Lift-off in lockdown: why customer reviews are your golden growth ticket

For 30 days in August, we ran a controlled marketing experiment alongside Swimart’s marketing team and a group of keen franchisees, integrating our review generation platform (Cloutly) with their point of sale.

We’d hoped to demonstrate that driving consistent Google reviews using Cloutly (even during a lockdown) could tangibly improve online visibility, searches, calls and maps views (ie: the “near me” search experience) for local businesses.

Here’s what happened in 30 days (across five stores):

  • 90 new reviews collected (42 on Google).
  • Average 52 per cent lift in calls.
  • Average 47 per cent lift in Maps views.
  • Average 41 per cent lift in Search views.

Read the full case study here.

In this article, I’m going to show you how you can replicate this impact for your local business (no matter your industry) by generating social proof. Often overlooked and undervalued, reviews as a marketing asset can be phenomenally powerful.

(One Swimart location’s Google My Business growth, 30 days since using Cloutly)

Why should you care about reviews?

Psychologist and marketing professor Robert Cialdini originally coined the term ‘social proof’ as a major theme in his 1984 book, Influence, which defined the concept as one of six principles of persuasion (ie: how to get people to trust and buy from you). He identified that when we – as people – are unsure of something or a situation is ambiguous, we often look to others for validation.

This is especially true in marketing. We don’t trust brands, but we do trust people. When someone we trust recommends a product or business, our brain builds a cognitive shortcut and accepts their opinion to be true. The greater the number of people who share that opinion, the more we believe it.

That’s why online reviews for local businesses are so powerful:

  • They prime future customers with an expectation (will this be good, or bad?) based on other people’s experiences.
  • They help search engines like Google understand whether your business is relevant to the user’s search query and prominent compared to others.

The customer journey, now more than ever, starts with search. When a pipe bursts, you search for “emergency plumber”. When your tax is due, you search for “best accounting firm”. Google itself relies on social proof (prominence, along with relevance and distance) to determine how to rank local businesses for any search query.

Unless you’re Starbucks, you can’t control distance, but you can control your relevance and prominence. How? Getting more reviews.

How to get more reviews (the easy way)

I often see reluctance from small businesses to ask their customers for reviews for two reasons:

  1. They’re unsure of what or where to send their customers (technical roadblock).
  2. They’re afraid they might solicit negative reviews (mental roadblock).

Both are problems we built Cloutly to solve.

Rather than awkwardly and ineffectively asking your customers to review you (and then losing track of who you’ve asked), firing off a link in an email only to be ignored and forgotten, or having reviews slip through the cracks… we built a simple (yet powerful) system that helps you automate multi-step, ultra-personalised review invite campaigns, delivered across SMS and email.

(30 Day Swimart Review Campaign Data)

We know this is because:

  • Multi-step follow-ups over time help engage people who didn’t respond at first. People are busy: working, driving, making dinner… you never know. We see 40-50 per cent of review volume driven by follow-up messages.
  • Multiple review campaigns can be set up and tailored to specific verticals in your business (eg: retail vs. service; dining vs. events). People tend to ignore low-effort, generic review requests, so it’s refreshing when a review invite not only values you as a customer, but accurately reflects your experience.

As a small business, your reviews are an asset that delivers compounding interest, but only if you’re consistent and continue to work on them. If your competitors aren’t paying attention, you could be first. Try Cloutly free for 14 days and discover why Swimart, Home Instead, Swyftx and over 100+ businesses who rely on word-of-mouth, trust us.