No, this article isn’t about how to get more reviews. It’s about how to increase the chances that the reviews you do get are positive.
But before we get into what you can do to improve your star rating and generate more positive reviews for your HVAC, chimney, or other home service business, we first have to cover one thing you absolutely should NOT do. We have to talk about review gating.
Why you shouldn’t use review gating to improve your review star rating
Review gating is something you’re probably familiar with, even if you don’t know it. It’s when companies send out emails or texts that ask clients if they had a good or a bad experience with the company — and based on their response, either encourages the client to leave a review or address the matter privately.
If the client clicks that they had a good experience, they’re asked to write an online review and directed to where they can do that. And if the client clicks that they had a bad experience, they’re asked to leave their feedback on a form or in an email to someone at the company. That feedback might be used by the company to resolve the issue or improve service offerings, but the comments aren’t made public like they would be if they were left in an online review.
The appeal of review gating
Review gating is a tempting practice because, if you’re directing happy clients to leave you a review and directing unhappy clients to provide feedback privately, hey, maybe it’ll decrease the number of negative reviews you get, right? But don’t be seduced by this practice.
The problem with review gating
First of all, it doesn’t seem to have the impact on review ratings that business owners think it will. A study conducted by the team at GatherUp found that ending review gating practices had very little impact on the overall star ratings of businesses.
The study also showed that when companies stopped review gating, the number of reviews they received increased. So no, it’s not an effective way to go about generating and improving the sentiment of online reviews.
But another big problem with review gating is that it’s against Google’s guidelines:
“Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”
Going against these guidelines can lead to major penalties, like the loss of all of your reviews — gated or ungated.
The bottom line: Review gating is a big risk with little to no benefits. So don’t do it.
The two factors that have the biggest impact on review ratings
Okay, review gating is out of the question. But what can you do to improve your review ratings and reduce your chances of getting negative reviews online?
You have to start by understanding which two factors have the biggest impact on review ratings. Two things influence the sentiment of reviews more than anything else, which means two things need your focus more than anything else if you’re trying to improve your online ratings:
- The service you offer.
- The experience you provide.
With the exception of fake reviews and personal vendettas, all negative reviews stem from an issue with the service or experience provided. And all positive reviews stem from a satisfaction with the service or experience provided.
So if you want to improve your online reviews and get more leads for your HVAC or home service business as a result, you have to meticulously evaluate and design both. You have to see both the experience and the service you offer from the POV of your clients and identify what needs to be changed, ditched, added, and improved. And you have to make it priority #1.
Because at the end of the day, you have no real control over what people say in reviews. You do, however, have complete control over what you give them to talk about.
Now, we all want to believe we’re giving our clients plenty of things to rave about. We all want to believe we’re offering the very best service and customer experience. But it’s not about what we believe, it’s about what our clients perceive that matters. And here’s the thing: most of us are falling short of expectations in our clients’ eyes.
So, how do you know you’re delivering the kind of service and experience your customers will rave about? The kind that makes them want to write a glowing online review of your business? It starts with a long, hard, honest look at your business.
Start by evaluating the service & experience you offer
How do you evaluate the service and experience you offer?
- #1 Read and mine your positive and negative reviews + ask clients for feedback.
- #2 Book your own service, go for ride-alongs, or secret shop your own company.
- #3 Bring a trusted person in to look for holes and problem areas.
- #4 Hire a competitor.
#1 Read and mine your positive and negative reviews + ask clients for feedback.
The first step is to look at the reviews you already have. Read each and every one, positive and negative and mine for takeaways. If you routinely ask for client feedback or you’ve done review gating in the past and have client feedback logged somewhere, go through that as well.
As you’re digging through reviews and feedback, create two lists, one for all of the things your clients say you’re getting right and one for all of the things your clients say you’re getting wrong or could do better. You’ll use both lists in the next section when we talk about ensuring a consistently great service experience, so keep them handy.
#2 Book your own service, go for ride-alongs, or secret shop your own company.
One way to get an idea of what needs to be improved in the experience and service you offer is to have the client experience yourself. So consider booking your own company for a job. Tell your team to treat you like a normal client and to do things just like they normally would.
Another option is to go for ride-alongs and observe how your team interacts with clients and gets the job done. Of course, your findings and observations may not be 100% accurate with either of these approaches. Your team may act differently with you around or try to impress you by doing things they don’t normally do with clients.
So, you may instead want to consider periodically comping a client’s services (doing the work free-of-charge) in exchange for their full account of the service and experience. Much like restaurants and retail companies use secret shoppers to get a true account of the customer experience. A bonus to doing things this way is that if your team knows you have ‘secret shoppers,’ it may keep them on their toes.
Of course, no matter which approach you take, you’ll want to keep track of the good and bad findings.
#3 Bring a trusted person in to look for holes and problem areas.
When you’re too close to something, it’s hard to see the big picture. That’s why, when you’re evaluating the customer experience and service of your home service company, it often pays to bring in fresh eyes.
Consider bringing in a trusted coach, mentor, or fellow business owner in the home service industry to look for holes and areas in need of improvement within your organization. They may see issues with the customer experience or your systems that you might otherwise miss because you’re so close to your business.
Whatever they find, add it to your list.
#4 Hire a competitor.
Truth is, you can learn a lot about what to do and what not to do simply by looking at your competitors. That’s why we’re proponents of hiring your competitors to do a job in your own home. See how they do things and observe how they interact with customers. Evaluate the service and customer experience they provide.
What can you learn from them? What are they doing that you might want to add to your customer experience? And what are they doing that you want to avoid doing at all costs?
Add these things to your list and get ready to put your list to use.
Then, do the work to ensure your HVAC, chimney, or other home service company is consistently providing the best service & experience
Now that you’ve got an accurate assessment of the service and experience you provide and you know where you’d like to improve, what you might want to add, and what you need to avoid at all costs, it’s time to get to work.
Here are 4 steps to get you started:
- #1 Use your lists and findings to create SOPs.
- #2 Teach every employee that they’re part of your branding and marketing.
- #3 Rehearse sales scripts, review scripts, challenging situations, and different scenarios with employees.
- #4 Inspect what you expect.
#1 Use your lists and findings to create SOPs.
Now you want to refer to your lists and findings and get to work creating systems or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for your team to follow so they hit the mark every time.
The point of SOPs isn’t to create rigid robots. SOPs show your team how the work should be done, each and every time, so that clients have a consistently positive experience and receive a high level of service, no matter who’s doing the work.
Of course, SOPs don’t do any good if your team isn’t trained on them.
Every employee — new and old — should be trained on every SOP that relates to the work they do. They should know those SOPs backwards and forwards and they should understand why things are done the way they’re done.
If they do, they’re more likely to follow the SOPs and less likely to make a mistake when they’re tired, stressed, or under pressure. So take the time to create SOPs and make sure every employee is thoroughly trained on each.
#2 Teach every employee that they’re part of your branding and marketing.
Whether you want to believe it or not, every person in your company — from your CSR to your lowest-rung tech — is part of your marketing. Each person that speaks with or engages with your clients is contributing to your brand’s image and reputation. But that doesn’t mean they all realize it.
Many employees think of themselves as having one role — CSR, HVAC tech, assistant, etc. But that’s not their only role, and it’s your job to make sure they understand that.
It’s your job to equip them with the awareness that, with every word, every interaction, every honk of the horn, they’re building your brand’s reputation. The better their understanding of this fact, the more they’ll think about the image they’re projecting through their behaviors, words, and tone. And the more aware they are of their importance and role, the more deliberate they’ll be in their actions and words.
#3 Rehearse sales scripts, review scripts, challenging situations, and different scenarios with employees.
This goes hand-in-hand with #2. You don’t just want your employees to know that they’re representing your brand, you want them to know how they should be representing your brand. You want them to know how they should engage, act, and speak in different situations.
So take the time to create sales scripts and review ask scripts, and role-play these with them. Rehearse challenging situations and difficult scenarios they may encounter on the job.
For example, how should they act with an incredibly unreasonable and hostile customer? What do they have the authority to do when the client is unhappy with the work or the customer experience? How should they approach delicate situations?
As the business owner, you’ve likely encountered just about every sticky situation and type of customer. You’ve got the experience and you know how you want each handled. Make sure your employees know as well, so they can be prepared to respond in the way you’d want them to should a situation arise.
#4 Inspect what you expect.
You can’t just take a look at your company’s customer service and experience once and assume things will be good forever. You have to inspect what you expect.
What are the things that matter most to your customers? What systems and processes play the biggest role in ensuring quality and consistency? Check those things routinely.
If you don’t routinely inspect what you expect, you won’t know if an increase in unhappy customers is just a bit of bad luck or if your service and experience is going downhill. So don’t just take a look once. Make service and customer experience audits a regular part of your business plan.
Bonus: 5 things that increase your chances of getting rave reviews
When you do all of the above, you eliminate some of the inconsistencies and issues that lead to negative reviews. Chances are, you’ve got some work to do. Do it because it’s so worth it.
But before you dive in and get your hands dirty, we want to leave you with 5 tips for increasing positive reviews. These are based on our experience working with HVAC companies, chimney companies, and other home service businesses:
5 tips for increasing positive reviews for your home service business:
- #1 Provide a consistent customer experience from start to finish.
- #2 Have a company-wide customer-centric attitude.
- #3 Provide clean, courteous service.
- #4 Strive for continuous communication & clearly laid out expectations.
- #5 Always be friendly, but professional.
#1 Provide a consistent customer experience from start to finish.
Consistency is one of the most important qualities when building relationships with clients, improving trust, and getting great reviews. This means consistency in how clients are talked to, how they’re treated, how the work is done, etc.
If clients have one really great experience followed by one really bad one, they’re going to be hesitant to have a third experience because they won’t know what to expect. Will it be another great experience or another nightmare?
We’re all seeking to reduce risk when hiring a company to come into our homes. If we’re unsure of how we’ll be treated, we’re likely to look for a company we can be sure of.
So if you want great reviews, you can’t just deliver great service sometimes. You have to be consistently great. That’s where your SOPs and training come into play.
#2 Have a company-wide customer-centric attitude.
The hairstylist that looks at a pic and says,
‘’Curtain bangs are really trendy right now, but you’ll hate having that hair in your face all day. What if we did that cut but with a slightly shorter or longer fringe?’
The house painter that says,
‘I know you wanted an estimate for me to touch up your siding. But because the paint is decades old and has faded, there’s no way to get a perfect color match and you’ll be able to see every touch up. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t swing a full exterior repaint at this time, I’d recommend repainting one full side of the home at a time, so you get the fresh, consistent look you’re after.’
These are the people who earn the trust of their clients. Why? Because they’re honest and they don’t just think about what the customer’s asking for, they think about what the customer really wants.
That’s the kind of customer-centric attitude that makes people stop. That earns rave reviews and customers for life.
Sometimes you have to educate your clients and tell them that what they think they want or need isn’t what they really want or need. It’s not always easy, but when you’re honest and shoot them straight, they’ll respect and appreciate it.
So make it your policy to look beyond what the customer is asking for and focus instead on what they really want from your company.
#3 Provide clean, courteous service.
Unfortunately, the norm for service businesses is to be messy and disrespectful of the homeowner’s privacy and space. On multi-day jobs, many companies leave tools and products spread out, and they rarely clean up the space when they wrap up a job.
Even though it’s what clients are used to, this type of behavior shouldn’t be part of your standard operating procedures if you want rave reviews. Instead, train your employees to keep their spaces neat and clean and to always consider how the homeowner is going to use the space while they’re working and at the end of the day.
The simple act of being courteous, thoughtful, and clean can make all the difference in how your business and the customer experience you provide is perceived. If you don’t believe me, Google your HVAC business or a competitor’s and look at how many reviews mention the words ‘clean,’ ‘courteous,’ ‘thoughtful,’ ‘quiet,’ — or their opposites!
#4 Strive for continuous communication & clearly laid out expectations.
Another thing homeowners are used to that doesn’t make for rave reviews is terrible, spotty communication.
A lot of HVAC companies and home service businesses don’t tell customers what to expect. They don’t take the time to explain things. Some don’t even let their customers know what day they’re coming to do the work.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a homeowner say, ‘I didn’t even know the ____________ guys were coming today.’ (You can insert any number of home service verticals in that blank space — flooring guys, house painters, carpenters, and yes, HVAC companies.)
Don’t be that company. Be respectful of your clients and don’t just assume they know what you’re thinking or how you do things. Lay out expectations. Keep your customers in the loop.
Because of what they’re used to, simply doing this one thing will astonish clients and may have them skipping to Google to write a glowing review of your HVAC company.
Bonus: Speaking of setting expectations, let your clients know you’ll be asking for feedback after the job is complete. It sets the expectation that a review will be sent, so the client knows to be looking for that email, text, or other review ask.
#5 Always be friendly, but professional.
Finally, rave reviews are earned by companies that find the perfect balance of professionalism and friendliness. This is why you have to hire for culture fit and train for the other things. You want your employees to be naturally friendly people, because clients like doing business with people they like. And friendly is always a good thing.
That said, professionalism should always be present, no matter how many times you’ve served a customer. When things cross over too heavily into the friend-zone and the professionalism drops out, the magic is lost and customers typically don’t love it.
Improve your business, improve your reviews
Hopefully you found this guide helpful and now have a plan in place for improving your online reviews. If you’ve got a lot of work to do, consider breaking it up into manageable tasks and scheduling it into your work week. Even if you can only do a little at a time, each improvement will have positive returns.
And if you ever feel overwhelmed and question if the work you’re doing to improve your online reviews is really worth it, remember: Online reviews can build trust with potential customers and help your HVAC or other home service business stand out as the obvious choice in the sea of companies out there. So every effort you make to improve your service and experience and generate more reviews is 100% worth it.
P.S. If you’re interested in the data behind why you need reviews + tips on how to ask for and get more clients to leave them, we’ve got a great article for you on that very thing.