OPINION: Why bad reviews don't always mean bad news

Jackie Maxted
By Jackie Maxted | 18 December 2012
Jackie Maxted is managing director of beautyheaven.com

I really don’t remember the last time I was out for dinner somewhere new and wandered around in the hope of finding just the right place to eat or drink.

These days someone will invariably whip out their iPhone and go to Urbanspoon or Yelp to see what's being talked about. And it’s highly likely this on-the-go information will ensure we find what we’re looking for.

So just like me, consumers are looking for positive recommendations to places to go and things to buy. But what about the reviews that are less flattering, they must be deeply detrimental to the brand and avoided at all costs?

Not necessarily.

The latest research shows a massive 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations; while 52% say reading positive online reviews makes them more likely to purchase something.

There’s no denying the influence sites like Trip Advisor, Urbanspoon or our very own Beautyheaven are wielding when it comes to the way consumers choose products and services.

It seems like every week that passes we see another social media disaster in the headlines, with the press always at-the-ready to spread stories of brands hijacked on Facebook or a misjudged hashtag campaign that has backfired for all the Twittersphere to see.

Reading these articles you could almost come to the conclusion that any brands that dared to stick their toes in the water are just asking to get burnt. Maybe the only safe way to engage with your customers is to bark at them from behind the safety of an above-the-line campaign?

But here’s the thing; negative reviews can actually help your business. I understand this train of thought goes against every marketer’s instinct. It makes sense that you don’t want people criticising your brand or products, and especially not to then share these negative views with the world

But the surprising truth is that bad reviews and other negative feedback can bring great benefits, from greater customer satisfaction to improved product development.

At Beautyheaven we know our members and visitors actually spend considerably longer on the site as a result of the variety of good and bad reviews. Not only that, but because they read a cross-section of opinions, they trust all the reviews they see far more - leading to far higher engagement, and of course purchase.

Every business will receive some bad reviews, and you simply can’t please everyone, but it’s how you choose to deal with them that will determine their usefulness.

I believe the success of social commerce is all down to trust. Consumers value reviews because they trust the unedited opinions of their peers far more than official communications from advertising or salesmen.

People are rightly very wary of sites offering wall-to-wall five stars and thumbs-up ratings. When all your reviews look like the marketing or communications team has handcrafted them, your customers are going to see right through them.

And as we all know, the minute you lose consumer trust, you lose sales.

Remember: when your customers are looking at any online review site they aren’t looking for a reason not to buy, they are actually digging deep to make absolutely sure they make the right choice.

And while it really is hard to listen to criticism, any bad reviews can be an incredibly valuable early warning system. It just depends on whether you want to really listen to them, not just pay lip service to what customers are saying.

And by taking it a step further and engaging directly, you play these changes out in public. Authenticity and transparency, wasn’t that what the social media revolution was supposed to be about?

There’s nothing for businesses to fear from bad reviews. They have the ability to increase consumer engagement and trust in your brand while improving customer satisfaction, turning browsers into purchasers, and purchasers into loyal repeat customers.

Attempting to hide bad reviews can have exactly the opposite effect: brand damage, reduced sales and a real loss of loyalty.

Bad reviews only damage businesses that don’t know how to deal with them. When handled well, you can use them to your advantage - no matter what your instincts tell you.

I’m not advising you to go out and court negative opinions, but it’s worth remembering what a great man once said: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Jackie Maxted
Managing Director

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