing them.
10. Use your results.
Now that you are on your way, don't forget why you started all this: Remember to promote the reviews on your Website and in your sales and marketing materials. Gather constructive feedback and leverage it to close support issues and in product development, and develop lasting improvements in your business. Use the reviews as a launching pad to propel your business to the next level.
Done right, customer reviews can add credibility, provide valuable insight, create a community around your products and services, and ultimately, convert prospects into sales.
Joshua Horwitz is the founder and president of Boulder Logic (www.boulderlogic.com), a company specializing in customer reference management.