In this guest post, Big Leap’s Stephen Porritt explains how different industries are affected by online reviews.
We’ve long used reviews to determine whether things are worth our time or money. Critics evaluate movies, stage performances, music, and more. Back in the day, though, if you wanted to find out about these things, you either needed to read the paper, or hear it by word of mouth. The internet has changed all that, both for how we access those reviews, and for who or what is being reviewed. And it’s making a big difference.
These days, reviews are an important part of any business’ online presence. They’re a testament to a business’ quality (or lack thereof). They communicate to potential customers whether or not they should spend their money with a particular merchant or service. Good reviews can boost sales and helping establish customer loyalty. Bad reviews can taint your reputation, and leave you scrambling to do some PR work.
But just how much of an impact do reviews have? Should we be paying that much attention to them? What can be done to elicit additional positive reviews? And are there some industries more affected by the positive or negative reviews?
The Curious Case of Customer Feedback
Word of mouth has always come with a couple of inherent flaws. First, your “review” that you share with others isn’t transmitted in a permanent medium. The audience of a given individual is also rather limited, making it hard to get the word out. It’s also difficult to find people for whom your opinion would be most valuable. All-in-all, it’s not the most effective system.
Online reviews effectively sidestep all of those problems. They’re effectively permanent, reach a near-limitless audience, and are always available for those who are interested in the quality of a product or service. Because it’s such an effective method of communicating the quality of a business and its offerings, consumers are responding to reviews in dramatic ways.
The input of strangers is having an impact on buyer behavior, and helping them make decisions on where to go to spend their money. And it increases a customer’s confidence in the purchase, which makes it less likely they will be requesting a refund. And, as long as the product’s as good as the reviews say, then word of mouth kicks in, and you stand to grow financially.
As for the habits that govern the actual writing of reviews, there’s a couple of factors to consider: the intensity of the experience (good or bad), the reviewer’s dedication to leaving reviews, the difficulty involved in leaving a review, and any incentives that may be involved. What’s important to keep in mind is that customers are likely to leave reviews if invited, and the process is easy (more on this later).
Not All Reviews Are Created Equal
It’s fairly common knowledge now that not all reviews can be taken at face value. Unreliable reviews come in a few different flavors. The first (as indicated by the link above) is the joke review. They’re good for a chuckle, but otherwise offer nothing of real value to those trying to research the product or service. Audiences will recognize them for what they are, have a laugh, and then look for feedback that’s more legitimate.
The second kind is the promotional review. These are typically written by employees of the company, fanboys or fangirls of the brand, or freelancers that are getting paid to say something nice and give them five stars. You can usually recognize these because of profuse marketing/salesy speak, large amounts of vitriol aimed at competitors, very poor English or grammar, frequent use of ALL CAPS, and other signs of non-rational behavior.
The same goes for the fake one-star reviews. These are often written by employees of competitors, paid freelancers, self-appointed brand evangelists, and trolls. They can usually be identified in the same way.
There are also the SEO keyword stuffers. These are typified by overuse of the full name of the product, or needless repetition of relevant phrases. These are also a waste of your time.
A safe bet when looking for genuine reviews is to check the ones rated between two and four stars, and sticking only with reviews that aren’t saturated in superlatives and exaggerated language.
Supporting Your Fans
Once you’ve identified real reviews (good and bad), you want to reinforce the behavior. Feedback opens a discussion with the brand, and provides the opportunity for an additional touchpoint with customers. These people are taking the time to discuss your product/service, and they deserve to know you appreciate the mention.
Start with the authentic positive comments. They’re marketing your brand for free, so show your appreciation. Reach out to them in the comments, and tell them you’re glad they’re happy with their purchase. If they mention any minor nitpicks, let them know you’ll be taking those into consideration to see if you can resolve those concerns down the line for future customers. They will appreciate that you are listening to their input, and care about their experience.
Assuaging Your Critics
You’ll also want to respond to your critics. For authentic reviews, this is important for two different sets of people: the reviewer, and everyone who sees the review. Ignoring a negative review is tantamount to disregarding a customer’s feelings. So respond to the criticism, and let them know that their unpleasant experience is something you regret. Apologize for whatever problem or mistake is in play, and then see if there is something you can do to rectify the situation (perhaps even if it’s going to cost you something). As you respond, though, keep these things in mind:
- Be calm; if the review is openly inflammatory and you become personally offended, give yourself time to cool off before responding
- Maintain professionalism, and do what you can to provide a positive experience for the customer
- If the reviewer is trolling, don’t stoop to their level by arguing or throwing insults
- The reviewer may have valid points that need addressing; taking them to heart may improve your offerings for future customers
- If you are able to resolve the issue, don’t be afraid to ask the reviewer to amend their review, as many will either delete the review or change it to reflect the positive customer service experience
Like troll reviews, you don’t want to become overly invested in fake reviews. Respond respectfully (so that everyone else who’s reading sees you as a professional), but indicate that there’s no record of their experience, or something similar. Often, you can petition to the site hosting the review (like Google) to have the fake review pulled down.
What’s most important here is that everyone is watching. Loyal customers, new customers, potential customers, and brand detractors are all waiting to see how you react to the criticism. Frequently, you can win over hearts and strengthen brand loyalties by maintaining grace under pressure.
Now we turn to specific industries that are majorly impacted by online reviews, starting with hospitality (restaurants, bars, hotels, etc.).
Hounding the Hospitality Industry
This is the industry most impacted by online reviews, as more people look up reviews for these services than anything else. 60% of people have looked up reviews for restaurants, 40% have looked up reviews for hotels, and 33% of people won’t dine at locations with less than a four-star rating.
It seems that people don’t like spending money on food if it’s going to suck, nor do they enjoy staying at places that are dirtier than their own home (which makes sense, really). This industry stands the most to gain (and the most to lose) from online reviews.
Heckling the Healthcare Industry
People are starting to get picky about their healthcare these days, too. 51% of people look up reviews on their doctors, and 30% of parents choose pediatricians for their kids by looking up their online ratings and reviews. With healthcare as expensive as it is, it’s no wonder that people are picky about who treats them when they’re paying through the nose for it.
The Travails of Tradesmen
While less impacted by online reviews than healthcare or hospitality, homeowners have recently started turning to online research in an effort to find qualified contractors and subcontractors. In fact, 56% of people used online reviews to find their most recent construction/repair crew, and 86% would pay more for a crew with higher ratings and reviews.
It makes sense; contractors, plumbers, and the like have always been notoriously hard to vet, and those repairing or building a home often get stuck living with shoddy work (which often has to be repaired or replaced soon after). Having access to a wealth of information about the quality of the work they do, and how much they cost, is a serious advantage.
The E-Commerce Experience
Here’s the bread and butter of online reviews. With the rise of e-commerce, consumers have been offered a conundrum. On the one hand, buying online is easier, and things are less likely to be out of stock. On the other hand, you’re buying sight unseen. That’s why online reviews are so crucial—they can give you an idea, from fellow customers, of just what to expect from the product.
Online reviews can help answer questions like:
- Do these shirts run a little small?
- Will this toy break soon after taking it out of the box?
- Are these shoes a little narrow?
- Does the color of the item match the picture?
The impact is more dramatic when the product or brand is unfamiliar: 88% of consumers rely heavily on reviews for products from brands they’ve never purchased from before. So for those running an e-commerce operation as well as a physical retail store, the need to keep an eye on those online reviews is paramount.
B2C businesses aren’t the only ones affected by reviews. Increasingly, businesses are turning to reviews and ratings for B2B companies, rather than trusting the hype-riddled salesman blather that often comes from the company itself. Before committing to using a SaaS or an Iaas or something like that, we want to know from other customers (and former customers) if there’s any catch. Why did others choose this service? Why did some choose to discontinue it? Are there higher quality or lower cost alternatives that better suit our needs?
Online reviews enable even professionals to be more careful and picky with the services they choose.
How to Improve Your Reviews (and Get More of Them)
One important detail we haven’t covered yet is how a lack of reviews is about as bad as having a low rating. Like not having any credit, people aren’t willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, and will wait for someone else to go ahead and be your guinea pig. Seeing zero reviews for a product, service, or business means it’s untested, which means it’s a gamble.
Even when you have reviews, to get the most out of them they need to be current, they need to be informative, and you need a lot of them. Here are some customer feedback tips on making that happen:
- Make the process as easy as possible
- Ask everyone for feedback
- Personalize your feedback requests
- Ask for specifics
- Use all available channels to collect feedback (including social media)
- Respond when you can, and as appropriate
Online reviews have the potential to springboard your business and put you on the map, but only if you’re making the most of them. Don’t let it grow over like a patch of weeds—tend to it like a garden, and it will start bearing fruit.