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The Key to Engaging Your Customer Base

Season 1: Episode 65

podcast featured image The Key to Engaging Your Customer Base

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Getting your customers or clients to write reviews is no easy task. And on Yelp specifically, it’s against terms of service and content guidelines to solicit or ask for a review. So how can you naturally encourage them to share their experiences? Marketing expert Elizabeth Sexton shares how Aligned Modern Health, a multi-location holistic wellness business, manages their online presence while subtly showing their customers the power of online reviews.

On the Yelp Blog: Read more about Elizabeth’s approach to reviews, including the top three things you should be doing with your reviews.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind it.

This week I’m doing a deep dive episode with Elizabeth Sexton from Aligned Modern Health. We’re going to talk about ways to engage with your customer base in an effort to have them share their experiences and engage with you digitally. This concept is more and more important as consumers continue to search online when looking for a business to spend money with. Whether they’ve received a recommendation from someone they know or they’re just beginning their search, most consumers turn online to confirm or verify what they’ve heard. Let’s give our conversation a listen.

ELIZABETH: Thanks for having me back, Emily. I’m so excited to talk about one of our favorite subjects: review engagement. And when it comes to reviews and the marketing mix at Aligned Modern Health, we are managing the strategic engagement for multiple locations on numerous review sites. We are an integrative health care company. So that’s also where there are some caveats that come in: When you’re in the healthcare industry, there are specific best practices for review engagement. We can get to that later.

But we’re a holistic integrative complementary health care provider. We provide non-invasive natural solutions, such as functional medicine, nutrition, chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage therapy, physical rehab work as well. So we’ve got a lot going on, within all of our locations, under one roof. And what that means in the world of review management is that we’re constantly monitoring this space and doing what we can to stay as engaged as possible.

I’m also an online adjunct instructor in the digital marketing space for colleges like the University of Wisconsin, University of Miami, Kansas State. And review strategy best practices are often a question the students have. A lot of those questions are coming naturally from our own experiences. For instance, the other day, students were sharing stories about being duped by misleading good reviews, and this was happening in kind of a recurring pattern for people.

Maybe it’s happened to you, where you see a ton of just really good, amazing reviews that are aggregated on a website, and then you have the opposite experience with the product. And you start to realize in retrospect that a lot of those good reviews seemed a little too good to be true.  This is a good reminder to all of us that your review engagement should be as organic and community-inclusive as possible. And if we do get an occasional bad review, that might not be so bad. Real reviews, from the good to the not so great, can humanize your brand.

And it’s just not realistic that out of hundreds of reviews, every single one is going to be a five-star home run. So I think as shoppers become savvier in this space, we may start to see that bigger picture and hopefully be able to read in between those lines. But regardless how you drive review engagement, it can be a winning piece of your marketing mix.

Chances are a little over a quarter of your customers will leave a review—just a quarter of them. So that’s important to remember, and we want those reviews to be authentic. But that doesn’t mean that this has to be a passive experience for marketers. There are several actionable marketing tips that you can employ to nurture engagement and help shed light on positive reviews.

What’s exciting as well is that paying attention to your review strategy and specifically how you were paying mind to this can also show that you value your customer’s opinion and this can further increase their trust in you.

EMILY: So today we are here to talk about what it means to engage your customers. And we’re going to circle it around the topic of engaging them through reviews. But the reason that I came to you about this topic and the reason I think of Aligned as such a leader in this is because I happened to be a customer of Aligned.

And I noticed the subtle ways that you call out to your consumers, your existing clients, and people you’re hoping to become clients all the time. I mean, I could go on and on with a list of all the things you do: sandwich boards outside the locations and “review the week” behind the entry desk. There are so many things, but that’s why I think of you guys as someone who really prioritizes this initiative. Can you just outline for me what engaging with your customers looks like to Aligned and maybe what those different touch points are?

ELIZABETH: Absolutely. So like all businesses, we have multiple touch points with our customers—in our case patients, in other cases, clients. But all of these touch points become connected and intertwined in the customer experience. Those in-person experiences get translated online, and this happens after you’re surprised and delighted, when you’re happy or when you’re let down. And as a business, I think it’s really important—and in your own marketing lens, it’s healthiest to be open to engaging with all of that, the good and the bad.

It’s really healthy to be open, to be able to engage with the full realm of the customer experience. It’s actually good to have bad reviews. But you need a process in place so that you don’t have panic and reactivity that sets in. So it’s all about a process over panic.

It might bruise your ego and it definitely potentially damages your online reputation, but you can find that negative feedback is incredibly valuable. I like to think of the business expression ‘it’s not personal, it’s business.’

I try to remind myself of that all the time in life. It’s not personal, this is just business. But when it comes to reviews, I take a step back and I put my non-marketer hat on, and reviews are in fact very personal for the reviewer. And any experience that didn’t meet a customer’s reasonable expectations is an experience to show them that you can do better to show them that you’re human as well.

You can aim to right a wrong if it’s possible. And it’s also an opportunity to improve internal business workflows that you might not have even realized were going on. So from our end, we have a thorough and quite timely internal workflow in how we respond to negative reviews.

And this is going to look and feel different for every business based on what’s happening internally, based on what’s happening on site and actually where the experience occurred. But from our end, almost in every single instance, we always reach out to attempt to better the outcome if it’s possible. This is not always the case, but we actually find, quite often, that a reviewer appreciates this authentic reach out so much that they’ll update their review. And they may not delete the whole story about what happened—sometimes, yes , you’ll just see a different, fresh perspective come to light, but they might just share this positive experience.

And I think that shows that we’re making an effort, and we do find that even when they do just say, ‘Hey I’m updating my review. This is what happened after I posted this.’ We do find that starts to turn it into a more favorable review. We might even see those stars start to grow a little bit as well.

I just personally think if you ever question if it’s worth it to make that effort, or should you just completely ignore it, I think it’s helpful to think about how this impacts the bigger picture of all of your marketing investments. And hopefully at the heart of it, your mission is to provide a 5-star service in the first place.

EMILY: We’re going to take a quick break – be right back.

So what we just covered is a lot of how you engage with people who have left you a review. I want to talk a little bit about the topic of getting your customers to leave you reviews and how you encourage them to engage with you online by leaving a review.

Many people might not know the different rules or understand how Yelp varies from other sites. I’d love it if you could explain how you think about engaging your customers to drive organic reviews. For those listeners who don’t know, Yelp doesn’t allow businesses to ask customers for reviews. So how do you approach this for different platforms?

ELIZABETH: Yelp is very different from Google. So at Aligned Modern Health, we have different approaches for all types of review engagement. And we do our best. We want to cover all our bases, but also kind of do it in a balanced, equal way. It can definitely be frustrating that you can’t ask for the Yelp reviews, and that means that you might get less of them over time, but it’s definitely better to know the rules and not ask then try to build that reputation and get frustrated when not all of your views become recommended.

We take the rules so seriously. I’m a rule follower by nature. Might be thanks to my super strict dad. But that helps in general for me to understand rules, even if they’re not always in my favor. But not following the rules on Yelp, even if you do it by accident, which we have experienced, it really hurts. And this is because it prevents some of your good reviews and all that good feedback from passing the authenticity test. To me, it’s helpful to kind of understand what’s behind that.

The most important rule when it comes to our strategy on Yelp is that we never directly solicit reviews. So that also means we don’t share a link asking people to follow this link and go to the Yelp profile page. And we don’t do that with QR codes either. Even if it makes my job a little harder, I like it because they think it goes to the heart of what Yelp is all about, which is really a community driven, authentic platform.

And the good news is that I love a challenge. And we’ve actually found that there’s plenty you can do to encourage Yelp engagement. I don’t want to sound preachy, but typically most rules have good reasons and good purposes. And we could use other review sites to overwhelm those sites with favorable reviews and with fake reviews, and we could have our moms and our grandmas sharing those reviews because they love us so much.

And there’s something to that I guess, as part of their strategies and other sites in terms of you know ‘show some love, get the party started a little bit.’ But that goes back to the transparency and authenticity factor. And hopefully you feel confident enough in the review experience and in the patient experience or customer experience, where you’re confident that you can kind of create a path or a trail or a nudge to a review site without asking people to leave you fake reviews. And ultimately it goes back to that story of ‘man, I got duped by the site and all of these amazing reviews because somebody’s grandma or somebody’s intern is writing all of those reviews.’ And so ultimately it’s just going to be a better customer experience at the end of the day, if you follow the rules.

EMILY: I like that. You know with that being said, let’s talk a little bit about where you guys put reviews in your marketing mix, because you even just mentioned it’s different, right? The way that you handle different platforms and the way you even engage with people who have been to a clinic versus are looking for a service. So talk to me a little bit about how Aligned uses reviews and where you maybe leverage them in your marketing mix.

ELIZABETH: We have found that using visual cues within different areas of signage and other areas of communication is a great way to follow these rules and to encourage a more natural source of engagement. So we display reviews in all of our locations.

We have a couple of strategic spots where we sprinkle this. And I do say we create some balance with aesthetics and engagement with all the review sites. But we’re really specific about what we do on our Yelp signage. And we want to follow y’all’s guidelines there too.

Speaking of rules—we are in a healthcare space. So we absolutely have to make sure that we’re following patient privacy rules and kind of finding that best place for us. We know that this type of strategy works because we’ve gotten direct feedback from patients that seeing these reviews actually made them more excited to share their stories.

So this is a way that we share and show—show, not tell, without having to make that direct ask or a solicitation for the Yelp review. We also find that it kind of keeps the conversation top of mind for everybody in our space, including our team members. And so it just keeps them a little more driven to be more aware of a 5-star experience and to kind of be able to have those organic conversations, if a patient asks about the signage. Or maybe naturally a compliment comes up: ‘Oh my gosh, you have changed my life.’ Well, you could stand by the sign and say, thank you so much. We love reviews and positive feedback. And they’ll know where to find us.

In addition to considering where you are sharing reviews within your location and where you’re fostering those review touch points naturally, other areas where displaying reviews in the right places can be equally powerful. It’s gonna depend on your industry. It’s going to depend on your audience and your demographics. You can share reviews on social media. This is a really fun way to also further engage with the reviewer.

A lot of people like a shout out from a brand that they like. So that’s kind of a no-brainer that helps you expand your online community engagement and also increase the reach of that. We have to be careful. We have to get permission. We have to do waivers, consents, things like that because we want to be really careful when it comes to privacy and patient privacy. So just a good rule of thumb is to kind of know the best practice that’s in your area. And it never hurts to take that extra step and reach out: ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much for your review. This means so much to us. Referrals and reviews are so important. Do you mind if we share this with our community?’ I think approval’s always a great way to further nurture that relationship as well.

EMILY: I think the best way to close out this topic is to keep going with the theme that you mentioned at the end of your last response, which is bringing the reviews internally. And that still then helps generate more reviews from your clients, right? Can you talk to me a little bit about how you leverage reviews internally and how that maybe even further continues the engagement back with your customers or your patients?

ELIZABETH: We have a practice of sharing positive reviews internally, and it’s kinda like, you know, ringing the bell or ringing the gong digitally. And it’s a great way to keep that internal education focused on the importance of reviews. For us, it builds a culture of team appreciation. Again, like just getting props, getting strokes, knowing you’re doing a good job, I think is motivation to continue to do a good job, maybe to do an even better job. When it comes to surprise and delight, which is kind of like that secret sauce that we have—we in the marketing world want to have those moments where you have such a great experience, you just cannot wait to share it online. And it, you know, in your heart, that’s a way of saying thank you.

So you can’t orchestrate surprise and delight. You can make suggestions, you can share examples. But this is an organic way for us to kind of share examples of surprise and delight to inspire other team members to do that. And I think it gives a little itch that they kind of want to just keep finding more ways and do more during the customer experience.

EMILY: That’s one of the things I hear consistently in my conversations with businesses—how deeply important employee engagement is in creating great customer experiences. In these final minutes can you tell me a little more about what reviews mean to you and your team members?

ELIZABETH: So my all time favorite review goes to a patient who pledged to name their firstborn child Aligned Modern Health. We’re going to hold them to that. But in general, it’s so heartwarming and motivating to read and hear about how our providers are changing patients’ lives. I personally and professionally love it when people mention the names of our providers and team members. As mentioned, it’s such a wonderful way to give internal kudos and shed light on how personable the experience is. And in my own private life as a Yelper, I find that I’m most inclined to share reviews after I experience a stronger sense of community with a business.

So often in those times, it’s when a business owner has taken an extra step to help me when they didn’t need to. And I appreciate that so much from a marketing perspective, because I know how much effort is going into it, in that holistic sense. And I also know how valuable my reviews will be in return. So it’s an incredible way to say things and to also help ignite more positive experiences for others.

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