Word of mouth (WOM) will always influence customer decision making but the same can be said for online customer reviews. A study by Search Engine Land in 2013 stated that “79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations”. This is one of the reasons why online reputation management has developed so significantly in recent years and a major part of this approach is combating the outbreak of negative press on social media networks, blogs and review websites. ByReputation.com carried out a ‘Trust Factor Survey’ in 2011, finding that “4-out-of-5 consumers changed their minds about a recommended purchase based solely on negative information they found online.”
This implies that one negative review could prevent conversions, but why do people rely so heavily on a stranger’s opinion in the first place?
Much like WOM recommendations, online positive reviews can eliminate any doubts before purchasing a product or service and that’s essentially what shoppers are looking for. It’s natural to be sceptical, especially when you’ve never purchased from a particular seller before, and one or several negative reviews can cause uncertainty, meaning a potential customer lacks the confidence needed to proceed and make a purchase.
There has been a great deal of media attention on fake reviews, especially in recent months and it’s fair to say that information published online cannot always be trusted. It’s easy for business owners to write and post positive reviews about their own business, while competitors can post negative reviews on their direct competitors, pretending to be an unsatisfied customer. This is perhaps another reason why many businesses consider reputation management services, yet a number of these agencies have been heavily fined for posting negative reviews on the likes of CitySearch, Yelp and Google Local, in a bid to damage their competitor’s reputation.
Every customer will have their own opinion on your products and services but it’s never been easier to publish that opinion, which is why a considerable proportion of prospective customers naturally inspect reviews, aiming to learn more about the reviewer and their level of integrity. Of course, some negative reviews come from genuine customers sharing their honest opinion based on their personal experience, and that’s why all negative reviews should be taken seriously and dealt with efficiently.
Making a Negative a Positive
From a potential customer’s point of view, there’s nothing worse than seeing a selection of negative reviews posted online without any response whatsoever from the company at fault. It reflects that the business simply does not care, however, an apology or an explanation for the insufficient level of customer service can help. Responses should ideally be crafted to be sincere and apologetic, rather than defensive. If you’re regularly keeping a close eye on your company’s online reviews, then a quick, carefully planned response can ensure your business remains in good light.
Reviews do not disappear over time, and the damaging effects of a negative review do not vanish either. That’s why fast action is needed. Social media channels make it easy for individuals to market their business, yet they also make it very easy for customers to create their own discussions on your business. In these circumstances you should join the discussion and learn about your customers, rather than shying away. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn can all be used to spark conversations, and if you keep close tabs on your review pages and social media accounts, and actually converse with your customers, then you’ll learn more about their needs. You can then take the steps to improve your level of service, potentially gaining more positive reviews going forward.