In the “good old days” when a neighbor or work colleague told you how much they enjoyed a nearby B&B, movie or restaurant, it mattered. Word of mouth has always been one of marketing’s most potent weapons. Today – we have word of mouth marketing on steroids with online reviews.
Interestingly, in a wide range of surveys examining the effectiveness of online reviews, the data is pretty telling. Depending on the research, somewhere between 84-90% of us trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
Nearly 9 out of every 10 consumers has used online reviews to influence a purchase and about 40% of us use them on a regular basis as part of our buying process. Most people read between 6-10 reviews and they usually read the most recent reviews first.
Why do we give perfect strangers the same credibility score as our neighbors and friends?
- We believe in the aggregate. One bad review suggests a fluke or someone had a grudge but when there’s a pattern, we’re willing to believe the crowd.
- We assume that the reviewers are people like us who have no axe to grind but just want to be helpful.
- We give more credibility to the “average Joe” than we do to marketing or corporate speak. In other words – I want to hear what other people say about you, not what you say about yourself.
Given both the number of consumers who rely on online reviews and the level of trust they put in them – it’s not something businesses can ignore. And this isn’t just about restaurants or hotels anymore. Whether you’re a dentist, restaurant, ad agency, professor or an insurance agent – between Angie’s List and all of the specialty lists out there – everyone is being rated.
Interestingly – businesses seem to be adopting the head in the sand approach to bad reviews. Even though almost every rating site will allow the proprietor to respond, very few do.
That is a huge missed opportunity. Every business owner, CMO etc. should be tracking where their business is being rated and monitoring those ratings. While the ideal is that you’d respond to all the reviews (odds are there are not that many), you should at the very least react to the negative ones.
Here are some best practices for responding to negative reviews.
- Apologize. Use the words “I am sorry” to acknowledge that they had a bad experience, even if you don’t believe it was your fault.
- Refer to them by name if you can.
- Identify yourself by name and title so they know who is responding to them.
- If there really was a problem – don’t sugar coat it. Admit that you blew it and what you’re doing to make sure the next guest does not experience the same thing.
- After your initial response, if they reply – take it offline. While you want everyone reading the reviews to see that you care, you don’t need to play out the entire conversation online.
- If you feel like you can win them back – offer to compensate them in some way. And no, this will not encourage a bunch of people to leave bad reviews just to get a coupon or free meal from you.
- Talk like a human, not a corporate committee. Use conversational language so they know there’s a human being behind your comments.
No matter what you do – ignoring negative reviews is not an option. They are too influential to your prospects and when they go unanswered, they’re taken as gospel and can chase away potential business. So settle in and try to make some lemonade out of those lemons.