Customer reviews need not be the preserve of established businesses. Startups often have the most to gain here. Our company, a community of online business reviewers, analyzed the reviews of 57,000 businesses and spoke to thousands of entrepreneurs.
Below are six of the most useful ways we found for startups to use customer reviews to grow their business.
1. Be ready for your investors' due diligence.
Whether your reviewer is an associate doing basic due diligence or a general partner checking product/market fit, you want to make sure you put your best foot forward. That means being certain that when investors Google your brand, they see how much your customers love you.
This entails seeing as many happy, genuine reviews (because they can certainly spot the fake ones) as possible. And if you do have bad reviews, be sure to write professional public responses, so investors know you understand what it means to provide excellent customer service. Also worth noting: A lack of reviews, absent other data, may signal investors that you have lack traction.
2. Drive conversions by looking like a big business.
You might have only 50 customers, but if you can convince all 50 of them to review your business, you are going to look much larger and more established than you actually are. Image is everything: It can persuade more prospective customers to buy and make you big, for real. Indeed, customer reviews can boost your conversion rates by up to 105 percent.
3. Ensure that any press is good press.
Press can be a huge asset to startups, creating customer awareness, investor buzz and excitement among potential recruits. However, the tech puff pieces of old are being replaced by the work of real journalists looking for the inside scoop on your company.
That means that when you get the call from a reporter at Buzzfeed, Entrepreneur magazine, the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, you can be sure they are going to be reading every review of your start-up. And the difference between that reporter's glowing write-up versus a scathing one may reflect the tenor of just a handful of your online reviews.
4. Amplify your 'social proof' on social media.
Tweeting, sharing and otherwise posting positive reviews on social media -- a benefit underutilized by large companies and startups alike -- can pay dividends. Happy customers who write reviews feel rewarded with the additional recognition. Fans and followers are reminded about the quality of your products or services. And prospective customers viewing your social media assets are further persuaded to buy. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ can all be great platforms for this "social proof."
5. Identify your brand advocates.
Brand advocates can bring tremendous value to a startup, providing free marketing when cash is scarce. And reviews can be a great way to identify and activate these people. How to connect? Try reaching out to your most enthusiastic reviewers to thank them.
Reward them with special offers, and build a relationship. And don’t forget to tweet and share their content -- you never know when someone with thousands of followers or friends may retweet or re-share it.
6. Reach at least a basic level of product/market fit.
A major milestone in the early life of a startup is reaching some basic level of product/market fit. Entrepreneurs who achieve this can start looking to scale their business and raise more capital. And here, customer reviews can play an important role.
Reviews help elucidate product strengths as well as weaknesses. Customer surveys can also help with this process, but often reviews can surface additional areas for improvement. To use customer reviews most effectively in this process, look for trends in reviews instead of relying on one-off comments (i.e., avoid making changes based on single or limited data points).
Then, track changes in customer ratings over time to measure progress.