How to get your business officially and legitimately rated #1 in your industry - and multiply new sales enquiry.
This might sound like a big claim but, believe me, the opportunity is very real. I've achieved exactly this for a number of local clients in recent months. The results are a huge standout from all other customer acquisition tests.
To do this we need to investigate one social media offshoot. It's known as Google Plus Customer Ratings.
Before we look at Google Plus Customer Ratings in depth, I just want to say something: A very small number of social media opportunities are immensely powerful for marketers. Most, I believe, are over hyped and many are just plain useless.
Google Plus Customer Ratings, for many local service marketers, falls into this immensely powerful category. I've seen the effects on customer acquisition. I’ve implemented Google Plus Customer Ratings within clients' businesses, including both ends of the branding spectrum: A family-run, suburban garage - and a global designer brand. Both of these businesses now harness the official #1 rating in their industry - across various media. But it's not just my experience with clients that has me sold on this vehicle. I've seen the effect it has had on me, as a consumer, when I'm looking to make a purchase in the local service sector.
The good news: You don’t need to take my word for it. It's obvious how important it is to get proactive around Google Plus Customer Ratings. Just consider the following easy-to-adapt-to-your-category purchasing scenario:
You've arrived into Queenstown for a one week vacation. On the plane, your heart pounded with excitement whilst reading an in flight article about a nearby hiking trail. It turns out to be just down the road from your hotel. And then you realised something: You don't have any hiking footwear. Slumped in the back seat of your taxi driving away from the airport, you google "hiking boots Queenstown." You have a specific aim in mind: To buy yourself a new pair of hiking boots the next morning.
Three stores flash up in response to your search. The first thing you note is their location: All Queenstown outlets. Tick! All in the main town village. Second tick! The next attribute of these three listings is the store's customer average rating. It's hard to go past this, because unlike all the surrounding black text on the page, the customer average star rating (out of five) is displayed in orange!
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One of the hiking apparel stores has an average of 3.4/5 stars - taken from 8 customers. Another has 3.7/5 stars taken from 12 customers. The third store, located right between the other two, has an average 4.6/5 stars taken from 206 customers.
Which store will you go to?
The one that people are raving about. The one with 4.6/5 stars taken from 206 customers. That's the store oozing what Robert Cialdini referred to in his classic "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" as social proof. Social proof is an immensely powerful mechanism of influence.
I've chosen hiking footwear in Queenstown to illustrate my point, but of course the scenario above could easily be adapted across most offerings in the local service sector.
If we treat Google Plus Customer Ratings like just another social media platform offshoot - we likely miss a significant opportunity to harness social proof. We also risk our service business or establishment suffering the opposite: Negative social proof.
Google Plus Customer Ratings is a standout social media tool for marketers of local service businesses - in a number of important ways. Here's two pointers to consider when evaluating it in relation to other social media opportunities:
1. Whether you like it or not your local service business or establishment is probably already on Google Plus.
And it's already being - or about to be - rated by your customers. Google Plus is integrated with Google Maps so there's an expectation for your service offering to be on there - to make it easy for customers, members, prospects - or anybody - to find you. It's the same for all your competition. This creates an environment for comparative evaluation as with our scenario above.
The power of comparative evaluation (fairly unique to Google Plus Customer Ratings) can’t be overemphasised.
One thousand or one million followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc can be quickly made almost meaningless (specifically in terms of comparative evaluation) when your closest competitor chooses not to be on that particular platform.
It doesn’t suggest your brand is the most popular to your prospect. It suggests you threw money or time at that and your competition didn’t.
Prospects understand they are not comparing apples for apples. Then they look elsewhere to establish a rank in their mind for your category.
What about the factor of branding? Does a powerful brand make Google Plus Customer Ratings irrelevant? No it doesn’t. Prospects rank category offerings based on their assessment of the entire value proposition. This much misunderstood term ‘value proposition’ includes branding attributes and also includes price, convenience, relative risk, the salespersons manner and everything else that enters into the shopper's perceived experience.
A car shopper might perceive a Jaguar more favourably on a number of branding attributes - and run off to purchase a BMW. They make this decision because of the sum combination of their trust in the local BMW dealership, pricing, appeal of a recent BMW model and any number of other factors. Branding matters a great deal but it’s the entire value proposition that is weighed up and assessed in your prospect's mind.
For more information on value propositions, I suggest Mike Lanning's rare breed of business book, titled “Delivering Profitable Value”. Published in the late nineties it’s an oldie, but a goodie!
The reason being: When you don't ask, it's often the unhappy customers who are more likely to offer a rating. It doesn't take many single star ratings - maybe only one or two - to drag your average rating right down if your volume of ratings is low. For most customers who have a smooth sailing or positive experience, they won't be bothered offering you a rating - they are just too busy with other priorities.
My experience within the last two years suggests it's not uncommon to see a jump of at least one whole star in the five star rating system, once you start asking all customers to honestly rate their experience.
Convinced you need to be participating in the game for your local service offering?
Here are the 5 crucial steps to mine the gold of Google Plus Customer Ratings:
1. Customers need to be on their own device with their own unique IP address when rating and reviewing your offering.
If Google detects a repeated IP address they will chop those reviews and ratings. Google won't make an announcement or contact you. They will just chop the reviews. Take it from me, I learned this the hard way when testing an on-site customer feedback kiosk for a client.
One day the reviews were there, the next day they were gone. The solution: Make sure your customers are on their own devices and own unique IP address. Google insists on this in an attempt to safeguard Google Plus from false ratings and reviews - something as professional marketers we should avoid at all costs.
2. You can ethically use an incentive to successfully gather more reviews and ratings.
The right incentive or gift will have a huge impact on volume. In my experience sharp spikes in volume of customer ratings do not trip a warning flag at Google. So as to make it super clear that you are not attempting to bribe anybody to say nice things (and you genuinely are not bribing anybody!) you must stress at least three times in your written request that you want an honest review and rating. And spell it out: good, bad and lukewarm reviews all are equally valued. Every reviewer receives the complimentary gift.
What's the complimentary gift? Ideally it's something of high perceived value to your customer and low cost to your business. It doesn't need to be aligned with your offering. For example, the footwear company above wouldn't need to offer a spare pair of boot laces or waterproofing polish (although this might be a great incentive!) A free ride on the local tourist attraction might cost you less through a bulk purchase. It might also be of greater perceived value to your customer. The key is high perceived value to them and preferably low cost to your company.
3. Optimise how the request is made.
My suggestion would be to put it in writing. In addition, in many scenarios, a verbal request of your customers can have a significant impact on lifting response rates. The customer representative after all is a real person. With some luck they will have a strong rapport with your customer and get more reviews. Including an actual person with a verbal request can lift response rates as much as 800% on top of a stand alone written request.
4. Be super specific about how your customers are to go about the process of rating you.
If you tell them "please rate us on Google Plus" they will often get very confused. "What's Google Plus? How do I do this?" Tell them exactly the step-by-step process that you want them to go through and how long it will take them. Walk through the process yourself on a few different devices so you know about this directly. Base your instructions on this. With the right instructions this should not take them longer than four minutes. This includes signing up for a Google/Gmail account if they don't have one already.
5. Once you’re clearly dominating your category in the rating system, tell the world about it.
You can do this successfully and profitably with both online and offline media. Are the competition complaining that you're stealing more than your fair share of new local business (this actually happened with a client recently)? Tell them to go gather their own Google Plus Customer Ratings. And while you’re having that conversation you might as well warn them: It's only a matter of time before you discover the next huge opportunity in customer acquisition!