It's not surprising that what people are saying about your business online can dramatically affect its prospects.

But despite the importance of customer reviews, many businesses still struggle to get their customers to say nice things about them and their products or services.

While some companies turn to shady tactics that might work in the short-term, few things are as valuable to a business over the long term as a collection of glowing online customer reviews on services like Yelp and Amazon.

Here are fours ways businesses can encourage a larger number of them.

Deliver delightful experiences

There's an old saying, "A great product or service sells itself."

That might not exactly be true, but it's a useful reference for companies looking to encourage positive online reviews.

Much of the time, and for obvious reasons, the customers with the greatest motivation to post reviews online are those who have had a negative experience with a product or service.

While some people make a habit of posting reviews for good products or services they've encountered, a great overall customer experience is often required to get larger numbers of customers motivated enough to rave online.

That's why investment in customer experience is so important. Without instilling delight in their customers, businesses cannot expect large numbers of their customers to carry the torch for them.

Ask, appropriately

A closed mouth doesn't get fed, and that is certainly true when it comes to online reviews. Businesses that want positive customer reviews should solicit them. Period.

The good news is that even the smallest and least tech savvy businesses increasingly recognize the power of online reviews.

As such, more and more of them are making a concerted effort to encourage reviews. Where a lot of them go wrong, however, is that they ask for reviews in the wrong way and at the wrong time.

Solicitations for reviews can be targeted at loyal, repeat customers in a respectful, honest manner and reasonable time.

For example, after a pleasant interaction with a known customer, it would generally be entirely appropriate for a business owner to broach the topic with a casual mention.

More aggressive direct solicitations, including of first time or infrequent customers, or solicitations that are in some way incentivized by a promotion, are more problematic and risky.

Respond to negative reviews

Negative reviews are a fact of life, even for businesses that focus on delivering a quality customer experience.

It's simply impossible to satisfy all the people all of the time.

But there is almost always an opportunity to turn a frown upside down, so businesses should, where possible, engage with negative reviewers in an attempt to address their grievances.

In some cases, these unhappy customers will update or add to their reviews in a manner that portrays the business in a more positive light.

Of course, responding to a negative review can be tricky.

A really bad experience can be difficult to rectify, even if it was the result of an honest mistake or oversight, and there is always "the crazy customer" who will always ensure no good deed goes unpunished.

So there are never any guarantees, but engaging and trying is almost always going to produce better results than not engaging and not trying, or fighting a negative review with aggressive action, like a threat or a lawsuit.

Watch out for marketing and customer acquisition traps

Marketing and customer acquisition strategies can derail positive reviews. For instance, some businesses that ran promotions with flash deal services like Groupon found it difficult to cope with the influx of new customers.

Service quality suffered and their online reputations declined as a result.

While it's impossible for most businesses to thrive without ongoing investment in marketing and customer acquisition, the post-flash deal woes experienced by numerous businesses are a good reminder that marketing and customer acquisition campaigns should be developed with customer experience in mind.

For more on this topic, read:

Patricio Robles

Published 14 October, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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