Handling the Permanent Impact of Online Reviews
Of the many impacts the digital world has had on the remodeling industry, online review may be the most game-changing. Empowered customers have shared their experiences freely and fostered a collaborative approach to home improvement shopping. This empowerment, however, has created a channel for negative “venting” (often from non-buyers), and just a few sour grapes can be costly for a business and impossible to shake from an online profile.
ONLINE REVIEW PERSPECTIVE
Home improvement consumers have been incorporating reviews into the buying process since the late 1990s, but just as consumers have fallen victim to the clickbait headlines on Facebook, consumers trust in online reviews may be misplaced. At holiday gatherings, we’ve all heard an exasperated relative exclaim, “Don’t trust everything you read online,” yet a recent BrightLocal study suggests that 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal references (1). Consumers’ faith in online reviews is something a business cannot dismiss.
Research experts consider online reviews to be misleading and subjective (2), but nothing can replace the power of a personal experience. “People trust others’ experiences because we emotionally connect to both positive and negative stories and we tend to want a comfortable, predictable experience,” says Tony Flint of Great Plains Windows and Doors in St. Paul, MN. “The challenge is filtering the reality from the fiction.”
REVIEW INDUSTRY PROGRESSION
Remodeling review sites have mirrored the growth of other internet-based industries in the past few years. Contractor review sites have pivoted from an organic, verifiable environment like Angie’s List, where “members” pay for access to share information between location-based neighbors, to pay-for-play review sites like GuildQuality that solicit reviews from a company-provided list of customers. More popular today are heavily filtered, native customer review sections on a businesses website that are unverifiable. The effect has been a huddling of consumers around a select few review sites that have chosen to protect consumer voices through transparency including Google Reviews, BBB, Yelp, Angie’s List, and Avid Ratings.
ACTUAL CUSTOMERS ARE USUALLY RIGHT
One of the most common concerns from remodelers about bad reviews is that they are from people that never became customers. Complaints from non-customers can be factual (high prices, didn’t hear back, don’t provide the right service), but they can also skew negative. Consumers take comfort in hearing real, relatable experiences, especially if it gives a unique look under the hood.
“We all want 360 degree feedback from customers, and the internet gives our customers a chance to share their experience without having to take referral phone calls,” says Joe Mand of Wrightway Home Improvements in Fond du Lac, WI.
With all of the benefits of positive reviews, what is the potential business exposure from negative reviews?
Responding to reviews as quickly as possible is the best way to cool a negative situation. Unhappy clients or frustrated potential buyers want a frustration outlet, and in some cases, there are real actions you can take to correct a situation.
Regardless of nature of the review, we all have to face the reality of an indefinite lifespan for reviews online. The number of online reviews have been steadily building for years and there seems to be no clear end game for removing irrelevant or non-applicable reviews.
One exception, and perhaps a model for future review site archiving, is the Better Business Bureau which instituted a 3-year lifespan for complaints and continually adjust the running total of complaints. Other review sites don’t offer this same approach and some businesses are left with negative reviews that can last 15 years or longer.
The best way to address reviews is to make sure you’ve responded if possible (3). Engaging signals honesty and at least an attempt to give the other side of the story. Additionally, keep asking satisfied customers to share new reviews online as new content is still the most relevant.
THE WAIT GAME
Just like with the rest of internet, at some point things will need to get scrubbed. In 2012, Google forced Google Reviews to be directly tied to a named Google account and archived old reviews. Other review sites will eventually take these same steps to stay relevant or face an exodus from in-the-moment Millennials (4).
No matter what, avoid the “nuclear option” of deleting your associated business accounts like Google My Business, Yelp, or Facebook. This will result in penalties from these providers when attempting to re-establish an account like blacklisting, negative rankings, or lockout periods.
WHAT TO TRUST
The next phase of online reviews will likely be a continued trend towards integrity. Google, for example, has penalized search rankings of some non-transparent review aggregators. And the recently enacted Consumer Review Fairness Act is a first attempt to stifle popular “pay-for-review” programs by imposing fines and penalties for those found in violation of the law (5).
While businesses will always look for ways to improve their reputation, the places to focus your attention should be high impact review sites that offer transparency and feedback channels like Google Reviews and Yelp.
About the Author
Ben Lindberg, CR is a partner in Lion Tree Group, a digital marketing agency in Madison, WI. His expertise is in multi-platform brand messaging with a focus on inspiring consumers. His agency specializes in website design and comprehensive branding solutions. He regularly blogs at his company’s digital news blog: The Bark and Roar.