Image Lis. via Graphic Leftovers
Image Lis. via Graphic Leftovers

Recently I was discussing bad reviews with a doctor, who’d been accused online of spending more time dancing with his patients than treating them! It was an absurd and poorly written comment, but there it was for the entire world to see. And he wasn’t sure how to address it.

For years, I’ve had trouble convincing business owners that occasional bad reviews can be a benefit to businesses. Not only can they identify and correct business flaws and staff issues, it provides a chance to communicate in public with the reviewers and those reading the reviews.

In 2013, BrightLocal released their findings of their Local Consumer Review Survey and it revealed quite a few sobering stats:

  • A whopping 85% of consumers say that they read online reviews for local businesses (up from 76% in 2012)
  • 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (up from 72% in 2012)
  • 67% of consumers read 6 reviews or less (up from 52% in 2012)
  • 73% of consumers say positive customer reviews make them trust a business more (up from 58% in 2012)
  • Only 21% said they do not trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Only 12% of consumers said they take no notice of online reviews (down from 17% in 2012)
  • Word of mouth remains the primary route for recommending a local business (72%)
  • Only 8% of consumers recommended a business on local directories (down from 11% in 2012)

If you hadn’t previously been convinced of the power of online reviews, these stats should assuage any lingering doubts.

Image Lic. via Graphic Leftovers
Image Lic. via Graphic Leftovers

Ask An Expert

The best way to learn something is to ask an expert. I recently interviewed Jon Hall, Founder and CEO of customer review management software Grade.Us. His insightful information was certainly food for thought. Here’s some of what we discussed:

How Can a Business Turn Bad Reviews into a Benefit?

Savvy consumers don’t trust glowing, 5-star reviews. “Extreme opinions are rarely the most persuasive,” says Hall. A recent study found that readers of mixed reviews actually formed more positive judgments of a business than those exposed to positive reviews alone. Fake and fraudulent reviews are everywhere—and consumers know it.

Jon Hall, Founder and CEO of Grade.Us
Jon Hall, Founder and CEO of Grade.Us

As Hall pointed out, bad reviews also create an opportunity for the business to demonstrate its level of care and service in how it responds. Dealing with an unhappy customer in public may be unnerving and uncomfortable, but when done right, it puts on display how seriously the business takes its service and its customers.

What Can Businesses do to Increase Customer Feedback Ratios? 

Disgruntled customers are far more likely to take the time to provide negative feedback than satisfied ones are to leave positive feedback—it’s a phenomenon known as the “adverse reviewer problem.”

Happy customers often don’t because:

  1. They never thought to do so
  2. They forgot to do so
  3. The review process is hard and they’re too busy

“The best way to address this,” says Hall. “is by asking, reminding, and guiding customers through the process. Our company uses a concept called a “review funnel,” a system to ask and remind happy customers to write a review and then make it easier for them to complete the task.”

A good example of this process is the hotel industry. As guests are checking out, a staff member at the front desk tells the departing guest how much the business values customer feedback:

  • She’s handed a card reinforcing that message with a short URL and QR code that drives her to a relevant page. Now the customer is in your review funnel.
  • She is presented with the review sites you care about (maybe TripAdvisor, Yelp and Google+ for a hotel)
  • Sites are labeled where she can login with Facebook and leave a review without creating an account
  • She gets 1-2-3 instructions that set her expectations and help her understand and complete the task.

It’s that simple.

How Can Businesses Use Unlimited Local and Industry-specific Review Sites?

“Building an internet reputation is a long-term proposition,” says Hall. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” This is why the review funnel concept is so powerful, whether you use a service or roll out your own. Guiding customers through the review process allows you to direct customer attention to the sites where you want it and need it the most.

Providing 3-6 review site choices at a time will increase the chances that one of them will be recognizable and compelling enough for the customer to continue in the process.

Warning: Be focused, diligent and systematic. Too many choices can create “analysis paralysis.”

Should Companies Pay for Reviews?

This practice may seem innocent enough, but paying for reviews is increasingly considered unethical. In fact, it’s forbidden by many review sites. In 2013, New York State prosecutors won massive fines against companies for buying fake reviews and effectively defrauding the public. And Yelp notoriously comes down hard on businesses for this by flagging them with an embarrassing “consumer alert.”

Even if you don’t get caught, consumers themselves have strong BS filters and can sniff out phony reviews. It’s just not worth it.

What Are Some “Tricks” Businesses Can Use to Gain Followers on Social Media Platforms?

Simple—provide a reason for customers to engage. “Many of our clients use valuable offers to get customers back to their page,” says Hall. “You should be clear that it’s not an exchange or quid pro quo.”

Final Analysis

Online reviews are perhaps the single most important marketing channel today. Doing nothing imparts a negative message—“we don’t care what our customers think.” Marketers and business owners should take notice.

Monitoring reviews provides insight on a business’s reputation and where it’s headed, but it’s important to act on the information. A timely and well-crafted response can transform it instantly from liability to asset.

The sooner you catch up to your reviews, the better.