When Is a 4-Star Rating Better Than a 5-Star Rating?

The answer? “Almost always.” The reason is simple; consumers do not expect a business to be perfect. In fact, oftentimes consumers are skeptical of a business with one or two 5-star ratings versus a second merchant that has a well-developed amount of reviews (more than five) with varying scores. The key the consumer is looking for is how the business engages with consumers that leave less-than-stellar ratings and how they work with the consumer to resolve their issue.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
– Epictetus

This is not the first time I have written about this topic, however, recently I was invited to speak at the UniGroup Learning Conference where we had a great exchange of ideas and ways to better manage and learn from interactions with customers.

I thought it might be helpful to review some of the best practices that have been developed around a successful ratings and reviews management program.

1) Develop Content

The first issue that most businesses have is a lack of ratings and reviews for their business. So the first tactic is to encourage customers to leave feedback. The key here is how and when you ask for the customer to leave feedback. Generally speaking, encouragement at the time of purchase is the best time, as the buyer of your product or service is happiest. There is no “rocket science” here. Just like the persistent sales person, the more you ask the more you receive. Merchants that hand out detailed instructions of where (which websites) and how to leave feedback have tended to get the most benefit. I have one client that has a 3×5 card with the headline “Can You Spare 5 Minutes to Help My Business?” What I like about this tactic is that it sets an expectation of time for potential posters who have never left a review, which is the majority of the U.S. population. In terms of which websites to ask for, in order of importance:

  • Google+
  • Yelp
  • Vertical Niche Sites (e.g., TripAdvisor for travel)
  • Yahoo
  • Bing
  • Internet Yellow Pages and City Guide Sites

2) Monitor Your Reviews

There are a number of online software providers that can monitor your profile pages and listings to alert you to posts about your business. Here are just a few:

These solutions can help you determine when and where reviews, both positive and negative, are published about your business. Many include review sentiment determination, trending, and simple counts.

3) Be Prepared to Respond

All responses should be generated from one source so that you maintain a consistent “voice” in dealing with responding to ratings and reviews. When should you respond? Always. The biggest missed opportunity I have seen in the marketplace is the fact that most businesses that receive favorable reviews do not thank or comment on the review. There are two big reasons to do this. First, by thanking your customers you encourage a dialogue that others can see and it just may encourage additional posts from happy customers if they know they will be rewarded with a kind word. Second, your response creates review page “real estate” so if you do have a less-than-stellar review below the positive review, you just pushed that commentary a little lower down the page.

You hope this day will never come – but inevitably it will. You get a very nasty ratings and review post to one of your listings. Now what?

  • Once aware, try to respond immediately
  • Don’t be aggressive
  • Keep it brief and try to take the conversation offline

Always provide a response, with an apology when appropriate, and the steps being taken to resolve the issue. Now is the time to move the conversation offline. Provide a person’s name and local telephone number or e-mail address to respond to. Here is where personalization goes a long way. Do not use generic e-mails (e.g., customerservice@abcCompany.com) or 800 numbers. As you move into error resolution, you want the consumer and then everyone else seeing your response post, to feel that the issue is being reviewed and dealt with by an individual and not department.

Every once in a while a business receives a personal or unwarranted attack that can be from a competitor or a disgruntled employee that left on bad terms. Most ratings and review sites have a facility for reporting these malicious attacks. But keep in mind, you will have to, in most cases, definitively show proof that the material is fictitious. These processes will not make an undesired review go away.

4) Ratings and Reviews Are Free Market Research

All too often merchants get defensive about their business and look at the ratings and review information as an annoyance that needs to be dealt with and then discarded. Instead, this is real-time feedback that can be used to improve your product service offerings on the manner in which they are communicated and delivered to the marketplace. Take advantage of this feedback to make continuous improvement.

Ratings and reviews are one of the top sources of information that consumers use to pick the companies and brands to purchase from. Additionally, several of the search engines use this content as a ranking factor for local listings. Make sure you are proactively increasing and curating content about the reputation of your business…or else your customers will do it for you.

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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