When it comes to effectively marketing your business online, a positive customer review is worth more than a great Tweet, Facebook post, blog post and e-mail newsletter combined. While other online marketing efforts are useful, nothing quite compares to a five-star customer review.

Think about the last time you had a plumbing or auto emergency and had to find someone to help in a pinch. Did you start going to various social media platforms to see which company was best at creating compelling and keyword-dense posts? Of course not. Chances are you went to a customer review website and found the plumber or emergency mechanic who had the highest overall rating.

This is why I always say that great customer reviews are like salespeople who work for you, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, completely free of charge.

This isn’t to say that other online marketing efforts are pointless; of course they’re not, as they help to raise your brand’s visibility and enhance your search rankings. However, I fully believe that businesses need to be putting more overall effort into getting great reviews. Some business owners seem to think that great reviews happen randomly and that there’s not much they can do to garner them beyond hopes and wishes.

This is simply not true. You can encourage positive reviews of your business, using these three methods.

Method One: The Active Approach

Sometimes it’s as simple as the old saying, “ask and you shall receive.” While some businesses are leery of asking for positive reviews for fear of seeming pushy, it’s not as uncouth as many make it out to be. Customers generally aren’t offended by being asked to leave a review. They’ll rarely, if ever, respond negatively. The worst case scenario is usually that they just ignore the request.

The active approach entails actively urging your customers to leave you a review. This oftentimes entails an incentive. For example, a local restaurant will offer customers a free appetizer if they show that they left the establishment a review. A spa will offer 10% off the next treatment for a review.

Notice that I’m saying “review” and not “positive review.” It’s important to note that some customer review platforms have rules about businesses directly asking for five-star reviews from their clientele. However, I’ve found that if customers know that they will need to actually show the review to the business owner, they tend to make it a positive one to avoid awkwardness.

Method Two: The Passive Approach

I can’t emphasize enough how little risk there is in taking the active approach. However, if you’re still skittish about directly asking for a review, then you could always try the passive approach.

The passive approach is asking for a review without coming out and asking for a review, so to speak. Maybe in your e-mail signature you remind customers to review your business on a review website. Perhaps there are a few signs hanging in your business encouraging your customers to leave you a review.

Personally, I think the passive approach is alright, but the active approach seems to get more results. However, there’s no reason you can’t use both. A few signs or an e-mail signature are a great way to give the customer that extra reminder to review your business, especially if there’s an incentive waiting for them if and when they do.

Method Three: Go Above and Beyond

If you haven’t guessed, the organic approach is exactly what it sounds like. Provide great service, go that extra mile and create a customer experience that is so spectacular that the customer can’t help but to leave a glowing review for your business.

The truth is that customers tend to do nothing when they receive good service, but have a tendency to race to review websites when the service is bad. On a website like Yelp, you’ll see a lot of one-star reviews that essentially say, “I had to make an account just to warn others about Business X and how awful they are…”

Conversely, most five-star reviews aren’t about businesses that just did what they were supposed to do. A five-star review for a restaurant typically discusses the greatest meal the customer has ever tasted. A five-star review for a clothing store will talk about a sweet shopgirl who spent two hours trying to help the customer find the perfect dress for her wedding.

Customers tend to do nothing when they receive good service, but they will leave a five-star review when they receive great service.

Encouraging your customers to leave positive reviews through the active and passive methods is wonderful. However, at the end of the day, the organic approach will always reign supreme. Create an excellent customer experience and your customers will leave you a positive review, forever giving you an effective salesperson that you never have to pay.

Happy Marketing

– Phil Fisk, President Coastline Marketing Group, Inc.