Review Management

7 Unique Email Templates For Requesting Online Reviews (Part 1)

They hate it when you ask. You know it, they know it. But experts are encouraging you to do it. "Ask your customers for reviews," they say. "You'll regret it if you don't," they imply.

Over and over you're bombarded with advice that tells you to get out there, go grovel and beg for that review. Your business needs it. So, suck it up and swallow your pride. If you're like most people you hate it. And you know what? That's a healthy response. You should hate groveling because it's the wrong way to ask for a review from a customer.

Begging ruins relationships with customers

What happens when someone begs us to do something we don't want to do? It hurts the relationship. It creates negative feelings – bitterness, resentment, loss of respect – feelings that weren't there before. Maybe we do what they want us to do, maybe we don't. The relationship is permanently changed. Beggars put themselves in a one down position, a place that leaves them at a serious disadvantage. Okay, what does that disadvantage look like?

  • Condescension becomes more obvious
  • Customer distrust, regarding your motives, grows
  • The customer/provider relationship becomes a little bit more inflexible
  • Customers become more resistant to suggestions, requests and expectations

The damage is far-reaching, continuing to get worse until the state of the relationship is openly addressed and discussed. Which almost never happens. Most businesses do their best to avoid conflict with customers, while customers discuss their feelings with anyone and everyone, except those they're doing business with. Notice I didn't say they don't talk about their problems. I said they don't talk about their feelings. This sounds like touchy-feely nonsense The kind of "emotional claptrap" many people do their very best to avoid. But is that really the case here? Actually, no.

Because the behavior, begging for reviews, is the problem. Most of us would avoid begging if customers called us on that behavior. If they told us our begging made them angry or uncomfortable, most of us would stop doing it. We'd find a different way to go about getting the reviews we need. Here's the problem. They don't like it. What's worse, it permanently changes our status, in our customers eyes, as peers. Most of the time it's pretty subtle but the results are still the same. Begging hurts relationships. We still need reviews though, so...

What do we do?

Do we simply abandon our efforts to get quality reviews? Do we avoid reviews altogether because we're embarrassed or afraid? No, we stop asking for reviews. We start asking for specifics, the things inside our reviews. We ask for details, specifics on the objections they had as new customers coming in. Asking for a favor actually tends to boost customer response, significantly increasing the odds we’ll get more favors in the future. Asking isn’t begging and it’s actually an important relationship building step to take.

So what kind of specifics are we asking for?

We ask about their fears, frustrations and doubts. Their objections, risks and consequences. Did they take a huge risk on your business or your product? Were they burned by a competitor? It's important that you find out. Making a face-to-face request is ideal, but it’s important to get feedback (reviews) whether it’s face-to-face, over the phone or digital.  

Here's why.

When customers share their story they give you a gift. Independent, third-party validation of you. Your character, the service you provide and the results they received. A powerful review has four distinct ingredients:

  • Presentation. A powerful review is presented well. Their story follows a sequence (linear or chronological) and grammar isn't a distraction. Presentation criteria grows when the medium changes (e.g. audio or video).

  • Consistency. Do reviewers contradict themselves? Inconsistency undermines a reviewer's credibility. Which means prospects distrust both the business and their reviewers.

  • Negativity. As John Cacioppo's research shows, humans have a negative bias. We're more drawn to the negative. Reviews with negative elements – fears, problems, frustrations, objections, risks – attract attention and are considered to be more believable.

  • Positivity. Our negative bias creates stress and anxiety. A good solution relieves our stress and anxiety. This is the result most people look for in a review. But reviews that focus on positivity alone are seen as unconvincing and untrustworthy. Don't believe me? What do you think about most LinkedIn recommendations?

This is kind of the worst. We shouldn't ask for reviews, now on top of that we need four specific ingredients? Then, to make matters worse, these ingredients are things customers have to choose to provide on their own. So, what are you supposed to do?

You follow a system.

A good system relies on templates. Templates give you a rough framework to follow, showing you the who, what, why and how. Ideally, templates are easy to apply and quick to use. They're helpful training aids your entire team can follow. So with that in mind, here are 6 templates you can use to get amazing reviews from all-star customers.

Template #1: Feedback interview

Most of the time customers come to us with a problem. It could be a complex marketing problem (SEO) or something as simple as boredom (YouTube). Whatever their motivation they come to you looking for a solution. Customers are happy when you fix their problem. But they forget to share their experience with others. The feedback interview solves this problem. How does it work? You simply ask customers for their feedback on one particular problem like this.

Hi Jan,
Some of our clients were burned by [competitor]. Most of them paid lots of money for a phone system that didn't work well. We're trying to learn from their experience. Have you run into any frustrating problems while using our phone system? Would you be willing to share your story on a quick 5 min. call?
We're looking for brutal honesty.
Appreciate you!

The feedback interview works because it's a two-pronged attack. First, you're learning about potential problems before they become disasters. Second, your identifying customer candidates who are willing to give you a review. This template works best as a follow-up strategy. After a customer has opted in, purchased or used your product.

Template #2: Survey interview

Most businesses have a list. An audience of people who are interested in what they have to say. An email list, social media following or group membership. The survey interview is, as the name suggests, a survey. It's a one question survey that leads with something fascinating. A question or hook that's guaranteed to grab their attention.

Here's how it works.

  1. What do you want to know? Choose the most important question you'd like to ask e.g. what's the biggest problem you're trying to solve?
  2. Why should they care? Make your question attention grabbing, avoiding explicit controversy and self-deprecation.
  3. Segment your responses. Who provided the best/worst answers? Which answers are most valuable? Sort respondents into groups.
  4. Follow up with the engaged. Reach out to the people you'd like to hear more from. Send them a message thanking them for their response and asking if they'd be willing to elaborate.

If you're running a marketing firm, your one question survey could be anything along the lines of:

  • What do you hate most about marketing firms?
  • What's your biggest struggle with creating content?
  • What's your biggest risk factor when it comes to paying for SEO?
  • What would make an unknown marketing firm unique from your perspective?

And the most important part? You target existing customers with your one question survey.

Template #3: Unhappy customer

If you're running a business you're bound to have a few unhappy customers. Customers won't always be happy with the work we do. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we don't meet their expectations. Sometimes these customers leave. It's common for businesses to treat these customers like a lost cause. "I made a mistake, they're really angry with me and they're gone forever."

What if you could get them back?

What if there was a chance you could win them back and win new customers over in the process? As it turns out you can.

Here's how:

  1. Assess your customer. You're looking for unhappy customers who are emotionally stable. The strategy won't work with unhappy customers if they're toxic or malicious. You're looking for unhappy people who are honorable even though you screwed up.
  2. Ask for details. These customers may already be on their way out the door. If they're willing, give them a chance to clear the air. Ask questions if you need clarification, but listen. Get their permission to record and transcribe the interview.
  3. Ask them to share their feedback. Send them a copy of their unedited feedback. Then ask if they'd be willing to share it publicly as a review. That's right, you're asking them to share a negative review.
  4. Fix the problems they've mentioned. Go above and beyond, fixing all of the issues your unhappy customer mentioned. Next, create an irresistible offer that's designed to woo them back to you e.g. if you’re running a ski resort you could reach out to unhappy customers with a free 10 day pass good for 10 people.
  5. Make your approach. The approach is key. Come on too strong and look needy. Allow your ego to get in the way and they may update their review, making your situation worse. The whole strategy falls apart. Your approach needs to be gentle, nuanced and respectful.

Your initial approach could look a little bit like this:

We've really messed things up. I'm so sorry. I know where we went wrong but I think I'm missing something. I'd like to learn as much as I can from this.
Would you be willing to share where you think we went wrong?
This isn't a ploy to try to keep you with us. I want to prevent this from happening again.

Who in their right mind would do this? All-star businesses who are looking to set the standard in their field. But why? Why go out of your way to request a negative review? Because customers know the truth about reviews. How do I know? Yelp.

Here's their policy on requesting reviews:

"Don’t ask anyone to review your business on Yelp. It’s that simple. Most businesses would ask their happiest customers to write reviews, not the unhappy ones. Self-selected reviews tell only part of the story, and we don't think that's fair to consumers."

Ouch. They have a point. And believe it or not, this is something customers recognize intuitively. When they look at your site and they see nothing but glowing reviews, they wonder. What about the unhappy customers? This strategy shows everyone your business is different. But, it depends on an incredible amount of nuance. This is something only the most sophisticated businesses will try.

Most won't do it. Those who do, the ones who do it well, can benefit from this tremendously. You get an insider's view of what went wrong, the information customers typically withhold, and you get direction. You also get a chance to show you're objective and honest, even when when it hurts.

Word spreads fast. At some point people will begin talking about what you did. They'll share your story with others. And the natural outcome? Customer trust skyrockets. But only if you're patient and you allow this strategy to grow organically. Talk yourself up, brag about what you did, let your ego get in the way at any point, and this may blow up in your face.

This concludes Part 1 of this blog post. In part 2, we will begin with the most popular template: Template #4: Post transaction request

Written by:

Francesca Hindmon

Francesca Hindmon is the President and Founder of Monarch & Company, a digital marketing and cloud technology agency based in Chicago that specializes in business process transformation.

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