In 2012, JT Marino launched a website without a product or a company, just a grainy stock photo of a mattress. He and his cofounder wanted to see how people would respond to their idea for a new kind of mattress buying experience. They made a sale within 15 minutes. “So we shut the site down and quit our jobs.”

Today, Tuft & Needle is one of the most successful mattress companies in the world. They rake in more than $170 million in revenue every year, have over 130,000 customer reviews, and Consumer Reports recently handed them the highest overall satisfaction rating in the mattress category.

Considering that seven out of eight people are swayed by a review, and 85 percent trust them just as much as a friend’s recommendation, that’s a whole lot of clout. In fact, Tuft & Needle’s review engine is its strongest source for leads. They don’t have doorbusters, closeouts, or neon signs with endless exclamation points. Instead, they’ve used customer reviews to break through a sleepy yet cutthroat industry.

No matter your business, no one knows if you’re legit when you first set up shop. That’s why social proof is the primary driver of customer trust. Plus, reviews have a real impact on a company’s success. People spend an extra 31 percent on businesses with positive reviews, and  every Yelp star is equal to a five to nine percent sales jump.

So how can you set up a review engine for your own business? By following Tuft & Needle’s playbook. Inside you’ll learn about selecting the most relevant review site, the importance of being democratic when asking for reviews, and then how to use those star-studded comment fields to propel your business forward.

Wait, does this story apply to me?

To JT, tapping into the power of customer feedback is the only way for a tiny brand to achieve exponential growth. Having a lot of positive reviews will help people discover you and take a risk with what you offer. And if you sell exclusively online, a review is the crucial way your customers can see what your product is like before taking the plunge.

Trick #1. Pick a review site to dominate. Then, dominate it.

What this means for you: Don’t spread yourself thin by adding your company to a ton of review sites. Instead, pick one to two neutral ones where customers would naturally search for you.

Many people know reviews are an important part of a buyer’s decision process, but they write off the other part—the credibility of the site where the reviews live.

While it’s easy to copy-paste stars and comments directly on to your site, Tuft & Needle has steered clear of this tactic. “People are less likely to trust reviews on your site vs. a third party,” says JT. Plus, 30 percent of consumers think a company’s reviews are fake if there are no negative ones.

That’s why early on, Tuft & Needle directed their customers to talk about them on Amazon, a neutral site. They picked it because so many people already sift through Amazon to check ratings, even if they don’t end up buying there.

Tuft & Needle glowing reviews

The result? After three months, Tuft & Needle rose to the top-rated furniture item in the whole furniture category—all because of the high amount of high-quality reviews that funneled in. Those reviews single-handedly created a new revenue stream since people were discovering the mattress on Amazon and buying the product there too.

How to ace the review site decision

How do you choose the right review site? First, think about where your potential customers are likely to look for you.

If you have a daycare, a Yelp or Google page might be a solid option. If you own a bed and breakfast, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and a Google page might be good matches since out-of-towners visit those sites when searching for hotel rooms. Own multiple locations in different geographic areas? Set up a page for every spot where people can find you.

Depending on what you do, here are some sites to consider:

Review siteWho it works best for
FacebookAll kinds of businesses. Local businesses can ask for reviews when folks physically check in.
YelpLocal businesses.
TripAdvisorRestaurants, hotels, and other businesses in the travel industry.
Angie’s ListService-based businesses, like contractors and handymen. Unlike the others, this site charges a fee.
ThumbtackService-based businesses.
Google My BusinessAll kinds of businesses. Adding your company here can also help boost your search ranking on Google.
AmazoneCommerce businesses.
Better Business BureauAll kinds of businesses.

Trick #2: Encourage your customers to write reviews—even if they didn’t have a good experience.

What this means for you: Be proactive when asking for reviews. And don’t shy away from asking for feedback from the people who didn’t have the best time with you.

The surprising part about Tuft & Needle’s review library is that many of their customers shell out five stars even if the mattress didn’t work out. In fact, JT says they urge people to return the mattress if it’s not a fit—and then, they immediately ask them for a review.

There’s a method to that madness. According to JT, a customer can fall in love with you even if they don’t love what you’re selling.

If you get a negative review, don’t freak out. Respond as best you can by apologizing and drilling into the details that led the customer to that feeling. Offer a solution that’s tied to what they encountered, whether that means retraining a moody staff member or replacing an end table. Once that’s done, ask if they’d be willing to update the review based on their latest experience.

Tuft & Needle negative reviews

Many Tuft & Needle customers update their less-than-gushing reviews after dealing with their stellar customer experience team. To JT, “Positive reviews are going to happen naturally if you take really good care of your customers.”

How to get more customer reviews

Reviews aren’t a priority for most folks. So if you want to point people to the review text box, you need to reduce as much friction as possible.

  • Remind customers to review you—and don’t feel bad about it. Many people don’t naturally think about reviewing their shopping experience. A little nudge will direct them to the exact spot where they can pour their hearts out. If you own a furniture store, this could mean following up with an email or text message that directs customers to your Yelp page. Which brings us to our next point…
  • Copy this email. Tuft & Needle sends emails like this:

Hi there,

We’re so happy to hear that you’re loving your Tuft & Needle mattress!

Because our company relies so much on feedback and we grow by word of mouth, would you mind leaving a review for our product on Amazon/Facebook/Yelp?

Consider using similar language to inspire more customers to jot down what happened.

  • Ask people to review you once they’ve spent time with your product. If your product takes two weeks to reach its optimal point, like a mattress or sofa that needs to be broken in, then ask customers to review you after those two weeks. Or if people can get the full experience when opening up the product or walking into your restaurant, ask them to review you after that moment. Doing so will help them remember all the tiny details.
  • Don’t incentivize them. “If you blow their mind, you don’t have to incentivize them,” says JT. This one’s controversial, but Tuft & Needle found that offering an incentive doesn’t do much to spur more reviews. In fact, JT believes it cheapens the quality of reviews since people will have to dig deep for something to write about instead of feeling naturally compelled to share.
  • Give them a writing prompt. It can be hard for customers to know precisely what to talk about beyond saying they love or hate something. Beat that writer’s block by encouraging people to describe what happened. Details like the way their car wash attendant got the mountains of crumbs out of their car or the fact that their pineapple slicer never got the slices to look like the picture on the box are all helpful for other consumers to know about. 

Get people into review flow by listing out the questions they should try and answer. Add the questions below when asking people to review you:

  • How did it go? What was your experience like? Give us specifics.  
  • What went well?  
  • What didn’t go well?  
  • Did the experience/product live up to your expectations?  
  • Would you buy another one/come again?  
  • Would you recommend us to a friend?  
  • Do you have any photos to share? Photos add legitimacy to reviews, and they can also help your team figure out what went right and wrong much quicker.

Trick #3: Follow this technique and never get the same negative review again.

What this means for you: Use glowing reviews to identify what’s going well with your business. Suss out insights from the negative ones to see what you could be doing better.

Reviews come with a freebie: Yes, they bring in more leads, but they’re also an invaluable way you for to get customer feedback.

JT says that reviews have significantly enhanced Tuft & Needle’s mattress quality and their customer satisfaction rating. Review-generated feedback has also lowered their return rate and increased their net promoter score to 85, which is considered “world-class.”

“Your job is not just to ask customers how their experience was, but to fix the problems for future customers so they never experience that again,” JT explains. “That’s your job. And that’s the hard part.”

Tuft & Needle bed

To fix the problems that come up, here’s how Tuft & Needle unscrambles all those blurbs.

How to process your customer reviews

At Tuft & Needle, each piece of feedback interacts with the entire organization.

When a positive review floats in, JT’s team celebrates it. They take the top comments about what they’re doing well and send them to the team members who are responsible for those elements. The company also mines reviews to get ideas for advertising copy. “We use exactly what people are saying we’re so good at.”

But it’s actually the negative reviews that JT values most. Here’s his advice for getting as much as possible out of a negative review:

  • Read the entire review.
  • Circle the issues mentioned.
  • Translate those issues into actionable to-dos.
  • Send the list to all employees that can affect the outcome of that bad review .

At Tuft & Needle, that means the customer experience team first solves the reviewer’s primary issue, whether it involves overnighting a new mattress or explaining how to properly remove it from the box.

What’s next? The mic drop. They then find ways to improve from every single review so they never get that kind of review again.

For example, the team found that customers who kept the mattress for two weeks or more had a higher chance of keeping it than those who sent it back within that two-week timeframe. So they investigated.

Turns out, the mattress foam gets to the feel they designed only after several nights of sleeping on it. To resolve the complaint, the team built a special machine to mimic the break-in period so it would feel just as cushy right off the bat. That step reduced their return rate within two weeks of launching it. “What people like—great do more of that. What people don’t like—great, go fix that,” JT recommends. “Reviews are a blueprint for what you need to do.”

“Eventually your reviews get better and better, and that leads to more customers, which leads to more reviews,” says JT. “That’s when you turn into a brand people know and recognize.”

Tuft & Needle blueprint

Creating a customer review process can have a giant impact when you’re a tiny company with big dreams. Tuft & Needle is entirely bootstrapped yet they were able to use customer reviews to reach $170 million in annual revenue. By following the same review template, you can also set up your company for that kind of long-term success. And the best part? Those positive vibes radiate long after someone clicks publish. “If a company does a good job, why would you consider anyone else?”  

Editor’s note: This story is part of a new series that reveals exclusive advice from small businesses that are seriously crushing it. Each story dives into one issue these companies wrestled with, along with the unique hacks they used to overcome it. The goal? To help you make your business just as successful.

We’re always on the hunt for best practices that small businesses and entrepreneurs will find useful. Have a story to share? Hit us with your best pitch at [email protected].

Kira Deutch Kira Deutch is a former Gusto editor. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups.
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