We’re not a high frequency restaurant or even a business that customers are used to reviewing on social media. Digital Adventures
competes within the education technology space by providing computer coding, engineering and design classes & digital technology camps in state-of-the-art learning studios for kids in pre-K through 12th grade. In short, we teach kids how to think and build like technologists.
Typically, customers attend our coding & engineering design classes 1X/week. So, there are just less opportunities for customers to have the frequent engagement that more traditionally reviewed businesses have. In fact, for many of our customers, this was their first and in some cases only review on a social media platform.
This customer and industry dynamic made our path to 200+ reviews even more difficult as there is friction created in making a new account and then sharing your experience on a platform that you may be only familiar with as a user of content but not a creator.
On the other hand, we strongly believe that having customer reviews helps us punch above our weight. It enables us to build 'word of mouth’ like trust among customers who may not have heard about us directly. And, it also helps customers learn more about what the experience at Digital Adventures is like versus simply reading through our website copy.
When we first got started, we considered spending thousands of dollars each month on paid advertising to generate awareness and conversion on social media platforms. However, based on budgetary constraints, we hypothesized that if we patiently built a significant number of user generated reviews that it could have a greater, more durable impact on lead generation than paid advertising - the Ultimate Hack.
Think of it as the difference between investing in Google Adwords versus your internal site structure (speed, layout) to rank higher organically in search results. This spending can now be deployed to other areas of the business. As a bootstrapped business, we look for every advantage to utilize our resources more efficiently and effectively.
So what exactly did we do to earn 200+ 5 star reviews (100% 5 Star) on Yelp (78), Google My Business (67) and Facebook (55)?
1. Relentless customer focus
From the very beginning, we have focused on delivering an amazing educational experience. My partners and I have backgrounds in education, engineering, product and art/design. This enabled us to set a very high bar for what we offer to our customers. In addition, we were all at the point in our careers where we wanted to build something from the ground up that we could be proud of. Since we invested our own money, we could spend in the areas that we thought would drive the most value for our customers - curriculum, product, instruction and studio design. Based on customer feedback, this focus has certainly paid cumulative dividends.
2. Lean in to customer support
Our customers believe in us and want us to be successful. There is nothing like having customers who are invested in your success. From initially taking a chance on us to letting us know when we didn’t quite meet their expectations, our customers have consistently pushed us to be better.
Part of having customers willing to share their feedback means that we have had to be responsive to concerns and work quickly to improve any issues that someone may have.
3. Establish a customer feedback loop independent of reviews
From the very beginning, we have asked for feedback on the experience from all customers. It’s easy to just ask for feedback from those who have recently renewed their subscription or those who have been with you for a long period of time. But, we’ve made it a point to ask all of our customers how we’re doing. In fact, we’ve incorporated feedback in person, on the phone and via email as a core element of our product. Not only do we ask for feedback but we utilize this information as a way to drive future product improvements. For example, customers let us know that they weren’t really understanding what their kids were working on at Digital Adventures. So, we built a feature that enabled instructors to directly communicate what happened in the studio during each session and shared that with parents. Parents loved it and they let us know how that simple change improved their overall experience.
4. Personalize your customer experience
Instead of just generic, non-personalized bulk requests, we got specific about what the students had done while they were building with technology in our programs. And, based on that personalization, it becomes a lot easier to have customers zero in on what is working and what isn’t.
We go out of our way to learn not only customer names but also what is important to them in their life outside of Digital Adventures. Our goal is to build a community of engaged technologists who will grow up to one day change the world. And the best way to do that is to really understand who walks through the doors of our studio each and every day.
If your customers don’t know you care about them, they won’t think to care about the success of your business.
5. Refuse to buy customer reviews
While this should be obvious, the point of getting reviews should really be two told: 1.) Understand what customers appreciate about your business so you can double down and do more of that. 2). Enable prospective customers to learn about your business while they are in the process of considering it.
Paid reviews do not enable you to meet either goal. In fact, paid reviews creates more distance between you and your customers.
By feeding reviews to the marketplace, you are only hypothesizing about where customers see the value in your business.
If you are right, great. But, it is far more valuable to have customers tell you themselves as you can begin to aggregate that feedback to drive investment and improvements in your product that will keep existing customers coming back and expand your base to more customers who value similar features and benefits that you are offering.
Paid reviews are also so obvious to most customers that they end up discounting their validity anyway. They typically follow a methodical format outlined by the business owners that savvy customers can sniff out pretty quickly.
6. Don’t automate or outsource your feedback to a 3rd party
There are many great platforms that will take your customer contact information and reach out to customers to try to optimize and improve your review yield. One of the primary value propositions for these services is saving time for the busy entrepreneur. Who among us couldn’t use more time? Resist the temptation to put your feedback loop on autopilot.
As a business, one of the best things you can do is stay as close as possible to your customers.
The earlier you introduce automation to your key customer processes, the harder it becomes to truly stay close to your customer.
Paul Graham, Co-founder of YCombinator, talks about doing things that don’t scale for as long as possible. At Digital Adventures, we’ve found that our feedback loop is much tighter by not incorporating automated solutions into our feedback loop.
7. Pick your review platforms wisely
Whether you are an established business or an all-new startup, there are limits to your human capital. No one can manage 10 different social platforms efficiently and effectively.
There are numerous review platforms that you could choose to focus on. However, it is important that your chosen platform matches your customer demographics and expected behavior as they go through the selection process.
At Digital Adventures, we target customers who have children between the ages of 4-18 years old who are interested in learning to build with technology.
As a result, we selected 3 platforms (Yelp, Google and Facebook) that we felt our customers would most likely utilize, which we could reasonable manage with our lean team and would create dividends over time as more customers shared their experience.
Once you’ve picked your platforms, you have to stay on top of the management of them. This means that if your hours vary, like ours, during the summer for camps that you need to keep this information updated.
This also means that every time you earn a new review that you thank your customer for sharing their experience with the community. Gratitude shows that you appreciate the customer taking time out of their busy schedule.
Multiple platforms also insulates you from the ever changing algorithms that can really be harmful if you focus on a single site to build your online reputation and then they suddenly change the filtering mechanism. For example, although we’ve earned 78 reviews on Yelp, only 29 (37%) of them are visible.
As a result, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to focus a ton of effort on this platform going forward. So, we will switch to more of a maintenance mode and focus on Google My Business which seems to be growing in utility and popularity while also seeing if there’s another platform that our customers would be most likely to trust going forward - NextDoor.
However, if we exclusively focused on Yelp, it would have been really difficult to have such a small percentage of our reviews visible.
Over time, we think that social media reviews will continue to be part of our focus. However, our plan is to be less dependent on reviews to drive our business as we’d like to be even closer to our customers by hosting customer discovery sessions in studio and better leveraging internal content creation to showcase our customers experience to those who are considering our programs.