September 16, 2014

Would You Use a Google Places Review Station?

Mike Blumenthal comes away with an interesting find on his blog, getting confirmation from Google that they are a-OK with SMBs using onsite review stations to generate Google Places reviews. Mike had first heard of the policy after Scott Falcone shared a link to an email he received from Google OKing the practice. Unsure that everyone at Google would give their blessing, Mike sought confirmation in the Google Forums and, to the surprise of some, he actually got it.

Google Places

From Google employee Vanessa Schneider (vanessagene):

We’re supportive of businesses encouraging their customers to check out their Google Places listings and write a review; however, to avoid conflicts of interest, we don’t advise business owners to offer or accept money or product to incent reviews, per our policy guidelines here:

http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=187622

Cheers,
Vanessa

Like Mike, I was surprised to see Google encouraging business owners to host in-store review stations as a way of generating reviews, even if it’s done subtly. It’s one thing not to vocally frown upon review solicitation, but it’s quite another to encourage SMBs to open up review stations in their place of business–especially when Google Places already has a reputation for focusing on quantity, not quality, in their reviews. Opening up the door to in-store review stations would, arguably, work to make the issue worse, not better. Perhaps Google is trying to simply build up a solid number of reviews to help them throw down against Yelp or TripAdvisor, but I have to think this has the potential to backfire on all sides. That’s because even if Google is more focused on quantity right now than quality, at some point, that will change. And when it does, how will that affect SMBs?

In his post, Mike notes that there are many possible concerns that go along with in-store review stations. To name a few:

  • All of your reviews are coming from the same IP, making it easier for Google to filter later if they wanted.
  • You’re focusing all your energy on Google Places, even if your customers prefer to use other sites.
  • You run the risk of, intentionally or not, making customers feel strong-armed into leaving a positive review.

So while it may be smart for Google to OK review stations to build up their review numbers, is the practice smart for SMBs?

To be completely honest, I’d be careful. As Mike notes, there are plenty of ways this could come back to haunt you down the road.

If you are going to use install a permanent review station, my advice would to be use good judgment:

  • Don’t rely solely on the review station: If you think a review station makes sense for your business, go ahead and install one. I actually know one SMB owner who does have a review station in his office, and it’s worked well for him. However, don’t rely on that. Make sure you’re soliciting reviews via several different channels such as email campaigns, order follow-ups, direct mailings, etc. This will ensure your in-store reviews don’t dominate what’s out there about you, which could be filtered down the road.
  • Don’t rely solely on Google Places: Yes, with all the weight that Google is placing on Google Places, you should definitely be asking for reviews on that site. But don’t forget about sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. Google may not be pulling these sites into your Place page, but it is still using them as positive social signals. And just as important, your customers still use them to find information about your business and learn about the experiences previous customers have had with you. You don’t want to ignore customers just because Google is giving your business the green light where others have not.

While it’s somewhat refreshing that Google isn’t naysaying the importance of review solicitation (the way Yelp has in the past), you still want to be careful about putting all your eggs in one basket. If you are going to install a review station in your business, make sure you’re encouraging consumers to leave reviews on the review site of their choice, not just Google, and that you’re still using other avenues to generate review.

What do you think of Google’s admission that review stations are in bounds? Would you feel comfortable setting one up in your shop?

11 Comments ▼

Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

11 Reactions

  1. When you say review station, you’re referring to a dedicated machine set up in-store to allow customers to fill out a review on-site? I agree that reviews are great, but this seems pretty desperate to me. Can’t you just send out an email to your customers and ask for reviews (and include links to the most popular platforms so they can choose their favorite)?

    • That’s exactly what it refers to. You can absolutely send out an email (and you should), though I do know some SMBs who have used review stations in the past and found them to be successful. I think it probably all rests on the implementation of it and whether it feels like a natural component of your business or, yes, if people feel like they’re being herded to your review station to write good things about you.

  2. Robert and Lisa,

    You are both right that is has to feel like a natural part of the sales or service process for it to be of any benefit to the business or customer. It needs to be monitored in real time so that if there is a problem, the opportunity to resolve it actually occurs. It can really make the customer feel like their opinion matters if presented as such, otherwise it can be viewed as a bit pushy if implemented incorrectly. It most certainly should not be viewed as desperate though if a business wants real time feedback on the service they provide so that they can ultimately improve it.

  3. As a consumer, I usually need some time and space from my retail visit to mull over my opinion. I certainly wouldn’t want to feel on the spot to give a review (and I suspect many SMBs will offer a discount or free gift if you review us NOW!).

  4. I agree with Robert, asking for reviews in store seems a bit desperate. Emails should be sent out post purchase/service, after the consumer has had time to think about their experience and use the product.

  5. Hi Lisa! Thank you for this article. This is important information on an interesting and timely topic.

    As you’ve described it, the Google Review Station concept seems to be a two sided sword. Here’s an idea I’d like to share with those who are conflicted by this opportunity.

    After providing the services, the SMB could polity ask the consumer’s about their experience. If there were issues, this gives the SMB the opportunity to correct any problems immediately. That itself is smart business practice.

    After resolving any issues, or if none were experienced, the SMB can explain the importance of references and referrals, and ask if the consumer would consider providing their opinion.

    Today, nearly everyone has a cell phone with internet connectivity. The SMB can ask for the cell number of the consumer, and in return for opting-in to the SMB’s text message system, the consumer can be offered a special that can be redeemed immediately and/or for future benefit.

    From the text message system, the SMB sends a link to the Google Review. This can be sent immediately while the consumer is still there, or later on, whichever the SMB and/or consumer prefer.

    Here are some benefits of this approach…

    1) SMB keeps informed about the quality of service in real time.

    2) Consumer sees how the SMB truly cares about their satisfaction.

    3) SMB develops a text message list of customers that can be offered deals at any time (this is very powerful and effective).

    4) Consumers send their reviews from multiple and varying IP addresses (so long as the SMB is not providing on premise internet connectivity).

    Thanks again for this article Lisa.

    To your great success!

  6. It’s not a simple problem … and there are no “100% right for everybody” answers.

    Yes, emailing customers is great. How many cycle repair shops have their customers email addresses?
    There are plenty of businesses that still don’t do the whole “Customer Relations” side of things … so asking for reviews is not really a practice they can, well, practice.
    Then there are the businesses that have non-tech-savvy clientel/customers – how are they meant to get such people to conduct a rating/review on their behalf?
    In such cases – and in-situ method of providing feedback is fantastic (should Not just be Google Places – but for the Company as well (more in a bit)).

    The flip side is … should you be asking your customers for reviews then and there? Are you not potentially pressuring them into it?
    Can we rely on everyone being “fair”, providing privacy (a booth etc.) for the review … or might a few stand there and watch, even suggesting phrasing?
    Will all businesses simply ask, or might we encounter the occassional incentivising method, reward scheme, or “thank you for…” approaches?
    LEt us not forget the odd occassion when someone thinks they can get away with faking a review (Between IPs and Accounts … not an easy task).

    So it’s not a one-size-fits-all issue, no definitive right/wrong.
    I, personally, think that in most cases, it is not particularly suitable … but there are cases (as above) where it does make sense.

    Now for the harsher part.
    Getting customer feedback is a Very important aspect of Customer Relations. It never ceases to amaze me how few companies actively seek this information … and I’m appalled at the number that simply don’t bother, and then we have a number that passively attempt it, as an after-thought ( :sigh: ).
    I’ve been advising people for years (direct clients, phone support, forums etc.) to get in touch with customers. This is a “must do” practice for almost any business … there is a wealth, no, an absolute gold mine, of information, improvements, solutions to existing problems, and ideas available. My personal favourite is the criticisms, as these can lead to some serious improvements that increase conversion rates.
    All of this applies to your business practice, policies, store/building layout, website etc.

    So, for those of you that don’t do it already … beat your customers/clients (friends and family in business as well!) over the head until the give in and start “talking” to their customers.
    It’s Not just Google and Rankings … it’s solid business sense, and a way of generating some real loyalty from existing customers (you’d be amazed how often a customer will return, how much more they will spend, when they feel they have personally invested … and if you publicly acknowledge, say thank you, and occassionally reward the better ideas/comments/criticisms – then you get even more back in many cases!).

    • Very interesting topic and excellent reply. I think asking for reviews is fine but (and this is a significant but) I think it must be made clear in writing that you value and appreciate an honest review – even if that review is critical in whole or in part. Personally I think yelp should reconsider its stance on this and modify its policy perhaps even suggesting wording to businesses to the effect that honest feedback is appreciated. I think subtly suggesting that you really want reviewers to say nice things violates the spirit of the review process and short circuits any opportunity for the business to derive the real value from the review. I think that concern is what has stopped yelp from being okay with businesses asking for reviews. The simple answer is to require businesses to be explicit in their request for honest reviews. Businesses that are full of fear and don’t “get” the value of negative / candid reviews and how to turn negatives into positives will lose out. Businesses that do “get” it have and will continue to win big. Bottom line: Yelp should modify its policy.

  7. Interesting article Lisa about Google Places. Businesses certainly have to spread their wings in terms of gathering reviews. I don’t particularly find the idea of customers giving feedback in-store. It’s best just to direct people to a website in my opinion and give their feedback in their own time. In-store review request can be perceived as a desparate or perhaps being a bit pushy by customers.

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