A company’s’ reputation is increasingly influenced by online reviews with the majority of consumers browsing product and company reviews before purchase. As reported by the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA), reviews can influence £23bn of UK consumer spending per year, so they certainly shouldn’t be ignored.
Consumers like to be familiar with the company they do business with, so will often search online for other people’s opinions before buying from a new company. Be it a star-rating left on a website or through Google reviews, or a thread of comments on a forum, online reviews can have a significant impact on a person’s perception of a brand.
Dealing with complaints
The truth is, there are always going to be more people wanting to leave negative commentary than positive reviews online. If someone is unhappy with a company’s service, they often feel inclined to seek a repayment of some sort – whether it’s an apology, refund or argument they’re looking for, consumers are all entitled to share their experiences online.
Happy customers are much less likely to leave their positive feedback. It’s up to firms themselves to encourage a wide, varied range of customers to leave reviews and reduce the potential harm of any individual negative review.
Sixty-seven per cent of consumers say they’re influenced by online reviews, so a positive review strategy is clearly of high importance. However not every business does things right online, and some have been caught out using shortcuts, including writing of fake reviews and ‘cherry picking’ positive ones. While these shortcuts may sometimes be effective in the short-term, it’s much more advantageous to take significant steps to appease unhappy customers and use feedback to improve company services.
Positive review strategy
Managing reviews is one of the most important ways a firm can control its online reputation. It’s essential to have clear channels available for those wishing to leave their feedback. Igniyte recommends implementing a positive review strategy where possible. This involves responding to customers across all online channels where conversations are taking place and the implementation of clear pathways to a company’s main site, with relevant material to aid customers. Here are some key elements of a successful strategy:
- Respond – A timely, appropriate response will go some way to appease a customer’s woe. Companies that respond fittingly can protect their customer retention figures, while those customers who don’t get a response from a firm can often feel undervalued and unappreciated, leaving them more likely to post further negative comments online.
- Be personable yet professional – Standardised, impersonal responses are not an effective way of appeasing a customer’s concern. Firms which treat customers with respect and take steps to address their concerns tend to gain better affiliation with people and can attract a loyal customer base.
- Manage conversation – Online conversation is visible to a wide audience, so it’s imperative to handle it appropriately. When dealing with negative comments, companies should aim to move these conversations out of the public eye and speak with customers privately.
Google incorporates star ratings into its organic search results, as well as its own Google Places for Business where it aggregates star reviews from third-party sites such as TrustPilot, Review Centre and Glassdoor. This gives potential customers a snapshot of a company’s services rating and is a highly influential factor to peoples’ perceptions of a business’ services. NetImperative.com found that many people don’t look beyond star ratings, so they can often be highly valuable to a firm.
Reviews with less than three stars decrease the likelihood of purchase to less than 50%, according to chainstoreage.com. It’s therefore important for firms to encourage people who are content or happy with their services to make their feelings known online.
There are various cases where fake reviews have been detrimental to a reputable company, often with severe financial implications. Recently, Nearwater Bed and Breakfast received a fake review from someone who they say has never visited the B&B or corresponded with them. The user, named ‘Ste dutton’, reviewed their service in reference to the owners’ appearance on TV show ‘Four in a Bed’, just a day after the re-run (initially aired in 2011) was shown on Channel 4.
This review is currently featured on the right hand side of the first page of Google for the hotel, thus having a direct impact on the first impression people receive of the B&B. Only by clicking through to the actual review is it possible to see the hotel’s response and understand the context of the review. As it stands, Google is refusing to remove it as it doesn’t breach any of the search engine’s guidelines, the hotel is currently seeking legal advice as a result. Sadly, this could have untold effects on the hotel’s long-term reputation.
On the flip side there are also cases where companies have resorted to the use of fake positive reviews, resulting in customers being misled by these bogus appraisals. The CMA is clamping down on negative reviews and punishing companies which have fabricated positive reviews.
It’s often fairly easy to tell between trustworthy, authentic reviews and those which are fake. People are also more likely to be influenced by a detailed review and understand that no produce or service is ‘perfect’. Businesses must focus on encouraging those who’ve had a positive experience to leave their comments in addition to a star review and being proactive in resolving negative feedback.
The research from Consumer Affairs for Brands found that customers are more likely to prefer a brand with one-star ratings and a detailed positive reviews than those with a five-star rating with a bad comment, which indicates the potential value of a more substantial review.
There are very few, if any, companies around the world which don’t have any negative commentary in relation to services or products online. Companies need to demonstrate that they are listening to customer feedback, and then responding effectively. Some companies have taken shortcuts in the past, but as the internet continues to adapt and evolve, companies which incorporate a positive strategy can get ahead of the game.
Consumer engagement and good customer service can only benefit a brand in the long-term. Listening to feedback gives a firm an opportunity to rectify issues, improve the quality of their product or service and maintain that all important first impression online.