When you first encounter a bad review for your product, service or business you’ll be upset. You might be angry, particularly if the review seems to be untrue or unfair. You might be anxious about how the review could affect your business. Your first impulse is to delete the review if you can, or post a detailed refutation if you can’t. But are all bad reviews equally dangerous? The short answer is, “No.”
Reviews are important
Today’s consumer depends on reviews and ratings. One reason Amazon is now the first choice for product searches despite Google’s dominance of web and mobile search is their rich review ecosystem. Customers can not only find products, they can see what other people say about those products.
Many studies show that reviews influence most buying decisions. Recent data shows that 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, a big jump from 67% ten years earlier.
Bad reviews can be devastating. 92% of customers report that negative reviews make them less likely to use a business.
While bad reviews are never something a business should strive for, there are a few situations where a bad review or two can be good for business:
Unfair reviews increase positive reactions
I once read a one-star Amazon review for a book that began, “I haven’t actually read this book, but…” The reviewer apparently disliked the author and knew the book was terrible without buying it or even opening it. This is a review that most shoppers would consider to be unfair.
Other unfair reviews might penalize a product for not functioning as the reviewer expected, even when it was clear the product wasn’t intended to work that way. Or, a reviewer might give a product a low rating because the post office crushed the package.
These kinds of reviews are the most infuriating because they ARE unfair. But, there’s good news. A 2019 study found that shoppers can perceive reviews as unfair just as you can. Experiments showed that negative reviews that seemed unjustified increased empathy for the firm. The boost in positive feelings manifested itself in higher intent to purchase and larger purchase values.
To conclude the book review story: I reported the review from the admitted non-reader to Amazon as a courtesy to a fellow author. I have no idea if Amazon removed it, but in light of this research I probably should have let it stand as an empathy-builder.
Bad reviews increase trust
Most businesses would love to have every review be a five-star review. A business that gets no negative reviews is clearly performing in a way that makes customers happy. The downside: research shows that entirely positive reviews are less credible and persuasive to shoppers.
The effect of a few bad reviews can be huge. One study showed shoppers interacting with negative reviews stayed five times longer on a website as those that didn’t, and that those shoppers converted to buyers at an 85% higher rate.
In fact, a study at Northwestern University showed that review in the 4.0 to 4.7 range maximized sales.
Bad reviews drive smarter decisions
When I’m shopping and find a product that seems right, before I buy I always look at the reviews. First, I look at the overall rating – I rarely buy a product that’s below 4.0. Lower ratings usually indicate quality problems, difficulty in use, or other problems I’d prefer to avoid.
Then, I dig into the review details. It’s not the glowing five-star reviews that I gravitate to, but rather the critical reviews. I look first at three-star reviews. I’ve found these are usually more thoughtful and contain more information than one-star reviews. If the problems or flaws highlighted by these reviewers apply to me, I move on. If not, my confidence that the product will work increases.
No product or service is right for every customer or every situation. A few reviews that show where a product didn’t work well or a service didn’t meet expectations can help new customers avoid a bad purchase decision. It’s better for a business to lose a sale than have that sale turn into a return or an unhappy customer.
Your plan for bad reviews
Even if a few bad reviews can be beneficial, that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. The empathy study found that personable response to unjust reviews increased positive feeling toward the brand. And, seeing a helpful response to a customer problem assures shoppers that if they have issues they, too, will get help.
To get optimal results, responses should not be argumentative. They should address the specific issue, and when possible, offer a solution.
I once scanned reviews prior to booking a room at a chain hotel location. One complaint got a nicely worded response assuring the customer that the brand expected to deliver better service than the experience described, and offered to continue the discussion by email. This was fine, but a few reviews later another unhappy guest got the same response. Ditto for many more – the expression of concern was clearly copy-and-paste boilerplate, which destroyed its credibility and effectiveness.
In particular, the researchers found, a high-empathy response to a bad review created more empathy for the brand.
You should, of course, continue to strive for good reviews. But, when the inevitable less-than-stellar review happens, treat it as an opportunity rather than a disaster!