Review culture improves businesses for the benefit of customers

Nowadays, reviews can make or break a business. In large numbers, they can elevate it to new heights or haul it into the abyss. The result? A better experience for consumers

The modern review culture has forced businesses to elevate their customer service game

The internet, in all its glory, has given the individual a world stage. Any person, no matter who or where they are, can have their voice heard from Tivat to Timbuktu with the simple press of a button. Naturally, the revolution in information sharing has led to another within consumer culture: the now-indispensable online review. This particular consequence of the digital age has added a whole new dimension to the dynamic between customers and businesses.

For the first time in history, companies are at the mercy of immortalised feedback that is available for the whole world to see. Many organisations have embraced this evolution with gusto; some use it as an all-important key in their shared economy offerings, while others have even created entire businesses off the back of it. Of course, there are those that miss the whole point of reviews altogether and a small minority that resort to falsification or penalisation – being in its early stages, review culture is a phenomenon not without its flaws.

The customer is always right

Almost all business leaders subscribe to the philosophy of customer-centricity. For centuries, word of mouth played the dominant role in this paradigm, but the internet has set an entirely different stage for it. “The review culture, fronted by the likes of TripAdvisor and integrated into most of the big e-commerce sites, such as Amazon and eBay, continues to give consumers a louder voice”, observed Patricia Hyde, Field Marketing Manager at Zendesk. “Review culture allows the consumer a safety net and reassurance that the product they’re buying is of good quality. If consumers are dissatisfied, they have the fall-back of complaining about the brand and, at the very least, denting the image the brand has with other potential consumers, if they’re unable to obtain a refund or replacement.”

It has become commonplace for an array of customer reviews to appear instantaneously for almost anything – from the calzone made by a local Italian restaurant to the latest iPhone by Apple, or even the manners of a shop assistant at Walmart. “Reviews are increasingly becoming an integral part of the customer journey. The latest figures from the BrightLocal Consumer Report state that 92 percent of buyers are making decisions based on the reviews they read online”, said Andrew Mabbutt, CEO of global ratings and reviews provider Feefo. “It all comes down to trust.”

As such, when seeking holiday accommodation, individuals can now base their choices on the commentary provided by those who have been there and done that. Reviews can help a consumer to finalise their decision on a kitchen appliance based not on the product’s merits as claimed by the manufacturer, but on those given by their peers. This multinational and incessant dialogue has taken so much out of the guesswork previously required in making a purchase that consumers now feel more confident than ever before.

It has become commonplace for an array of customer reviews to appear instantaneously for almost anything – from the calzone made by a local Italian restaurant to the latest iPhone by Apple

Social media further facilitates the ongoing communication between consumers and businesses. “Social media is an accelerator as well as a platform in its own right. Indeed, many consumers are using social media as a first port of call to engage with customer service teams”, observed Hyde. While platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have helped to prompt this transformation, Hyde argued that more is at play: “It’s really just part of a zeitgeist – a wider cultural shift to empower consumers to give feedback and opinion on brands and their products.”

All publicity is good publicity
Within seconds, a bad review can pass through the hands of thousands, even millions of potential customers, damning the company that offered a lousy product or service. Likewise, an excellent review can help to elevate a company to incredible heights, which, predictably, has inspired some to falsify feedback in order to get ahead.

“A positive online rating can be key to boosting traffic to a business, with one caveat: the rating must be verified as genuine”, Mabbutt explained. “Google uses purchase-verified reviews, supplied by trusted review platforms, to generate their seller ratings. These display as stars in organic search listings and AdWords campaigns. Their studies suggest that this can increase the click-through rate to websites by as much as 17 percent, and lower the cost of pay-per-click campaigns. Online ratings are the digital word of mouth: BrightLocal’s most recent survey found that 88 percent of consumers trust online ratings as much as personal recommendations, with 72 percent saying that a good online rating would make them trust a business more.”

Somewhat surprisingly, negative reviews have a positive role to play as well. According to the National Association of Retail Marketing (NARM), foul play is suspected by around 30 percent of online consumers if there are only positive reviews available. Moreover, consumers are likely to spend more time on a website if there are criticisms to read. NARM also found that 95 percent of customers will return to a website if an issue has been resolved quickly.

“Customer feedback is a wealth of information that can be turned into actionable insights. Businesses should look to utilise a review platform with analytic and reporting facilities, allowing them to be alerted to any feedback, respond immediately and publicly, and map trends in what their customers are saying”, explained Mabbutt.

Tight gap
Amid this trend, review platforms have an increasingly important role to play by bridging the gap between customers and businesses in an objective space. Sites such as TripAdvisor catalogue, categorise and organise reviews, making it far easier and quicker for consumers to scour through the opinions of those both near and far in order to make a well-informed choice. And, perhaps even more importantly, they enhance reliability considerably because their own reputation and business is on the line.

Consequently, review platforms have become an integral part of consumerism, but they also provide invaluable information for companies. “Most platforms, including Feefo, give businesses the opportunity to respond to their customers’ feedback and use the platform as a brand reputation tool”, Mabbutt said. “Review platforms provide the opportunity for businesses to hear the voice of the customer: valuable data that can be converted into increased traffic, sales and business insights.”

At present, there are some companies that take advantage of this relatively novel cultural phenomenon, either through the falsification of reviews or the chastisement of those that dare speak ill of a product or service. While they threaten the system and the foundation of trust it rests upon, it is only a matter of time before such creases are ironed out through intelligent algorithms and non-disparagement legislation. When that happens, review culture will become practically infallible, allowing advice, support and protection for the consumer, while necessitating superior practices from corporations as well.

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