Remember those nice little postcards we used to see in restaurants or hotels with that ever-so-soft message, “Your opinion matters to us. Call for feedback?” Yeah. Thanks, 1990s. That was helpful. But now we’d have to edit that to: “Your opinion can make or break us.”

Welcome to the parallel universe — aka “the real world” — where online reviews are the driving factor in how or whether you get more customers.

So maybe you’re asking, “Was that my customer in the attic installing new insulation in 110°F temps?” Well, no, not quite. But reviews of how you performed that service did reach those searching for HVAC market contractors and influenced how they feel about you doing the same job for them.

Confluence, a digital marketing company, released a report a few years ago on “The Power of Online Reviews for SEO (search engine optimization)” that made this point:

Online reviews increase trust. They go beyond the well-developed list of benefits and guarantees in your marketing to reach consumers on another level. Marketing is best served by helping customers answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Consumers are looking for the commonality of experience, where they can react to someone else’s experience with: “I have a problem like that. What they did for them, they can do for me.” 

A matter of trust

It doesn’t even matter who these other people are. As Confluence noted in their report, 90 percent of online consumers trust reviews from people they know, yet 70 percent trust reviews from people they don’t know. Those are huge numbers that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Online reviews and Web content increase your website’s search results. Review sites will often allow you to add your website URL to your listing, but even if not, Confluence says that the mention of your business in several locations across the Web confirms your location.  Even the occasional negative review increases trust, because it gives credibility to the positive reviews and affirms that the opinions are given freely and are not engineered by the company’s marketing vice president.

Post positive reviews you receive on your website. This helps with content and allows viewers to see what others are saying.

Need to get started? Request reviews after an in-person HVAC sales service call or installation. For example, ask, “Was our service today good enough to earn a positive review?” Then hand them a card with the URL of your website or Facebook page along with short, positive sample comments.

Add a quick-response code to your invoice they can scan with a smartphone that takes them right to the reviews section on your website.

Other tips:

  • Include customer review links in a follow-up email.
  • Put review sites in customer satisfaction surveys.
  • Add review sites to your email signature to keep them top of mind.
  • Share reviews on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Keep asking for reviews -— the more recent the better. No one is impressed by a 2-year-old review.
  • Monitor what’s being said. A couple of free or subscription-based services can help you keep track of reviews, such as Google alerts.

Work to move customer complaints offline. When someone posts a complaint about your company, a lot of people are watching to see how you handle the situation. If you see “The technician was late, the price was too high and my energy bills are worse than ever,” you need to respond.

Open with, “I am sorry that you are having this problem.” Then say, “Please email or call me, and give me your phone number or email address.” From here, take your response offline, directly to the person. Don’t continue discussing the issue in social media.

For complaints on Twitter, you can ask the person to follow you so you can send them a direct message.

Don’t overreact to negative comments. If it’s about you, you may react more personally, but if you see something as negative that wouldn’t bother a customer or prospect at all, let it slide.

 The Internet is moving faster than ever, and the better image you have — online and off — will help your business thrive. Don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials. If you seriously made someone’s day better by fixing the air conditioner or helping them save money, he or she probably will be more than happy to thank you with a review.