The psychology and importance of online reviews
What makes customers write reviews? Why are reviews so powerful? And how can you make them work for your business?
The feedback medium for every context
The review is now a near-ubiquitous part of the online experience, popping up everywhere from career-planning to comparing laundry detergent. It’s a format that’s proven to be extremely versatile, as it lends itself to all kinds of contexts and is accessible to a wide range of users. Basically anyone with access to an internet or mobile connection can leave a review, and thanks to the way reviews have become embedded in our culture, it’s second nature to most of us to write them, especially when prompted to do so by a company or platform.
The power of a review
Reviews are an invaluable part of a customer, employee or end-user journey, and a vehicle for dialogue between consumers and brands. Whether they are positive or negative, online reviews are a rich source of insight for businesses. When collected and analyzed appropriately, reviews can tell you
- Where an experience stands or fails, and where you might need to make improvements
- What kind of perceptions and values are attributed to your brand by its end-users
- How you’re viewed relative to your competitors
- Where you could go next - reviews often point out desired features or possible developments on current products and services
- What kinds of people are using your offering, and what they expect from it
- When, and how, to close the experience gap
Here are a few of the ways online reviews can impact on your business:
Brand Experience (BX)
The reviews that speak to BX are general – but often quite detailed – comments about your company, brand, branch or store. This type of review covers the customer’s overall impression, and can include all kinds of things, from their expectations of your product range to the temperature of a cafe or store. As well as helping to identify trends in what customers expect and appreciate, they can help you gather an overview of sentiment towards your brand and the kind of emotions your brand experiences elicit.
Customer Experience (CX)
A customer experience might happen online, in person, over the phone or over chat. Reviews of the CX you provide may touch on the time taken to resolve a ticket or case, how well trained and personable or how empowered the agent answering was, and how confident the customer felt that their needs were understood and would be met by the business.
Product Experience (PX)
Product-focused reviewing is one of the longest-established uses of the format, and can help you evaluate features and performance, how well customer expectations were met and how your service or product is doing versus its competitors.
Employee Experience (EX)
A recently-emerging use of the review is to give feedback on employers and experiences at work. Reviews may come from current or ex employees and are often – understandably – anonymous. While they can be a tough read, these EX reviews have immense potential for improving your business, if you’re equipped to analyze and interpret them.
Why do we trust reviews?
There are 5 big drivers behind the trust we have for online reviews (even though around 10% of reviews are probably fake):
Being at a distance from the action
When we research a purchase or a life decision online, we have none of the cues that would help us in the real world. We can’t see, touch, hear, smell or taste the product or experience on offer. We’re reduced to a relatively small window of information. Having someone describe their own real-life experience with something is a rich additional source of information.
The ‘official’ information about a product or service is always provided by the company selling the item – a biased source. Reviews offer a valuable alternative to this because they’re impartial and honest (at least, we hope they are). Like word of mouth, reviews come from people without a vested interest in us making a purchase.
Online reviews from real people speak our language, and give us information about the things we care about most. These might be practical details the seller has glossed over, like if there’s disabled access to a venue or whether free Wi-Fi is available. When reviews play this role, businesses should pay close attention, as there’s an opportunity to close the experience gap between what’s expected and what’s being offered.
Reviews are a form of social proof. That means they come from somebody a lot like you and they indicate how you should behave. Humans, being social animals, place a lot of value on the opinions and behaviors of our peers, and we like to see what others do before making our own choices. Positive reviews indicate that a company or product is tried and tested by others in our ‘group’. That gives us the confidence to go ahead and try it for ourselves.
When there are lots of reviews available, the customer can see a range of outcomes that they could experience if they purchase. For example, let’s say the customer is considering a new USB charging cable from an unknown brand. They might, like 75% of reviewers, feel they’ve had good value for money and use the cable on a daily basis without issue. Or like the other 25%, they might end up with a dud product which doesn’t work, and experience a poor customer experience when they try to get it replaced. With odds like these on display, it’s easier to make an informed decision.
What motivates reviewing behavior?
We know people read and value online reviews, but what makes us want to write them?
We want our voice heard
Reviews allow us to express ourselves and have our experiences heard and validated, whether by fellow consumers or by the business we’re reviewing. A review can be a chance to vent after a bad experience, or to share excitement and pleasure after a good one.
We want to reward the company
According to research from Trustpilot, reviewers are often motivated by a very good experience to write a positive review that will be of value to the company and help them get more business.
Writing reviews can be driven by a desire to help other people, either by pointing them towards a good experience, helping them avoid a bad one, or providing additional information to help them make a decision.
It feels safe
Reviews are a chance for consumers to be honest about a business without feeling that their future experiences will be compromised if they say something negative. In fact, they might prefer leaving a review to other forms of feedback like answering surveys, which may feel a bit more personal. That’s one good reason to include reviews as well as other forms of feedback in your experience management program, so you can capture data from a wider sample of your audience.
Leaders in the review space
There are lots of review platforms out there, from the stalwarts that have been around for decades to the challengers entering the space.
- All of the above
Best practice tips
These tips are essential for getting the most out of online reviews for your business:
Respond to bad reviews
Closing the loop on negative reviews is a crucial part of the feedback cycle. It shows that you welcome feedback and take it seriously, that you’re keeping track of the reviews customers offer, and that customer experience is a priority for you. On an individual level, responding to feedback can transform a negative experience into a positive one and make an advocate out of a detractor, so it’s a valuable practice even if it’s via private message or offline channel.
Use reviews in your marketing
As we covered earlier, reviews are a form of social proof. That’s why it’s a great idea to place positive review scores and testimonials center stage in your marketing. Add them to your website, print them on flyers and display ads, and you’re giving your potential customers a powerful nudge towards conversion.
Encourage people to leave reviews
Many people need a nudge before they will leave a review, so don’t hesitate to include lots of reminders in your customer touchpoints, whether on a webpage, an email footer, at the bottom of a receipt or restaurant bill, or in your marketing messages. These kinds of prompts can often go hand in hand with the testimonial marketing we mention above. In fact, the social proof factor means that seeing other people’s reviews may be a driver towards customers leaving your own.
How we can help
Qualtrics Experience Management tools can help you to collect, analyze and develop insights from your review data.
Our online reputation management tool integrates online reviews with the rest of your experience data and allows you to contact customers and close the loop on reviews, even those on third-party sites. TextIQ enables you to analyze large quantities of natural language, such as open text fields and review copy, and develop actionable insights in moments.
Employee experience programs from Qualtrics integrate directly with review platforms like Glassdoor and Indeed, so you can review and analyze employee feedback on a single platform.
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