Managing Customer Reviews

Today’s business owners have the greatest ever access to customer feedback. So much in-fact that many are drowning in a sea of reviews. As customers ourselves we know the relentless effort by brands to seek feedback over every aspect of a transaction, however big or small. So is all this feedback actually good for business?

Data - Love it or Hate It?

I personally have a love/hate relationship with data. The love comes from genuine enthusiasm for a greater understanding of the customer experience and how it can be improved, the hate comes from the poor way that it can be collected, with the sometimes shoddy practices that are used to generate it.

Let me give two examples. Six months ago I purchased a new car, clearly what mattered most to the dealership was for me to provide them with a good review in the new car survey generated by the manufacturer. The car had a few problems, but I was personally contacted by the manager almost begging me to provide a positive review. The whole exercise seemed manufactured, it missed an opportunity for the dealer/manufacturer to receive a genuine review that would allow them to improve quality. I bizarrely felt sorry for the dealership if it was the case (as it appeared to be) that it was so important for them to get full marks in a review.

At the other end of the scale I was asked to review an item that I had bought on Amazon for less than £3. Why on earth would I want to give a review for something quite trivial, which came exactly as expected? I do read Amazon reviews as it is important to find if items are of a good standard. Sometimes though it feels inappropriate for many items!

Getting Better?

Before setting up my marketing business I was the Programme Director for a number of radio stations. We like many other stations used research extensively, particularly for music. We’d get a hundred or so people together and play them snippets of around 600 songs, respondents would then turn dials to express whether they liked, or disliked the songs. This was actually useful to a degree, but certainly wasn’t without some flaws.

The respondents didn’t know which radio station had arranged for them to do the research and we’d go through a very useful exercise at the start of the session to understand momentum in the market. We’d mention a radio station and ask them if they thought that that station was getting better, or worse. This was very insightful and often predicted future audience growth/decline of a particular station.

This question got me thinking on a daily basis, were we genuinely getting better or worse? I’ve carried that thought over to my own business and also for my clients clients, to try and understand whether there is positive, or negative momentum. For either scenario actions can be developed to improve quality.

What’s the Big Picture?

Back to my fear of badly collected data I strongly urge analysis of many responses rather than just a few. I know this sounds obvious but over the years I have seen poor decision made on low sample sizes. I have also seen people respond casually to surveys, just randomly providing answers to try and get through as quickly as possible. This sets alarm bells ringing as any results should be carefully checked.

Perhaps the most famous system for receiving reviews is Trip Advisor. For any kind of business listed the overall score is the most telling. Particularly as it so easy for you (and your customers) to benchmark against competitors. The overall score for your business is what should drive you, this is because hopefully it is built on lots of responses and also as it is the one that you are most likely to be judged upon.

Dealing with Bad Reviews

Whilst on Trip Advisor it is worth mentioning the huge angst and upset that a bad review can create for a restaurant, or hotel. I’ve seen owners of these establishments utterly devastated and distracted by a bad review. Once the drama subsides I do encourage trying to turn these into a positive outcome. First, there is the opportunity to provide the reviewer with a personal reply (not a cut and pasted generic statement!) which will show them and anyone that reads it that you care. If there is something that your business has done wrong then acknowledge it and apologise, ideally with an offer to make good. However tempting don't be nasty back. If the review is inaccurate, point in a professional way these inaccuracies. Do investigate each comment and demonstrate that you have done so in your response.

Going back to my point about seeing the big picture and concentrating on the top line score, give your potential customers the credit for taking an objective overview of the reviews as a whole. If the majority of them are positive they will surely put that one nightmare down to either an unfair review, or an untypical day. Interestingly Trip Advisor allow you to review the reviewer and to see if they are a serial negative reviewer. Watch out too for people that throw the kitchen sink at you, often because they feel that they need to do so to justify their point of view.

Don’t Forget to Say Thanks!

As well as dealing with bad reviews, do also take the time to thank everyone that has left you a positive review. Also make a point of talking with your team about the positive reviews that are received, rather than just having inquests for bad reviews.

What Can You Learn?

Reviews are a brilliant way to understand what your customers like and dislike about your service/product. Make a list with three headings - Stop, Start and Continue, putting suggestions/feedback into the appropriate columns. Highlight on these lists the issues that get multiple comments as key priorities. Remember also that you can’t and shouldn't be able to please all the people all the time. For instance a couple come for an overnight stay in your hotel, they have a huge row (nothing to do with your establishment), probably won’t have had the best of times and might not leave you a glowing review!

Recommended Listening

If you have found this article interesting then I recommend having a listen to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s business programme The Bottom Line, called Feedback Frenzy for an interesting discussion on this topic. Programme available at the link below.


Based in Loch Lomond Paul Saunders Marketing works throughout Scotland providing marketing consultancy and digital creative media for businesses, charities and organisations of all sizes. Core services include Marketing Consultancy, Commercial Photography, Video Production, Websites, Aerial Filming, Social Media, Design & Branding and Events. To find out more call Paul on 01360 661029 or get in touch via the Hire Us page.

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