This article was transcribed from Max Bailey's talk at the New York Customer Marketing Summit in 2022. If you have a membership, you can watch the talk in full here.

Since this talk, Max has found a new home at Frontify as Associate Director of Lifecycle Marketing.

I'm Max Bailey, previously the Global Customer Marketing Manager at Aircall, a leading cloud-based phone system for modern businesses. Today, I want to share insights from my experience running Aircall's customer review program and offer some tips to help you implement a successful one at your company.

The direct link between customer reviews and revenue

Let me start by addressing the elephant in the room - why should you even care about customer reviews? Well, the answer is simple: there's a direct line from reviews to revenue. Let me prove it to you with this hair-raising 1-star review we once received:

"After the conclusion of our contract, our invoice complaint was ignored. Repeated inquiries about our subscription are simply not responded to. Booked appointments were not kept. Do I have the feeling that I am a valued customer? No. One star."

When I read that, I thought, "Oh man, this isn't good." If all our reviews looked like that nightmare, we wouldn't close any deals. But here's the thing - we have over 15,000 customers, so we must be doing something right!

The truth is, if you don't actively ask for reviews, you're going to have an unfair and unbalanced view of what your company does. Happy customers rarely leave reviews unless prompted, while dissatisfied ones see it as the best way to get their issues resolved. By not requesting feedback, you're allowing negative voices to dominate the online conversation about your brand.

This becomes even more critical when you realize that customer reviews are often the first thing prospects see when researching your product or service. A quick Google search can surface your review listings, instantly shaping perceptions. I've lost count of how many sales calls mentioned that glowing reviews played a decisive role in choosing Aircall over competitors.

Where VoC fits in with customer and market research
The goal of a customer and market research program is to drive growth. This is possible by using feedback to drive company changes that attract and acquire more happy customers, who are more likely to renew.

Laying the groundwork: Data inputs and team alignment

Once you acknowledge the power of customer reviews, it's time to lay the groundwork for your program. Start by identifying the most relevant review platforms based on where your audience looks and your lead sources. I recommend doing a search for "your company name + reviews" to see which sites pop up.

At Aircall, we noticed that G2, Capterra (a Gartner product), TrustRadius, and Trustpilot were the top results, so we prioritized those. However, we also cater our approach based on what our sales team reports as influential review sources for specific industries or use cases. For instance, our partnership teams ensure we have a solid presence on integration marketplaces like HubSpot's listings.

Next, make sure you have access to your company's satisfaction indicators like NPS scores and survey data. This intel will help you identify your happiest customers to target first while also highlighting areas for improvement based on negative feedback patterns.

You'll also need a sufficient budget for incentives. I'm a big fan of offering Amazon gift cards because they're easy to distribute globally and seen as a sincere "thank you" rather than compensation for a positive review (which would be unethical).

Finally, align with other teams like marketing ops to ensure you have the right tools and access for automating parts of the process at scale. Don't try to go at this alone!

Do customer marketing budgets reflect the value of the role?
as the year is closing up, and plans are being made for the new year, we wanted to share this sneak peek into customer marketing budgets. Learn about the trends of how they’ve been used in 2022 in order to set your team up for success in 2023.

Setting up the review program

With your priorities and resources in place, it's time to set up your program's framework. One crucial step is creating templates for soliciting reviews that focus on feedback and gratitude rather than explicitly asking for positive ratings.

For example, you could say: "I'm reaching out because Aircall values your feedback and wants to hear what you have to say about your experience." Notice how it's not demanding 5-stars in exchange for a gift? That pushy approach would be illegal and damage the customer experience. Make the ask about them, not you.

Your templates should also have a clear call to action. This is Marketing 101 - always give people a straightforward next step like "Please leave an honest review on G2 by clicking here." You can get even more creative by featuring the call to action in places like email newsletters.

As for implementing the outreach cadence itself, we've found automating it through our marketing platform (Marketo) to be an incredibly scalable solution. We set up workflows that automatically send review requests weekly to our happiest, most engaged customers first. That's a pro tip - reach your warmest audiences early for higher conversion rates.

The importance of responding to reviews

Here's where many businesses drop the ball - once you start generating reviews (positive or negative), you must respond to all of them in a timely manner. When customers take the time to leave feedback, they want to be heard.

For negative reviews, resist the urge to be defensive or dismissive. I've seen way too many examples of businesses making that mistake and turning a fixable situation into a PR nightmare.

Instead, express empathy, take accountability, and assure the customer you'll make things right. At Aircall, we have a wonderful example of turning around that scathing 1-star review I mentioned earlier.

After acknowledging the poor experience and connecting with the customer's account team to resolve the miscommunication, we politely asked if they'd be willing to revisit their feedback. To our delight, the customer updated their review to 5 stars, citing Aircall's "understanding, listening, and striving to improve" as the reason.

While those dream make-ups don't happen daily, you'd be amazed by how often a sincere response can transform a negative review or simply get it removed entirely. Trust me, getting rid of a 1-star is huge for your online reputation.

Responding well to positive reviews matters too. Don't just say "Thanks!" and move on. I recommend adding extra value by suggesting complementary features or integrations that could enhance their experience. This elevates a 5-star review to an even stronger endorsement of your brand's expertise.

Taking it further: Leveraging reviews for growth

Once your review program gains momentum, you can tap into that treasure trove of positive feedback for additional marketing and growth opportunities beyond just sales.

At Aircall, we love to share notable customer shout-outs internally, especially when they mention an employee by name after a successful implementation or training. This public recognition does wonders for team morale and motivation.

We also repurpose our best reviews for our website and other lead-generation campaigns to reinforce social proof and trust signals with prospects. In fact, we created a dedicated page that now ranks #1 for branded searches around our name and "reviews."

Finally, a consistent flow of rave reviews can unlock access to enthusiastic customers willing to participate in case studies, speaking engagements, reference calls, and other coveted advocacy activities. At enterprise companies, these can be game-changing for closing major deals.

By methodically asking for, responding to, and showcasing customer reviews, what began as a reputation management initiative has evolved into a powerful growth engine for Aircall. I'm thrilled to have built a multifaceted word-of-mouth marketing dynamo!

So there you have it - my blueprint for managing a successful end-to-end customer review program that bridges the gap between customer marketing and revenue impact. I hope these insights have inspired you to elevate your own efforts.

If you'd like to discuss any of these tactics further or need advice on getting started, I'm just a ping away. Customer reviews may seem like a small piece of the marketing puzzle, but I've experienced firsthand how they can level up your entire customer experience and business strategy when prioritized correctly.

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