By Crispin Manners — CEO Onva Consulting

It may seem odd to recommend that you should let your customers do the talking for you. It doesn’t quite fit the image of a business agonizing over the best choice of words for a press release, statement or customer case study. But today’s social media filled world — whether you use it or not — has brought to the fore the foundation of good PR — trust.

And the fact is that most people would rather trust the recommendation of a friend or indeed consumers they don’t know, than any other source of information. In fact Nielsen research Global Advertising: Consumers Trust Real Friends and Virtual Strangers the Most shows that 90% trust recommendations from people they know and 70% trust recommendations from people they don’t. Furthermore, the 2010 Social Shopping study shows that consumers rate user-generated reviews as the source of information having the highest impact on their buying behaviour. A massive 49% say they would leave a retail site if it doesn’t have user reviews!

That may be fine for online retailers but what if you’re a B2B company? The reality is that business buyers are also consumers. You can’t separate the man from the manager. So the same basic trust rules apply. If you don’t trust your customers to say positive things about you, why would future customers trust you enough to buy from you? And, remember, that 80% of searches for a product or service now begin with a web search.

Isn’t a review just like a case study?

The key difference between a review and a case study is that you write a case study and have control over exactly what you write, but a review is written in the customer’s own words and you have no right of edit. While it is likely to include a customer quote, a case study rarely contains the clarity of context that a customer will include in the review. It is this context, and the fact that reviews will often include some objective commentary that a marketer would never include in a case study, that makes reviews so trusted.

Won’t I risk bad reviews being seen?

This is an excellent question as it gets to the heart of why customers would buy in the first place. If you are worried there would be too many negative reviews, then maybe you need to improve your product or service. The other thing to realize is that what is a negative experience for some customers could actually be a positive experience for others. For example, if a hotel review says it’s perfect but 40 minutes from the nearest night life, it might switch off party animals but attract those keen on a relaxing stay. In other words, reviews can actually reduce your cost of sale by attracting customers that you are most likely to satisfy.

How do I find advocate customers?

If you want to find out how likely you are to receive positive reviews before you enable customers to put them directly on your website, then there is one question you could ask — the Net Promoter* question. How likely are they to recommend you on a scale of 0-10? If you have more people giving you 9 and 10 than 0-6 then you know that the balance of recommendability is in your favour. You will also have a list of customers who you know want to recommend you and you can invite them to be the first to write a review in your new reviews section. I think you will find that the trust advantage this gives you over your competitors will pay dividends.

*Net Promoter is a registered trademark of Satmetrix Systems, Inc, Bain & Company and Fred Reichheld

Crispin Manners, CEO, Onva Consulting - www.onva.biz

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