Stronger Sales From Negative Reviews?
Surely Not

Paul Stratford, Creative Director

Good reviews are dynamite. We all know that. But what about bad reviews? It’s well-versed that around 86% of consumers read reviews prior to making a purchase.

Which causes businesses a problem.

The diner that found a fly in their soup. The business let down by a shaky internet provider. The customer who had a nightmare with the delivery driver.

In days gone by, customer experience was consigned to gossips at the bus-stop. Yesterday’s news was tomorrow’s chip-paper. Today, yesterday’s news trends on Twitter and hovers around on the Daily Mail website for what feels like an eternity. And, it pushes down your 5-star customer review rating.

Is anything less than a 5-star rating a disaster?

Tests have shown the optimal rating for brands is 4.7 stars. This has just the right blend of trust and believable, realistic positivity for successful sales conversions.

Instead of focusing on the perfect 5-star review, it’s more important to gather a volume of reviews. Satisfied customers are unlikely to leave a review unless incentivised. An American Express survey found people are nearly 40% more likely to tell others about a bad experience than a good experience. Reviews and ratings are the unhappy customer’s best channel for getting noticed. [Morrison’s “Pie Gate” is a classic example.]

Tests with our clients have shown positive reviews are 5 times harder to gain than negative reviews. For every positive review there is a natural chance of getting 5 negative reviews -unless you can motivate your best customers into leaving positive reviews. The mathematics of the situation mean just one 1-star rating can drop a status of 4-stars to an average of 3.4 stars. Given the volume of reviews you’re likely to get and the natural percentage that will be negative, you have a lot of work to get back to 4 stars, let alone the ideal of 4.7 stars. But is it possible to encourage customers into willingly leaving positive reviews?

Increase your reviews and beat the odds

If you want something, you need to do more than just ask nicely. Which is why you need to build review-gathering into your marketing strategy. Our approach to managing reviews is to be Proactive, Reactive and Responsive. But before that we swear by actively listening to your customer base.

Bigger Ears. Bigger Eyes.

Social listening is a powerful tool. See it as an early detection system. An opportunity to steer your ship away from disaster. If you can hear what your customers and brand detractors are saying about you and your brand, you’re able to do something about it. Has Lisa from Hoxton just tweeted about the disappointing lack of zing in the dressing on her falafel salad? What about Jim from Solihull who’s just added a new photo on Instagram of your brand of coffee, with the hashtag #coffeelove. If you don’t listen, you won’t know.

Proactive review management

Call it the bread-and-butter of review gathering. Get on the front foot and encourage honest reviews by emailing customer satisfaction surveys to customers, incentivising reviews with competitions or future money-off coupons and by creating official reviewers among your customer base. You’ll build up a bank of honest reviews and start eroding the effect of an occasional 1- or 2-star review. Even more helpfully it gives your potential customers an honest picture of your product. Much more useful than the all-or-nothing situation when brands don’t actively solicit reviews from their customers.

The problem with this approach is that it does little to pacify customers who have a genuine issue to be addressed. For this you must also be Reactive.

React to the negative

Reacting well to a negative situation always pays. Instead of letting Lisa’s disappointment with her falafel start trending, you can intervene. A quick reaction from your social media team will help address the situation. “Oh dear, I understand your disappointment. @LisaHox could you DM me so we can look into this for you?”. You can then deal with the issue and compensate your customer.

The cleverest brands compensate above-and-beyond expectations. You could for instance:

  1. Give Lisa her money back.
  2. Give her vouchers to cover a week’s worth of lunches.
  3. Arrange for a delivery of falafel salads to arrive at her workplace, so everyone in her office gets one.
  4. Invite her for a back of shop tour to show her how your team creates the dishes she loves.

Going beyond the norm does more than subdue her bored Twitter rant. Imagine how happy she (and her colleagues) will be with a free delivery of falafel? You’ll convert her from a brand detractor into a loyal brand advocate. And once she’s happy with the way you’ve handled the situation you can politely ask her to edit any negative reviews she’s written.

Responding graciously to negative reviews on your brand or business shows you’re honest and present in your business. Consumers are inherently sceptical. Deleting every negative or less-than-perfect review you receive alerts potential customers to something fishy going on. Turns out there’s good reason for the optimal review rating of 4.7 stars.

Listening and reacting to your customers also alerts you to issues in their infancy. Does Lisa’s complaint about her bland salad dressing correlate with messages from elsewhere? If you have similar comments in multiple locations, it’s time to investigate further. It could be as simple as a misprint in the recipe guide. Or an error by one of your suppliers. But either of these situations has implications for allergen mislabelling, which could result in grave consequences. Taking your customers’ comments seriously allows you to address problems at the earliest opportunity and gives you a head start in addressing consequences that may arise from small errors.

Respond to the positive

It’s easy to forget about leveraging the positive. We’re consumed with firefighting and chasing bread-and-butter reviews and forget to go after the low-hanging fruit. Getting in touch with Jim and his Instagram coffee habit will pay dividends if you do so in the right way. You could:

  1. Like his post, comment on it and share it.
  2. Ask him to leave you a video testimonial for use in your PR campaign.
  3. Invite him and other “super fans” to take part in market research taste testing
  4. Bring him on board as an “official reviewer”.

Likewise, if someone’s left you a glowing review, court them for more compliments and see how far you can take the relationship. You can rely on your customers’ absolute delight at being noticed. Even more importantly, Jim and other happy reviewers unknowingly join the ranks of Brand Advocate; people you can rely on to defend your brand and business should things go awry.

Plan for Disaster. Plan for Success.

A reactive and responsive approach to customer service is only possible with competent social listening and a pre-agreed response to every potential situation. Which is why you need to get negative.

Negativity is the enemy of creativity and success. But when you’re customer service planning, thinking through each possible negative situation is necessary. The book Brand Vandals suggests building a flowchart to plan for every possible disaster, giving your customer frontline the flexibility to respond quickly and appropriately.

We agree. Building a set of procedures is your best tool for turning negative situations into something you can capitalise on. You must include relevant positive incidents as much as negative situations. Crucially, your procedures must result in pre-approved courses of action. A good set of procedures gives those at the forefront of customer service the tools to make the right decision for your brand without the need for a lengthy approval process. Give your social media and customer care team the tools to not only satisfy your customers, but to delight them. You’ll soon see those customer review ratings creeping up. And you can bet your team will feel happier too.

Can you turn your bad reviews into your best sales tool? We think so. Just remember to:

  1. Proactively collect as many reviews as you can. This puts bad reviews into context and gives potential customers a rounded view. It also helps you raise your rating without deleting comments.
  2. Respond to all reviews, good and bad. Be gracious, honest and fair.
  3. Make things right. If someone has had a bad experience with your brand, it’s up to you to turn that around. Remember the adage “It’s not the mistake that matters, but the way you deal with it that counts”. A good response can turn even the fiercest cynic into a brand advocate.
  4. Show your fans some love. Lots of it in fact. They’ll become your staunchest defenders in times of trouble.
  5. Always have a plan in place. Make sure your front-line staff can respond in every single eventuality and give them the freedom to make decisions without having to ask for approval.

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