Knowledge is power. When you have a comprehensive understanding of negative reviews, you’ll be less likely to over (or under) react toward them. More importantly, you'll have a better understanding of where to focus your attention and resources and you’ll be more equipped to leverage every review as a source of growth and authenticity.

At ConsumerAffairs, we call it the 5 W's of consumer reviews:

  1. Who is reading them?
  2. What are they saying?
  3. Where are people finding them?
  4. Why are customers unhappy?
  5. When should your brand leverage negative feedback?

Let's dive in.

Who is reading your company reviews?

Who: Are consumers even reading reviews, anyway? The short answer is yes, but let’s dive in a little deeper. According to the Pew Research Center, a little more than half of adults under the age of 50 routinely check online reviews before making a purchase. That breaks down to 53% of 18-to-29-year-olds and 47% of 30-to-40-year-olds. That’s a significant percentage and a significant adjective. Notice the word routinely. Consumers are not reading reviews occasionally but are regularly seeking peer opinions for a variety of purchases. Not only that, consumers put trust in their findings. A BrightLocal consumer reviews survey conducted in 2016 showed that 84% of people said they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

What are customers saying about your brand or product?

What: Now that we know who’s reading the reviews, let’s focus on who’s writing them. Negative reviews tell a story. Unhappy customers retell their negative experiences to release frustration and protect other consumers. Outbound Engine suggests that people readily share their negative experiences with the idea that a bad review will prevent someone else from making the same mistake. It’s not all bad news, however. There are customers writing about their positive experiences. In a Zen Desk study, 87% of respondents shared their good experiences with others while 95% of respondents shared their bad experiences. While there is definite room for improvement, the actual margin isn’t too far off.

Where are people finding reviews about your company?

Where: The where is also important. Information is at the consumer’s fingertips and they’re using it. People are reading, reviewing and researching your business on several platforms before committing to you as a customer. A consumer will look at over 10 information sources before making a purchase and 92% of those consumers read online reviews (“50 Stats”, 2016). More specifically, BrightLocal found that 63% of people use a search engine and 37% go directly to a review website.

Why are customers unhappy?

Why: The reason for negative-leaning customer feedback is often related to the concept of negativity bias. In short, it’s the idea that negative experiences leave a lasting impact and cause a stronger emotional reaction. According to Ruby Newell-Legner in her book Understanding Customers, it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience. Nevertheless, don’t lose heart! You do have happy customers. Unfortunately, it just takes more for them to share their experiences. That’s why proactive review collection is important. You can read more about negativity bias and the importance of positive review collection here.

When should your brand leverage negative feedback?

When (you don’t know what to do next): What this article isn’t saying is that you should jump online and delete or defend against every negative review that’s written about your brand. It’s all about balance. If you provide reviews of any kind you’re already ahead of the game. 63% of customers said they were more likely to purchase from a site which has user reviews (“50 Stats”, 2016). Negative reviews provide an opportunity for personal growth and demonstrate authenticity. Think about it. As a brand, aren’t you also motivated by negativity bias? There’s nothing like pessimism to inspire, refine and motivate. Not to mention, no one is going to buy into the idea that your brand is perfect. In fact, 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores (“50 Stats”, 2016). Engage in the conversation by collecting authentic reviews of all kinds. Inspire loyalty and trust by inviting feedback and facing its challenges. It’s always better business to right a wrong rather than ignore it.