Bad reviews are good for business

by | Feb 26, 2021

With anything in business and personal life, we have this urge to put our best foot forward.

  • We scrub the place clean before we have guests come over.
  • We wear our best outfit to a job interview.
  • And we meticulously prepare a business presentation to close a deal, making sure all the images perfectly align.

Image is important and 9 times out of 10 this effort is appreciated. But when it comes to the desired outcome, we often conveniently ignore the “behind-the-scenes” factors that also matter:

  • Your guests will still talk about that “horrible thing” that you did the other week.
  • Employers will still dig through your social media and do background checks on you before hiring you.
  • And for that excellent presentation you made, your clients are still going to get references and scrutinise what it’s like to do business with you.

Whilst impressions matter, there is clearly much more that factors into the outcome than just how you look or act at that moment. And this is mostly common knowledge.

But when it comes to our online businesses showing off our web presences, we all sweep the dirt under the rug. The dirt that customers will dig up to help evaluate their purchase decisions: online reviews.


The trouble with online reviews


There are countless studies showing how important reviews are to making a purchase decision online. It’s almost universally accepted. This is why many are trying to game reviews and artificially increase the number of good reviews. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss.

The average score is often a direct reflection of the revenue potential a business has. So when the average score on Trustpilot/Yelp/*insert-any-other-review-site* is high, businesses proudly show it off. When the score is low, they pretend as if the reviews don’t exist.

Given this correlation to success, it’s understandable that businesses are obsessed with image and reviews. Which is also why so many companies filter their reviews so they only showcase the top ones on their page:

This business shall remain unnamed. At least they are open about filtering these.


However, this cherrypicking is counterproductive. Too many positive reviews make the whole business profile look fake which in turn undermines trust in the business. 30% of customers suspect censorship or fake reviews if the profile is overwhelmingly positive.


Mistakes that make money


We need to move away from the point of view that mistakes are bad for business. Of course mistakes are bad by definition, but some mistakes come with a silver lining which can outweigh the impact of the mistake.

Mistakes make us look human. No person or business is perfect. And people relate to imperfect people. I admit I get schadenfreude when I see someone successful stumble. But I also very quickly relate to their mistake (and feel bad about feeling schadenfreude). And if they handle it well, my respect for them grows.

Looking at business mistakes. Errors happen frequently with mass email marketing. Either an email was sent prematurely, with the wrong content or to the wrong people. Emails with the highest open rates I’ve seen businesses send are the ones leading with a revealing subject line like “Oops, I’m sorry we did this”. These kind of emails can get 70-80% open rates which is really high.

This doesn’t mean that a business should make mistakes on purpose. Errors that make the user experience worse can be incredibly frustrating and will damage your business. But something public that is relatively harmless can be a boon to your business if handled well.


Treating your customers as grown-ups


Bad online reviews can be a type of public mistakes that nifty businesses can turn around. Conventional thinking would tell you to bury or hide that review at all costs. But that is doing a disservice to your prospective customers. Sure, these reviews may put some customers off. But there are many more who will read between the lines and not take everything they read at face value.

Counterintuitively, customers who seek out negative reviews actually have 67% higher purchase conversion rates. Is it because those customers feel they are getting a balanced view? Or perhaps they want to know what the worst-case scenario would look like? It might also just be that those people who seek out reviews have higher purchase intent. What we do know is that there is a benefit to providing these customers with easy access to your negative reviews.

Anecdotally, I personally look for bad reviews to understand what I get from a business or product I’m thinking about purchasing. I want to hear all their point of views. It doesn’t mean that I’ll agree with reviewers, but I feel it gives me more unfiltered information.

We can also glean some more insight from one of my very first emails about word of mouth. People don’t always buy because someone else gave a glowing review of the business. They want to hear the pros and cons of the product. Then they will make an informed decision, discounting various bits of information to suit their situation. The same thing happens with online reviews where the word of mouth happens remotely.


Become radically transparent


Most websites have a review widget installed which automatically displays reviews from their chosen review site. It’s relatively easy to flick the switch and provide unfettered access to all reviews via the widget. Not just the 4 and 5 star ones, but also the 1, 2 and 3 star ones.

So go ahead. Give your customers the full view. You can even run a split test to see whether it materially impacts the conversion rate.

If you don’t do this, many of your customers will find out anyway and I bet they’ll buy despite seeing those bad reviews. However, if you make it hard for them to find out, they may start distrusting you and wonder what else you might be hiding. What’s worse though, is that some customers may give up looking for the unfiltered view and go to your competitors instead.

I’ll be honest. It’s something I haven’t quite been able to convince everyone at Mashroom (yet). But perhaps we can start this unfettered review revolution together.

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