The reality of ratings and reviews

There was a “statistic” back in pre-digital times; a happy customer would tell two or three people, an unhappy one would share their experience with eight or 10. It may not have been widely proven, but something about those numbers struck a chord with marketers and businesses. It became as good as a universal truth and was subsequently trotted out in every customer satisfaction discussion.

In 2017, if a dissatisfied customer only shared their story with 10 people, the business would consider itself to have gotten off lightly. For better or worse, one of the by-products of an increasingly connected world is a greater facility for individuals to express opinions, thanks to an ever-growing number of platforms from which to shout. Review sites range from Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Yahoo Local, Facebook and FourSquare – through to specialist sites such as hipages that is dedicated to home-improvement service providers. Social proof, such as ratings and reviews, is as important for businesses as it is for consumers.

Why ratings and reviews matter

Humans are a curious bunch. On one hand, we desire to be recognised as unique, but when it comes to purchasing, we happily defer to the herd. Consumers are progressively looking to the viewpoints of others to help decide what, how and from where to buy.

In 2015, consumer insight experts, Nielsen, conducted a survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries to determine the sphere of influence in purchasing behaviour. The results were published as the Global Trust in Advertising report.

The survey found that 66 per cent of respondents trusted consumer opinions posted on line – the third most trusted format after “recommendation from a known person” (89 per cent) and “branded websites” (70 per cent).

When you consider that these are the opinions of nameless, faceless strangers, that’s a lot of trust with not much backstory or additional detail. As Nielsen wisely recognized, trust is one thing, but action is another altogether, so the survey also investigated the purchasing behaviour that corresponded to each influence. It found that 69 per cent of survey participants would “always” or “sometimes” act off the back of those anonymous online opinions. Good news in the case of positive reviews, not so great for the negative.

The upshot is that your prospective customers put a lot of faith in the opinions of people they don’t know, will never meet and cannot appraise to understand similarities or differences from themselves. This means they can’t evaluate reviews, as relevant to their own situation or circumstance. And yet…they believe them anyway. That’s the power of the herd.

Harnessing the herd

Ratings and reviews are a bit of double-edged sword. While positive reviews can encourage others to try your service or product, negative reviews will equally serve to deter them. The amplifying prevalence of independent third-party review sites makes it hard to keep track of things, so it’s likely that many businesses aren’t even aware of the existence of bad appraisals.

The good news is there are tools available to assist, such as ReachLocal’s SweetIQ, that help businesses manage online reviews and measure consumer engagement and sentiment. The simple act of thanking a customer for a positive review or acknowledging and responding to a negative review can have significant impact on how your brand is perceived. Customers can get it wrong too, so correcting a misperception or misunderstanding posted as a negative review will also influence a potential buyer’s decision-making.

You may pride yourself on providing superior customer experience, but in an online world, you’re only as good as your last customer interaction. Exploring a solution designed to facilitate increased engagement and improve customer attitudes toward your brand will certainly help you influence the outcome of ratings and reviews.

Kris Barton, Chief Product Officer, ReachLocal

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