As technology develops, assessing the feedback left by other customers and reading reviews is becoming an increasingly common touchpoint across a customer journey, particularly during the ‘research’ phase prior to committing to a purchase or organising a service. A recent study conducted by Ipsos MORI revealed that 37% of people in the UK trust brands less than they used to, with 57% stating that they ‘trust online recommendations if they’re from a well-known site / app’.
This suggests that customers are much more likely to trust their peers and other customers than brands themselves, affirming the popularity of sites such as TripAdvisor and Trustpilot. In many cases, the ability to make decisions based on customer reviews can help speed up the process by helping customers with mental shortcuts. But this also brings risk.
Of course, reviews are subjective, so one person’s disastrous experience of a missing towel in a hotel bedroom leading to a one-star rating might be less of an issue to someone else. Unfortunately for businesses, customers who see that one-star rating without sparing time to understand the context are likely to be put off a service.
On the other hand, we now often read about situations where service providers are standing their ground and in some cases even managing to turn a bad review on its head to generate positive media attention. This is exactly what the Buoy and Oyster restaurant in Kent did when a prospective diner rated their experience on TripAdvisor as ‘terrible’ having arrived expecting to be seated without a reservation. The owners hit back by stating that the customer was using TripAdvisor as an unfair way to vent their anger, subtly emphasising the popularity of their restaurant by explaining that they can’t expect to just ‘stroll in on a busy, sunny weekend without a reservation’. These sorts of incidents could really shake up the world of reviews and one day might even put customers off leaving them in the first place.
Recent customer journey research Ipsos Loyalty has conducted has revealed some interesting behaviours around how customers use reviews in their decision-making. Firstly, we increasingly hear that some customers continue to monitor online reviews even after completing a purchase or booking an experience. One customer even told us that he purchased a phone from a mobile network provider and then carried on ‘obsessively’ reading reviews to help validate and justify his decision. Is this review and feedback culture littering our minds and causing what can only be described as decision-making anxiety?
We are also told that customers are deliberately looking only for negative reviews. They make decisions based on how ‘bad’ the negative review actually is, refusing to trust or even bother looking at any positive reviews. Since reviewers ‘hide’ behind a computer or a mobile phone when sharing customer feedback, some customers question whether a positive review has actually come from a friend or a relative of the company offering the service, deeming it false, inaccurate and not worth taking into account.
This leads to questions around authenticity and sheds light on another fascinating trend within the culture of reviews. Nowadays, when we use a website or an app to take a taxi or organise our travel accommodation, we are often immediately asked to score the driver or host based on the experience we have just encountered. In many cases, the driver or host even ends the interaction by asking us to score them. While opening my app and hitting in the amount of stars I feel appropriate, I can’t help but wonder about the genuineness of my recent interaction. Was the driver’s willingness to wait until I opened my front door just so I’d give a score of five stars? Did the host leave some welcome biscuits to prompt me to write a nice review?
And what is taking this into an even more mind-blowing territory is where customer reviews have been flipped on their head and service providers are now scoring their customers. This behaviour likely originated from the way eBay has always operated with mutual buyer and seller reviews, but is now being used within all sorts of industries. I recently overheard a conversation in a pub where a group of friends were comparing their Uber ratings, competing as to who had the most stars.
Although this was just a little bit of banter, it does beg questions around the future of customer interactions and adds some validity to the dystopia predicted in an iconic episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror where social status – including the opportunity to get promoted, buy a house, attend social events, etc – is decided by peer-to-peer scoring of every human interaction. Could this mean that one day loyalty points will be earned based on how a member of frontline staff judges you? Based on how agreeable you are as a customer?
Whether these predictions come true or not, monitoring how the review culture develops and the authenticity of reviews in the coming months and years will certainly be nothing short of fascinating, and undoubtedly play a role in changing the shape of customer experience.