The Power of Customer Reviews and Word-Of-Mouth

The other day I was reading an article about the growing problem of ‘fake reviews.’  You know, companies being reviewed on Yelp and other sites, supposedly written by real customers, but actually ghostwritten by the company itself.  Apparently it’s quite common with hotels, and I’m sure lots of other businesses do it too.

And not only do consumers have to beware of “false positive” reviews written by the business itself, but businesses also have to worry about fake negative reviews written by competitors.

Clearly, reviews have a lot of power and influence, and some businesses are going to extreme lengths to control their online image. A few months ago, I wrote about how doctors were attempting to bar their patients from writing reviews of their experience, even to the point of having that patient sign a nondisclosure agreement expressly forbidding their writing of online reviews.

Any advertiser will admit that word of mouth is the strongest marketing tool.  However, isn’t it strange that these reviews are the word of mouth of people who we don’t know!  Yet we accept and heed their reviews anyways…  Does word of mouth matter when it’s from somebody you don’t know at all, as opposed to when it comes from a good friend?

I believe it is equally effective.  And the more I think about it, it seems even weirder we have such blind trust of strangers’ reviews.

Case in point: I was recently shopping for a USB/charging cable for an iPad.  Of course, I was shopping on Amazon, who had an abundance of vendors offering iPad cables.  However, a lot of these vendors were apparently selling knockoff Apple cords or cables of other inferior quality.  It was a challenge to wade through all the vendors, but I’m sure you can guess what ultimately guided my choice of vendor:  the customer reviews.

Many people were furious with specific vendors for ripping them off, mentioning these companies by name, so the decision process was pretty easy for me.  Anybody who had the slightest whiff of ‘knockoff’ was eliminated as a potential source.

What does this say?  Maybe we are wired by evolution to react to warnings without much deliberation or questioning.  If our ancestors heard a rustle in the nearby bushes, it’s probably not a lion, but it possibly could be one.  Better to steer clear of the chance of a threat and live to see another day.  We probably evolved to overreact to potential risk and be extra-cautious- just in case the potential threat turns out to be valid.

So what lessons can we draw from this as we use social media to market our businesses and products?

A few ideas:

  • Take every consumer complaint absolutely seriously.  Those people are not only influencing their friends; they are influencing complete strangers.
  • Be vigilant about how your professional services are reviewed by others online.
  • If you find a negative review, engage with that angry customer and neutralize the conflict.
  • Better yet, be visible in your interactions with that dissatisfied customer.  If possible, add a reply to the post so that others who are reading about you will see this and understand not only the customer’s side, but your side as well.


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