Online reviews are a key part of a successful solar contracting business, given the fact that many consumers look to them as a trusted source of information.
Jon Eyre, director of content at customer interaction software provider Podium, told Solar Power World that “sometimes customers [are] your best salespeople. No matter how much you train your staff, people are more apt to listen to someone that doesn’t work for your business.”
Many solar contractors strive to offer the best customer service, something that can often lead to more positive online reviews. However, securing reviews can be a challenge. Only one in ten people writes reviews all of the time, though half of adults under 50 consult reviews before making a purchasing decision.
This article discusses ways a solar contractor can develop an effective review acquisition strategy. In addition to related research, Aurora spoke with Danny O’Malley, client engagement manager for Utah-based solar contractor Auric Energy. Auric has a well-developed strategy for securing online reviews; they are the most positively reviewed solar provider in the U.S on SolarReviews.com.
Why online reviews?
One of your best sources of leads is online reviews. They are an effective referral device and referrals convert at three to five times the rate of other channels, have a higher lifetime value, and are more profitable, according to SPW.
A 2016 survey by marketing company BrightLocal found 84% of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from family and friends. A Podium survey found that 93% of respondents said online reviews impacted purchase decisions and 82% said the content of a review convinced them to make a purchase.
Online reviews play an important role in business success. Auric’s O’Malley said that being the most positively reviewed solar company in the country on SolarReviews has been quite instrumental in his company’s success. Making your business stand out online with positive reviews on your website and various third-party sites allows prospects to research your company’s reputation and compare it to other providers.
Effective ways to publicize reviews
An obvious place to include reviews is on your company website. You can place them on your home page, sprinkle them throughout your site and include them on a dedicated review page. Reviews can take a number of forms, from short quotes, articles about customer success stories or even videos. Videos can be particularly effective for reaching prospects: 55% of U.S. adults say that they have watched product review videos online.
Auric Energy uses video testimonials because of the popularity of this medium. O’Malley said the company incorporates videos in a number of places, like on social media platforms.
O’Malley also recommends looking to interview customers that are “real characters” in order to distinguish your company. He adds that Auric interviewed one of its customers who had legally changed his name to Santa Clause, asking, “If you can get a video interview of a Santa Claus promoting your company, why not do it?”
Aside from featuring customer reviews on your website, it is important to have a presence on at least a few third-party review sites. In a 2018 Online Reviews Survey by ReviewTrackers, over 60% of consumers said that they are likely to check online reviews on Google before making a purchase, with Yelp ranking second at 45% and Facebook ranking third.
Industry-specific sites that cater to solar specifically, like Angie’s List or SolarReviews, are also helpful. SolarReviews, a solar business reviews site, offers solar reviews categorized by product and service. O’Malley said that aside from Google, “anybody who is a serious solar contractor should definitely have a profile on SolarReviews and should direct their customers there. Another strong candidate is EnergySage, if the contractor feels like branching out.”
Best practices for securing online reviews
There are a number of strategies to keep in mind when seeking to increase your number of online solar reviews.
Find the frequency and timing that works best for your business
Test things out to find the ideal frequency for outreach to customers about solar reviews. O’Malley describes how his company recently adopted an email marketing tool that helps them track outreach efforts and gather data on what yields the best results.
He notes that his team expects to touch base with customers at least a few times in the first year after system activation, probably at the ninety-day, six-month, and one-year marks. Since one of Auric’s offerings is a production guarantee, their customer service agents contact customers to discuss production numbers and ask for a solar review at the same time.
It also helps to contact customers when they are happiest about going solar, according to SPW. Perhaps this is after a week with the finished system or after their first year with solar. Experiment to see what works best.
“We usually ask for a review after they’ve received their first bill, usually about 30 to 45 days after their solar system is fully activated, because that’s when the rubber actually meets the road,” said O’Malley.
Use the optimal combination of contact methods
Contact customers in a way that works best for your business and your particular customer profile. Text messages or phone calls can be effective as they are harder to ignore. Collect emails so that you can conduct a post-install email drip campaign that includes review requests. Marketing site HubSpot found that simple, brief, text-only emails have a better conversion rate for review collection than slick, graphic-heavy ones.
O’Malley describes how his team uses texts, emails and phone calls. First, they send a text asking for a solar review, followed by a phone call regarding the fact that they are sending over warranty paperwork and the owner’s guide with a request about leaving a review. They continue contact with periodic emails. You can also leave review request cards in person, keeping the language simple and direct with clear link information and instructions.
Make it easy for customers to review
Make it as easy as possible for customers to review you; part of that is keeping the idea of reviewing your company top of mind. Place the request throughout your website like at the bottom of blog posts, in company email signatures, on print marketing materials or on the back of business cards. Download icons like the “Find us on Yelp” banner to use on both print and online marketing materials.
Send people straight into the review process rather than having them navigate multiple pages. For example, direct them right to your Google Places page or your website’s reviews page. The faster and easier it is for customers to leave a solar review, particularly on a third-party site, the more likely it will be that they will take the time to give one.
It can also be helpful to let customers know what to expect and what topics are helpful to focus on in their solar review. Asking for feedback on a specific aspect of your business can help improve the content of your online reviews.
Communicate the importance of reviews to your business
Make sure your customers know how much positive reviews matter to your company.
“One of the things that’s made it easier for us is priming the customer from the get-go by talking about how important word-of-mouth is to us and how important the reviews are. So that asking them for it later is not so much of a surprise or difficult ask,” said O’Malley.
Auric sends customers a survey after their first consultation with a project manager asking how it went and if they would be willing to recommend the company in the future.
Get creative with how you ask
It can be effective to think outside the box when asking customers for reviews. Encourage customers to share positive reviews on social media. This is a popular option for consumers, 39% of U.S. adults say they have shared their experiences or feelings about companies or products on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.
Highly visual platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram present good opportunities for customers to share solar system photos. You may consider supplying them with high-quality photos of their own system during and after the install so they can share about the process. You may run an ad on Google or Facebook specifically asking for reviews from customers, targeting them by uploading your customer email addresses to Google or Facebook when running the ad.
O’Malley notes that Auric only uses social media for brand awareness, not to get new reviews. He states this is because, with platforms like Facebook and Google, anybody can leave a review, not necessarily just actual customers. If you do choose to pursue solar reviews on social media you can set up Google Alert using your business name to catch reviews that show up on blogs, social media, or forums — allowing you to quickly respond to both negative and positive ones.
You can include review requests on your hold message when people call. Another option is to offer incentives like a simple reward. This could be a gift card, or an offer to donate to a nonprofit that you partner with. Make sure that customers disclose they are receiving an incentive and check the rules of a third-party review site as they may have restrictions regarding incentives.
You do want to be careful not to look like you are buying reviews. You can help avoid this by specifying that you are not just asking for positive reviews or by doing something like randomly picking a reviewer each month for a special giveaway.
Handle negative reviews professionally
More Americans report being influenced by highly negative reviews than by highly positive ones. Therefore, it is important to handle your negative reviews quickly and in a way that does not damage your business’s reputation.
O’Malley recommends that companies avoid overreacting to negative reviews and responding professionally instead.
“This means not turning it into a blame game. I’ve always tried to turn it into a platform where you’re showing the individual customer that you’re going to do the best to help them,” he said.
He goes on to say that negative reviews can be an opportunity to show prospects that your company knows how to handle difficulties and “did their best to leave the person better than they found them.”
Marketer Neil Patel has the following recommendations for handling negative reviews: pay attention to what is said, acknowledge their comments and let them know you’re doing something about it, and don’t argue or get defensive even if you disagree. It may be helpful to dedicate review monitoring to a specific employee, particularly with regard to responding to negative reviews.
An effective online review presence can certainly help bolster your business growth by convincing more prospects to become customers. However, reviews and review sites can do more than function as marketing tools. They can allow you to connect with satisfied and dissatisfied customers and get real-time feedback on how to improve your business and the customer experience.
Have you found success with other strategies for getting online solar reviews? Let us know in the comments below!