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A consumer survey conducted by BrightLocal found that 91 percent of consumers between the age of 18 to 34 are big believers of online reviews, trusting them as much as personal recommendations. That should give pest management professionals something to ponder as they strategize on how to reach potential customers now and in the future.

At the National Pest Management Association’s Technology Summit last December, Kyle Varona, general manager of Fahey Pest & Lawn Solutions in Sarasota, Fla., shared how Fahey dedicated itself to raising not only its online presence through customer reviews but changed its company culture and appreciation for what reviews can do for the business and team members alike.

Fahey Pest & Lawn Solutions’ Kyle Varona says soliciting online reviews has become second nature for the company. “It’s become part of our culture and a source of pride,” he said.

Fahey’s journey with customer reviews dates back to the company’s founding in 1943 when a good recommendation from one neighbor to another over the back fence was the way it was done.

The third-generation company, which services customers in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte Counties along Florida’s Gulf Coast, has consistently taken pride in soliciting feedback from customers whether it was in the form of a letter, phone call or a positive ranking with the Better Business Bureau. Listening to and taking care of the customer has always been a top priority.

As consumers became more engaged online researching, purchasing, scheduling and reviewing businesses, Fahey took notice of this and started soliciting reviews from Angie’s List.

“We pushed hard to get customer feedback through Angie’s List and earned more than 300 reviews,” says Varona. “We did this mainly through e-mail blasts and soon became the second most reviewed company in the area with an A rating.”

Three years later, Varona noticed a shift in the factors driving online reviews. The popularity of the no cost, no subscription Google platform became a growing choice for consumers. The challenge was that Varona and Fahey had little experience moving the needle and securing more reviews using Google.

After consulting with the firm’s software provider, Fahey settled on Podium, a multi-platform software management solution that paired with the company’s existing customer relationship management software to help drive the effort.

HOW THEY DID IT. In August 2016 Fahey started using Podium with only three Google reviews. Today the company has more than 1,900, averaging 50 reviews each month. How did they do it?

Varona says the company started with constantly reinforcing with employees the value and benefits of securing reviews and then devised a reward system for employees to ask for feedback from customers.

“Our program is centered on rewarding our team members — not customers — for securing feedback,” says Varona. “We welcome all feedback — good and bad — and respond to all comments.”

Varona says responding promptly to negative feedback has saved customers from cancelling when a delay in responding might have led to a cancellation. “We want to know what happened and fix things for the customer,” he adds.

The reward program for team members — technicians, CSRs and sales reps are required to send out 40 invites to customers each month via email or text — includes prize drawings and recognition at the company’s monthly meeting. The concept is simple: The more reviews a team member solicits, the more chances they can win. If the company secures 35 reviews in any month and each employee sends 40 invites, lunch is on the company.

“We want to make it fun and keep it top of mind with everyone,” says Varona. “It has created a friendly sense of competition as to who can earn the most reviews and no one wants to receive a bad review.”

Varona recommends that before you launch an incentive program, you should identify exactly what will motivate your team members to engage. Fahey started by rewarding employees with $5 for each review but the process has evolved over time and now uses contests with prizes valued from $50 to $400.

Managing expectations for the program is also important, according to Varona. It starts with determining — through trial and error — the correct amount of invites each employee needs to send out and the best time to send them.

“You definitely need to set a minimum standard of how many invites each employee needs to send and this could vary by their role or department,” Varona says.

He estimates it takes 200 to 300 reviews and a 4.8 rating or higher to see a real difference in your Google ratings. And it takes time.

“It can take multiple efforts with a customer to secure a review,” says Varona. “They’ll need to be reminded.”

Patience is also required as you embark on the effort to build the number of reviews. It took Fahey almost nine months to secure 200 reviews so don’t get frustrated if you don’t see immediate results, he said.

What about those customers who opt-out from receiving emails from you? For Fahey, the numbers were low. Varona estimates the company has sent out more than 15,000 invites and only received seven complaints about being solicited.

Some keys to securing employee buy-in include:

  • Explain why it is important and how both staff and the company can benefit.
  • Keep the incentive programs uncomplicated, fun and public so that employees want to participate.
  • Make sure you are rewarding the individual, the group, results and participation.
  • Ask them to look at the value of reviews through their own eyes as consumers.
Our program is centered on rewarding our team members — not customers — for securing feedback,” says Kyle Varona. “We welcome all feedback — good and bad — and respond to all comments.”

The ROI. What ROI has Fahey realized more than three years into the effort? Varona says the company has benefited on multiple fronts from their investment.

Reduced Cost Per Lead. When Fahey started the process, its per lead cost ranged from $80 to $110 each. Now with the volume of reviews and the positive tone of the reviews, the company has achieved a cost per lead around $40 each.

“Look at your current efforts to secure reviews and what you are spending,” says Varona. “Create a plan with clear targets, expectations and rewards and have the patience to stick with it and let it grow.”

Increased Team Member Engagement and Pride. Varona says employees have embraced the program and are eager to solicit reviews. Most importantly they see the value not only to themselves but to the business and they don’t want to let each other down.

It Helps With Recruiting. When potential job candidates are researching a position at Fahey and see the positive reviews, it makes a good first impression even before they come in for the interview.

The program has become so ingrained in the Fahey culture that it is now one of the key performance indicators (KPIs) the company uses to measure its progress.

Varona says firms must be willing to invest the time, resources and a healthy dose of enthusiasm to make the program successful. “We talk about reviews on a daily basis and have a scoreboard to track everyone’s progress,” he says. “It’s become part of our culture and a source of pride.”

The author is a partner at B Communications.