Back when AirBnB was new and trendy, I stayed in an apartment in Boston. The owner, a veteran of the platform, was clear from the start: any issue, however minor, please contact me and give me the chance to fix it before drawing your own conclusions. His future living depended on the reviews of those that were using his facilities – and anything short of a five-star review caused him issues that could negatively impact his revenue.

 

The advice of strangers

It is extraordinary the extent to which we now rely on the views of strangers to help shape our opinions. Whether it is Glass Door for employment, Trip Advisor for accommodation and restaurants or Amazon for all kinds of goods, so much of today’s buying decisions are at least partly influenced by the opinions of strangers.

Posting negative reviews has also become the simplest way to garner revenge for a poor experience or ensure quick engagement with a company. I recently had an incredibly poor experience with a brand. Calling and messaging generated little in the way of a response, but a negative review on Trust Pilot elicited instant action.

 

Should we trust reviews

While reviews can be extremely helpful there is no certainty that something someone else thinks of as a negative is not a positive for us. I once spent a wonderful day’s holiday in a Spanish adventure park. The day was everything you could ask for and more, representing great value for (a considerable amount of) money. Reading reviews at the end of the day most people agreed, but a vocal minority were annoyed they had to pay for parking. This never bothered me at all, but for others it was enough to leave a one-star review. Taken out of context this could put people off.

I will also never forget the negative review for an Italian restaurant that included the line “the pizza was too cheesy”. For me that’s a positive!

Engaging with reviews

Despite the obvious flaws of a review system, these online anecdotes can negatively impact a business. For businesses selling directly to the public, it makes sense to see reviews as an all or nothing activity: either fully commit to trying to get a five star review out of every customer – whatever the cost or impact – or ignore the process altogether. While the first option is probably wider, it does mean significant investment in time and resources, so I understand why many people opt for option two. After all, if there are three negative reviews for a product that is clearly widely available, this is likely to say more about the reviewers’ than the product itself.

And therein lies an important point: we are more likely to complain than praise, so reviews should be considered as disproportionately representing negative feeling. Remembering that context helps businesses to keep a perspective on any negativity. Clearly doing nothing about negative sentiment from customers is never wise but it is worth remembering that there are two sides to every story, so that an unreasonably negative review may mean a lost customer, but it might also free up time to engage positively with hundreds of others.