People have tremendous trust in reviews and recommendations.
This holds true for comments left anonymously online, and is even more true when the comments come from a friend (Nielsen study). Trust helps make word of mouth influential (Word of mouth stats over at Bazaar Voice).
These consumer voices are being amplified through the Internet.
But baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Do your customers love you?
Robert Scoble penned a speculative article over at Techcrunch. He talked about a future (2012) where your cell phone seems to know everything, as the location data being gathered by Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google, etc. was being shared – giving you all the knowledge a local might have, even when you’re on a trip.
The idea that consumer reviews would play a part in this was discussed – let’s take a closer look.
The Situation Today
Right now, I can write a review Yelp, and it will be read by people visiting that site, and also on Google Maps (Yelp’s syndicating again).
Some people might access this review while they’re on the go, but only around 30% of the population (eMarketer), and that’s assuming they actually use the fancy phone they’ve got.
If I post a note on Facebook or Twitter about how I liked a restaurant, some of my friends will see it flash by, but most will miss it, and there’s almost no chance they’ll see it when looking for something to eat.
So let’s move forward a few years…
Now a large portion of people use the web on their phones, and think to look up reviews before walking into a business (or reviews are automatically looked up when the phone is asked for directions).
Part of the reason people look for reviews is because there’s useful stuff to be found – Google’s grabbing reviews not only off of dedicated sites such as Yelp, but also blogs, Twitter/Facebook streams, and location sites such as Foursquare. It all winds up in Google Maps (and of course, the other players are doing this as well). You get not only reviews, but might get alerted to a special deal or other tip.
Of course, your social networks are also scanned so reviews from friends or other connections can be pulled to the top. The time I got sick after dinner? Every time my friends look up the relevant restaurant, they’ll see my old Facebook status update. On the positive side, they’ll also see notes about my great landscaper or dentist the next time they’re considering those services. As people get more comfortable putting content online, these comments and reviews will become increasingly common.
The future I just discussed will make word of mouth even more powerful. There will be winners and losers – with those companies already thriving on word of mouth growing like weeds. On the other side, companies that don’t make their customers happy will find it ever-harder to attract new business.
Even a big marketing budget won’t fix things, as people will run into your dirty laundry when looking for directions/contact info.
How Can You Prepare?
Search for your company name online today – are people saying good things or bad?
When companies see bad reviews, many get angry and run around trying to get the reviews removed. If that’s possible, great – but if you’re getting a large number of negative reviews, there’s a problem. (To grab another stat from the Bazaar Voice article, 80% of reviews are 4 out of 5 stars or higher). And going forward, you’re going to have to fix that.
A lot of negative reviews are complaints about basic customer service issues – rude staff for instance. Others might be more fundamental (Domino’s bad pizza). Either way, the time to get moving is now. Those online reviews probably aren’t killing you yet, but they will.
On the other hand, if your customers love you, you’ll love the future.
And a note for the entrepreneurs: if you have an idea for a cool company that will get people saying good things… this will just make marketing that much easier.