Your brand inhabits a challenging world in which its consumers’ words make up the bulk of your reputation. Negative reviews can feel like the ultimate revenge, punishing dissatisfactory experiences with public shaming, eroded local rankings, and attendant revenue loss. Some business owners become so worried about negative reviews, they head to fora asking if there is any way to opt-out and even querying whether they should simply remove their business listings altogether rather than face the discordant music.
But hang in there. Local business customers may be more forgiving than you think. In fact, your customers may think differently than you might think.
I’ve just completed a study of consumer behavior as it relates to negative reviews becoming positive ones and I believe this blog post will hold some very welcome surprises for concerned local business owners and their marketers — I know that some of what I learned both surprised and delighted me. In fact, it’s convinced me that, in case after case, negative reviews aren’t what we might think they are at all.
Let’s study this together, with real-world examples, data, a poll, and takeaways that could transform your outlook.
Stats to start with
Your company winds up with a negative review, and the possibility of a permanently lost customer. Marketing wisdom tells us that it’s more costly to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one happy. But it’s actually more far-reaching. The following list of stats tells the story of why you want to do anything you can to get the customer to edit a bad review to reflect more positive sentiment:
- 57 percent of consumers will only use a business if it has four or more stars — (BrightLocal)
- One study showed that ~1.5-star rating increase improved conversions from 10.4 percent to 12.8 percent, representing about 13,000 more leads for the brand. — (Location3)
- 73.8 percent of customers are either likely or extremely likely to continue doing business with a brand that resolves their complaints. — (GatherUp)
- A typical business only hears from four percent of its dissatisfied customers, meaning that the negative reviews you rectify for outspoken people could solve problems for silent ones. — (Ruby Newell-Lerner)
- 89 percent of consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews. — (BrightLocal)
The impact of ratings, reviews, and responses are so clear that every local brand needs to devote resources to better understanding this scenario of sentiment and customer retention.
People power: One reason consumers love reviews
The Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912. The Federal Trade Commission made its debut just two years later. Consumer protections are deemed a necessity, but until the internet put the potential of mass reviews directly into individuals hands, the “little guy” often felt he lacked a truly audible voice when the “big guy” (business) didn’t do right by him.
You can see how local business review platforms have become a bully pulpit, empowering everyday people to make their feelings known to a large audience. And, you can see from reviews, like the one below, the relish with which some consumers embrace that power:
Here, a customer is boasting the belief that they outwitted an entity which would otherwise have defrauded them, if not for the influence of a review platform. That’s our first impression. But if we look a little closer, what we’re really seeing here is that the platform is a communications tool between consumer and brand. The reviewer is saying:
“The business has to do right by me if I put this on Yelp!”
What they’re communicating isn’t nice, and may well be untrue, but it is certainly a message they want to be amplified.
And this is where things get interesting.
Brand power: Full of surprises!
This month, I created a spreadsheet to organize data I was collecting about negative reviews being transformed into positive ones. I searched Yelp for the phrase “edited my review” in cities in every region of the United States and quickly amassed 50 examples for in-depth analysis. In the process, I discovered three pieces of information that could be relevant to your brand.
Surprise #1: Many consumers think of their reviews as living documents
In this first example, we see a customer who left a review after having trouble making an appointment and promising to update their content once they’d experienced actual service. As I combed through consumer sentiment, I was enlightened to discover that many people treat reviews as live objects, updating them over time to reflect evolving experiences. How far do reviewers go with this approach? Just look:
In the above example, the customer has handled their review in four separate updates spanning several days. If you look at the stars, they went from high to low to high again. It’s akin to live updates from a sporting event, and that honestly surprised me to see.
Brands should see this as good news because it means an initial negative review doesn’t have to be set in stone.
Surprise #2: Consumers can be incredibly forgiving
“What really defines you is how you handle the situation after you realize you made a mistake.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, and this edited review typifies for me the reasonableness I saw in case after case. Far from being the scary, irrational customers that business owners dread, it’s clear that many people have the basic understanding that mistakes can happen… and can be rectified. I even saw people forgiving auto dealerships for damaging their cars, once things had been made right.