Ah, the review. When pondering this topic, I can’t help but think about how much of my own spending has been influenced by strangers on the Internet. Almost every new restaurant I decide to try has to be four stars or above on Yelp, with at least a reasonable amount of reviews. Why would I bother trying a dry cleaner with poor reviews when there’s one with good reviews right down the street? If I’m in the market for something on Amazon, you bet I’m looking at a lot of reviews before I decide to shell out my hard-earned money. Call me a review snob if you wish, but I like being an informed consumer. Plus, I’m pretty sure you do it too.
So just how important is our review-centric culture? Here are some interesting statistics from 2016 compiled by Vendasta.com from outside sources:
- 92% of consumers read online reviews
- Star rating is the number one factor used by consumers to judge a business
- 88% of consumers form an opinion by reading up to ten reviews
- Only 14% of consumers would consider using a business with a one or two star rating
- 48% will visit a company’s website after reading positive reviews
- Over half of young people aged 18 to 34 say they trust online reviews more than the opinions of friends and family
- Reviews produce an average of 18% uplift in sales
So yes, reviews are extremely important for businesses of various sizes. Almost as important as the reviews themselves, according to the above statistics, how a business handles a bad review can make the difference between a return customer and leaving a sour taste in a customer’s mouth: 95% of unhappy customers returns back to a business if it resolves their issue quickly and efficiently. I think that this statistic does highlight that even after everything else, customer service is still king.
But should businesses always try to appease their customers? Over the years we’ve all heard stories of business owners attempting to fight back against negative online reviews. Just quickly googling for “yelp fight” turns up these and these examples. While it’s certainly within a business owner’s right to respond to online reviews (there’s a reason Yelp has put in that feature), it’s important that business owners have a well thought out plan on how to respond to customers in a way that accomplishes what they desire (e.g. telling their side of the story or social shaming the customer) while not doing it in a way that may turn off potential customers when they read the response. This is clearly a delicate balance, especially if you wish to convey how bad the customer was, but responding in a measured, professional manner can mean getting an unsatisfied customer to return and getting new customers in the process.
Thinking about how business owners should act also got me thinking about ways that businesses can leverage our own biases towards positive reviews. I stumbled across an article about a reporter who set up a fake karaoke truck business. After setting up a company website, Yelp profile, Facebook page, and Twitter account, he was able to easily and cheaply set up and pay for an extremely positive online reputation for the business. Using Fiverr, a website where you can pay someone five dollars (or more) to complete a task for you, the reporter spent a couple hundred dollars for thousands of Twitter followers, hundreds of Facebook fans, and a bunch of five-star Yelp reviews. His fake business ended up being so convincing that he received phone calls from real consumers asking to book his services. The business’s reviews did end up getting flagged as fake by Yelp (which entails a temporary mark on your Yelp page stating that you may not be trustworthy), but the other social media networks didn’t catch on. In the end, paying for a fake reputation and online following may end up being a short-term gain, but will likely catch up to you later on.
Obviously, there are some serious personal and ethical considerations for business owners that understand how powerful online reviews can be in driving business. I believe the first consideration for business owners is to think about how online reviews, both positive and negative, affect your business. If you’re a McDonald’s franchise owner, chances are that positive or negative reviews won’t significantly move the needle for your business. Yes, customer service matters, but people likely aren’t determining whether to go to McDonald’s based on the Yelp reviews you received. These business owners likely don’t need to worry nearly as much about what the Internet is saying about them.
However, if you own a small business whose success may be highly correlated with its online reputation, it’s important to create a game plan. If you intend on engaging with customers who review your business, it’s imperative that you do so in a way that’s constructive. For positive reviews, it’s very easy to be gracious and accept positive feedback. The real challenge is how to address negative reviews. It may make sense for you to be apologetic and humble no matter whether you believe a review is unfair (i.e. “The Customer is Always Right” path). Or, depending on the merit of the customer’s review, it may make sense to constructively challenge the claims with your own point of view. As long as it is kept civil, your response likely won’t be viewed negatively and may lead to a positive end result. On the other hand, maybe it just makes sense to embrace it: