There is virtually no area of business that has not been fundamentally changed by the Internet. One of the most significant changes has been in marketing and advertisement. In today’s hyper-connected world, there is almost a bottomless well of online information that consumers can draw from to make decisions.
A glut of information means that companies can no longer rely on clever advertising, promotional deals and celebrity endorsements alone to convince would-be clients to try their products or services. They are dealing with increasingly savvy customers who are willing to take their time and hold out for the best possible option – and other options are always just a click away.
Enter the online consumer review. More than just a decision-making tool for consumers, online product and service reviews have become a powerful force that can directly affect a company’s image -- and eventually – its bottom line.
The effectiveness of online reviews goes beyond the availability of information. It is an issue of trust. The public has a suspicion of those who have a vested interest in the products and services they market. Before they are able to try a product themselves, they are wary of the company’s claims about its relevance, quality, or genuine worth. A review by an unbiased third party gives them the confidence to make informed decisions, without the fear that they are being “had.”
According to a 2009 Econsultancy report, a full 90 percent of online consumers trust reviews from those they know, and 70 percent are willing to place their trust in unknown users. By contrast, 27 percent trust the word of experts, 14 percent trust advertising and a paltry 8 percent are willing to trust a celebrity’s endorsement.
People are increasingly turning to online reviews to vet products before they invest in them. According to an October 2008 survey by research and consulting firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, cited in Businessweek, noted that a full 70 percent of consumers consult reviews or ratings before they purchase a product.
Companies like Amazon and TripAdvisor have capitalized on the consumer trend, and used their extensive product and service reviews as a marketing tool and a way to promote consumer confidence.
Amazon so values and relies on reviews that it offers incentives for its best and most reviewers, even sending them products for free in exchanged for their unbiased opinion.
TripAdvisor.com has been a true groundbreaker when it comes to harnessing the power of consumer reviews. Their platform is based exclusively on the recommendations of travelers, and has almost single-handedly changed the way people choose accommodations, airlines and travel destinations. Anyone who’s anyone in the travel industry is featured on the site – if your operation is not, to some degree it may as well not exist.
TripAdvisor.com has such a massive online presence that it is possible that their hospitality listings might rank higher on search engines, than a company’s own website. TripAdvisor can, in fact, can become a powerful marketing tool for any hotel, resort, restaurant, tour operator, or other travel related business, increasing consumer confidence, building a solid reputation and driving more prospective guests to the company’s website.
Any company can capitalize on the prevalence and power of online reviews. First and foremost, excellent customer service and consistent quality are key. One client may have a bad experience, but if 100 more have a great experience, you will still come out winning.
Taking the time to respond to online reviews – both good and bad – is a great way to let clients know you care, and are willing to address their concerns. Thank clients who have had good experiences for taking the time to leave a review. Apologize to those clients who were unhappy, and offer to make it right, without being defensive or argumentative.
Lastly, let your clients know they have the power! Point out your website or elsewhere that you have a TripAdvisor.com certificate, for example, and encourage them to review their experience. The more reviews you garner, the more opportunities you have to build positive feedback, trust and a loyal following.