The modern-day phenomenon that is the internet has changed the way we do business, with more and more shoppers researching, buying and swapping positive and negative stories online. As many as 70% of people go online to search as soon as they decide they want to buy something, so it’s incredibly important for brands to have a strong digital presence across each stage of the marketing and sales funnel, right from that very first search. Research also shows that 91% of consumers aged between 18 and 34 believe in online reviews, trusting them as much as personal recommendations. However, in this era of fake news, trolling, screen warriors and cyber-crime, do the majority of shoppers still trust online reviews? And is there a viable benefit for businesses whose customers are leaving their feedback online? Read on to find out.
Why do customers leave online reviews?
Data shows that 72% of shoppers have left reviews for items they’ve purchased in the last 12 months, so what is the driving force behind this behaviour? Sharing positive or negative feedback about a brand and its products or services isn’t a new thing — it's just that today's ease and speed of online reviewing means every customer now has the ability to share their opinion in the public domain within minutes of deciding they want to, usually whenever or wherever they might be (thanks to mobile devices and 'always on' connectivity').
There is also the circle of social proof to consider. Think about your own purchasing habits. They probably start with some research into the reviews and feedback of the brand you're considering buying from. Reading enthused reviews from clearly happy customers is a great indicator that people like you have found said business and their products to be so great, it's worth recommending them online. If you have a similar, amazing experience, it's likely that you will follow suit and share your great feedback online too.
What are the different types of online reviews?
Two of the most popular types of online customer reviews are closed and open systems. The difference between them lies in how the reviews are generated, and this can play a big part in how likely a prospective shopper is to trust you based on what they are reading. Open reviews systems welcome reviews from anyone online. There is no requirement to prove that you are a verified customer of the business in question. This means that not only can disgruntled customers leave lots of fake negative reviews under different aliases but that businesses can also boost their ratings by leaving fake positive reviews from fake customers. That's not to say that every unverified review is fake — it is just incredibly hard to tell the difference between what is real and what is not.
Closed review systems only collect reviews from genuine, verified customers. This guarantees that your online review ratings are 100% authentic and that they provide a true representation of your company and service. Closed review systems also ensure that you can prompt customers for feedback as soon as they complete a sale, keeping your reviews recent and relevant. Choosing closed reviews means that you can focus more time on helping and resolving your unhappy customers' issues, and less time trawling through your feedback to decipher which reviews are real and which are fake. This in turn helps to make your business more efficient and effective.
How online customer reviews can help your business
It is surprising how many businesses operate for long periods of time without reaching out to their number one data asset — customers. There lies an untapped wealth of product and service insights, interactions and opinions from the people who are most valuable to your business. When you start to collect online reviews from your customers you are initiating an open conversation that welcomes their input and feedback. This in turn can make them feel more acknowledged and valued by your business, which can have a positive knock-on effect in terms of customer loyalty. This is especially true when you wholeheartedly welcome feedback and reviews from everyone — both happy and unhappy customers. Holding your hands up to say 'tell us what we are doing wrong so that we can start to fix it' is a genuine way of doing business and shows that you as a company are open to improving and want to do so based on data and insight from your customers.
Once you have opened the channels of communication between your business and your customers and the reviews start flooding in, this is the perfect time to regroup as a company and work together to improve your processes, products and service. Create a project team that brings together stakeholders from across your business functions with the objective of learning from the review insights you are collecting and developing a roadmap of continuous improvement for the business. Online customer reviews can touch all departments, from sales and marketing to customer service and IT. Collaborating as a single team with a united focus on improving customer experience can help to break down ingrained company silos and spark a culture of collaboration, creativity and ongoing optimisation.
The impact of negative reviews
Shoppers aren't just on the lookout for positive reviews about your company, products or services. As many as 82% of shoppers specifically seek out negative reviews, often spending longer on your website and converting at a higher rate as a result. The reason? A 100% perfect review score comes across as unnatural and untrustworthy. Mistakes will happen in your business processes and there will be unhappy customers as a result. Aim to turn every negative review into a chance for you to showcase your customer service skills and commitment to your customers' happiness. After all, shoppers looking at your reviews will be just as interested to see how you handle complaints and deal with upset customers as they will be to see glowing reviews.
If your negative reviews are outweighing your positive ones, it's time to rethink your customer experience strategy and how to improve it. It's a fact that 82% of shoppers won’t choose a retailer with less than a 3-star rating. If three negative articles appear when someone submits a search query, the potential for lost customers increases to 59.2%. There is clearly a fine balance between too many and too few negative reviews, but this isn't something you should try to maneuver or influence yourselves as a business. Don't try to collect reviews from only happy customers, or block unhappy customers when the negative reviews start piling up. Instead, refocus your attention on the step before the reviews — why are so many people unhappy? Are there trends or common themes occurring in their reviews? Identify and fix these issues to restore a more natural balance to your online customer reviews.
The short answer here is yes — shoppers still trust online reviews. Such reviews serve as a reliable source of insight for people considering your business and products, and form a key part of the consideration stage of the sales and marketing funnel. However, it is really important as a business that you get the balance and nature of your reviews just right. Closed review systems prove to your prospective customers that your reviews are genuine, from verified customers. Open systems on the other hand can be overrun by fake false or fake positive reviews, and it can be a tiresome job trying to work through the feedback to determine which is authentic.
Authenticity is also important when it comes to the replies you share for your reviews as a business. Use your review answers to be genuine, empathetic, helpful. If the reviewer is unhappy for reasons that are unfair to your company, be clear about how your correct processes or procedures have been followed and why their complaint cannot be upheld. Use your online reviews to your company's advantage by creating an internal, cross-functional task force to analyse the feedback and develop a strategic action plan for improvement. Only good things can come from online customer reviews, especially when you follow the advice above.