Consumer review websites: a force to be reckoned with

Love them or hate them, consumer review websites are now firmly entrenched in the mainstream and should be taken seriously by business owners.

Review sites are here to stay

Websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Angie’s List got this movement off the ground, but the full integration of reviews into online behemoths like Facebook, Google and Amazon have made them primary drivers of purchasing decisions, especially for consumer-facing businesses.

Not convinced?  Consider:

  • Vendasta study reveals that 92 percent of consumers read online reviews.
  • BrightLocal survey reports that 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation
  • Harvard Business School study found that when a restaurant boosts its Yelp score by one full star, it can see revenues increase 5 to 9 percent.

These are just a few of hundreds of statistics showing what a force reviews represent across the marketing landscape. They’re here to stay and can dramatically impact your business…positively or negatively.

The Wild Wild West

While there has been some effort to ensure that online reviews are legitimate and based on real experiences, there’s no doubt that this remains a primarily unregulated space.  This leaves many business owners feeling vulnerable to fake or inaccurate reviews from emotional customers or worse yet, a competitor with bad intentions. I’ll cover some ways to react to these a bit later.

On the positive side, online reviews represent a real opportunity to increase revenue. As the research indicates, they are a primary source of leads for countless businesses worldwide. So don’t let the “Wild Wild West” nature of reviews overwhelm you, and instead put a plan in place to capitalize on this powerful marketing tool.

So how do you do that?  Here are some basic tips to get you started.


Monitor, Monitor, Monitor: Far too many companies go days, weeks or even months without checking recent reviews. Daily monitoring (or even hourly depending on your business type) should become a part of your normal operations. Ignoring what is publicly being said about your business can spiral even the most minor situations out of control.

During a recent conversation at a networking event, I heard a story from a company that did not realize that they were being reviewed on Facebook.  A fairly minor complaint was not responded to and resulted in comments from dozens of people.  Worse yet, it evolved into a broader discussion of how this company must not care about customers if they aren’t responding to concerns.  This went on for several weeks, but could have been remedied immediately had they been monitoring for Facebook reviews,

These avoidable situations happen more than they should.  Designate a few key people, including yourself, to keeping an eye on what’s being said at all times. 

Respond (when appropriate): Contrary to some, I am not an advocate for responding to every routine review posted. If you have dozens of five-star reviews, it seems a bit forced and redundant to simply thank each one for a great review. Let the great reviews speak for themselves. However, there are certain positive reviews that you may choose to respond to. Those that are particularly inspiring or emotional, go to great lengths to compliment your business, or compliment an individual employee are good candidates for a personalized response. Responding to a select group of positive reviews will remind your customers that you are paying attention.

Negative reviews come in many forms, and I’d argue that you should respond to most, if not all, of them.  If it is as simple as someone not liking you’re product or service, a simple “We’re sorry you did not enjoy your experience, and please feel to share more details with me at….” will suffice.

If it’s a bit more concerning and gets into things like poor customer service, safety issues or negligence, a more specific response such as “We take these matters very seriously and are currently investigating. I encourage you to contact me with more details at….” is called for immediately.  Showing customers that you are taking action can minimize damage to your brand.

Finally, inaccurate or altogether fake reviews do appear from time to time.  Here’s a recent example: a local dentist (and client of S&A Communications) enjoys extremely high ratings across all review sites.  A one-star Facebook review appeared, questioning his dentistry skills and the cleanliness of his exam rooms. Such a review could be devastating to a medical practice. In this case, he was quickly able to verify that he did not have a patient with the name of the reviewer.  A simple reply questioning whether she was reviewing the right practice was posted immediately. The review was deleted by the reviewer in this case. Even if the review had stayed online, it would be clear to visitors that it had no merit.

When a suspected fake review appears, verify its inaccuracy as fast as possible and respond with specific information to discredit it. 

Be Genuine: Make sure your replies are always personalized to the individual review. Even some of the world’s most prolific brands fall way short in this regard.  How often have you seen brands reply to complaints or questions with the same stock response, over and over again? These disingenuous (insulting,really) replies are worse than not responding at all, in my opinion. The approach suggests that robots are replying, and that the company has no real interest in taking a complaint seriously.

Take the time to write a brief personalized response. The extra effort is well-worth it.

Encourage Reviews But Don’t CompensateBy all means, encourage your customers to leave a review. It shows confidence in your product or service, and consumers are very receptive to this request…70 percent of them will leave a review when asked.

Compensating customers for reviews is never a good idea. It sends the entirely wrong message and suggests that your business is otherwise not worthy of a positive review. While it is legal to compensate for reviews, the Federal Trade Commission has made it clear that the review must disclose they received some form of monetary or non-monetary compensation. Such a disclosure would render the review as illegitimate to most consumers. And if you’re thinking about ignoring this regulation, don’t.  Here’s an example of what the FTC can do.

Develop a strategy that works for you

Reviews impact different businesses in different ways, and there’s certainly no cookie-cutter formula that will work for all. What is universal is that there’s no upside in doing nothing.

If you’ve ignored reviews up until now, start by committing to monitor what’s being said and respond to the most concerning reviews first. You can evolve your strategy from there and determine what’s most appropriate to your particular business. I can assure you that your customers will notice and appreciate that you’re paying attention.

Author: Mike Trainor
Mike Trainor is our Vice President.

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