THE BLOG
09/28/2016 02:48 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2017

The Science of Five-Star Customer Reviews

The customer review is becoming a cornerstone of marketing initiatives as it ties together advertising, credible sources, and social dynamics in one platform, often serving as the reason for why a consumer or business decided to make a purchase of a particular product or service. Therefore, knowing more about how individuals construct customer reviews would be something that I and many other business owners would want to know so that we could determine how to get the greatest ROI from this type of marketing tool.

The ConsumerAffairs study shared key findings making a strong case for proactive review collection timed to allow customers time to purchase and use the products and services. This research has helped to create a complete picture of the full customer experience that is capable of offering more insights.

More than 75% of the consumers surveyed reported positive experiences


Previously, I thought that I had to wait for reviews to roll in organically. However, the problem with this approach is many consumers who take the time to leave feedback are doing so because they are trying to solve an issue. The longer it takes to get a response from the brand, the more likely it is to receive a negative review.

The silent majority of customers are generally satisfied, as indicated by the results of the ConsumerAffairs study. Knowing this means that I had to find ways to tap into this silent customer base to uncover more feedback and get a full picture of their experiences. With a broader spectrum of reviews, data can be analyzed to spot trends, identify systemic issues, and improve the entire customer experience.

Product function and performance plays the strongest role in earning more positive reviews


When looking at the various customer experience features impacting positive reviews, function and performance were at the top of the list.I have found that collecting customer feedback is an affordable way to do this with less strain on available resources. Using reviews to improve products to meet customer needs has given my business a strategic advantage and turned reviews into a valuable market research tool.

Customer service plays the strongest role in receiving negative reviews


The easiest way to reduce the amount of negative reviews is to offer customer service. I have found that outstanding customer service can turn even the unhappiest of customers into brand advocates. ConsumerAffairs confirmed this by looking at star ratings when the customer experience started off bad and an effort to improve the experience was made. The resulting data indicated consumers will generally give a more positive rating when the brand follows up from a bad first impression and aims to resolve those issues.

An overall rating has the potential to amplify customer ratings for better and worse


If there are areas where my brand was struggling to please customers, asking for a general rating of their experience could result in even lower ratings. This meant that I had to try something different. What I found worked was to simply provide an outstanding customer experience. This would keep customers happy and earn new customers. When I receive negative feedback, I do ask customers to rate several individual areas of the customer experience and average those ratings out for an overall rating. This strategy has provided a way to find which factors are falling short for customers and highlight positive experiences as consumers research my brand.

Give customers a chance to get the full experience


Often, a review is requested a mere few days after a purchase is made. This may not be an adequate amount of time for a customer to experience the product or service. However, I realized it didn't help to wait too long either because this resulted in an inaccurate picture of the customer experience. For example, if a product loses functionality over time, a follow-up request for additional feedback can help to find ways to lengthen the time a customer can use your product.

Consider the ways a consumer begins to view a review as untrustworthy


Much scientific thought has gone into the various ways that a consumer begins to see a review as less trustworthy. One of the ways is to consider the actual content of the review. Studies have found that consumers don't trust when they are negative or overly critical. However, other alerts are reviews that are too broad, have too many grammatical errors, and are too emotional or involve complaining as well as those that appear to be too glowing, contain bias, or are pandering to the brand.

Some consumers also wonder if incentives make a review less trustworthy although 31% believed it wouldn't. An interesting scientific approach was to see how consumers felt given the fact that they either knew a reviewer received money or if they weren't told the reviewer was given a financial incentive. The group that was told that the reviewer was paid believed that a slightly more positive review was more trustworthy when the reviewer was not paid. On the other hand, the group that was informed that the reviewer was not paid believed that a slightly more negative review was an indication the reviewer was more trustworthy when they were not paid. Likewise, items given as a prize or as a free product in exchange for a review was believed to be a more biased review by those consumers that participated in the research study. Cash was considered to be less bias-inducing than other actions like a donation to charity.

Considering these perspectives has helped my team to avoid selecting the types of strategies that interfere with the belief that the reviews are credible enough to influence a purchase decision in a particular product or service.

Remember to Incorporate These Findings in Your Review Strategy

When you are creating your review strategy, remember these findings from the research and from the experiences business owners like myself have had with developing and managing a review process:
  • Proactive (unbiased) review collection is clearly beneficial to brands based on the sentiment of the ratings.
  • The customer experience feature that plays a role in positive reviews is function and performance of the product itself while the customer experience feature that plays a role in negative reviews is customer service.
  • Just requesting an overall rating without asking reviewers to rate each factor of the experience amplified the positive AND negative ratings.
  • Individual ratings created dilution of sentiment, but timing the review request before a brand can recover from a bad first impression means they could get more negative reviews instead of more positive sentiment after recovering and resolving an issue in a follow up engagement.
  • It is better to consumers to have a bad experience followed by a good experience than to get an overall bad experience.
  • Both the content of the review and whether or not a reviewer has been incentivized in some way does impact upon a consumer's opinion about the trustworthiness of a review.
Knowing these findings can help any business that is struggling with hitting a sweet spot on review timing and that are seeking the best ways to get ROI from review collection.