Reading customer reviews has become a key part of the online shopping experience for many people. According to an Opinion Research Corporation study released a few months ago, 84 percent of consumers said such reviews influenced their decision on whether or not to buy a product or service. Half of the respondents used such reviews early in their decision-making process.
Says Linda Shea, SVP and global managing director of Opinion Research Corporation's Customer Strategies Practice:
Taking a more proactive approach to participating in, monitoring and controlling online reviews may very well be one of the many ways organizations can influence both consumer consideration, and, ultimately, the buying decision.
Hmmm. The idea of "controlling" reviews is problematic, especially when it involves posting only good reviews and omitting the bad. Because reviews are so subjective and tastes vary so widely, you expect some good with the bad. Thus presenting only glowing endorsements makes consumers suspicious. When I interviewed Clara Shih, author of "The Facebook Era," she told me:
I don't think it's a bad thing for there to sometimes be negative comments about your company. It's how we get better. It's how we respond to those comments. I think it's a little suspicious if you go to a discussion forum and there are never any complaints.
A Forbes article makes the same point: Thoughtful responses to negative online reviews can improve customer conversion rates. It certainly works this way in the offline world. If a restaurant manager goes to the trouble of apologizing for a bad meal or slow service, explains the anomalous nature of a problem and refunds the cost or otherwise makes it right, I'll be far more likely to give the place another try. And I'll probably even tell my friends about it.
Echoing Shih, Forbes reports some companies, like luggage retailer eBags, use negative feedback to improve their products. Responding promptly and courteously to disgruntled buyers can make them "your best cheerleader and your customers for life," says Tim Harris, co-CEO of La Tienda, an online retailer of gourmet foodstuffs from Spain.
The article also offers an interesting insight from Bazaarvoice, a provider of customer-review software. Its studies show that revealing a product's weaknesses sets realistic expectations, thus reducing the number of product returns.