Should 5-star reviews be a thing of the past?

Last night I rated the restaurant where I had dinner on Yelp, the Uber driver that provided me transportation home, and even my eye doctor who updated my glasses prescription with a glowing Google review. Everywhere I turn I am asked to provide feedback on the brands I interact with each day, and maybe it’s just my Millennial nature, but I never go anywhere or buy anything without first reading feedback from previous customers.

Admittedly, I gave the restaurant, the Uber driver, and the eye doctor all 5-star reviews because I was satisfied with the service I received, but now I am wondering if I could have been more helpful by providing them with a lower rating. Companies are often working hard to garner a 5-star online rating, but what if that badge of honor isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be? Could the golden mark be hurting your business?

A recent study out of Northwestern University found that, in moderation, negative reviews can actually boost trust and revenue for brands online. And contrary to what some businesses might think, products and services with ratings between 4.2 and 4.5 stars were more influential on positive consumer purchase decisions than those with the illustrious 5 stars.

So has the new generation of consumers lost their minds settling for sub-par brands? No, I would propose we are just seeing consumers’ need for authenticity and trust. Let’s be honest, as consumers we are each slightly cynical and realize nothing in this world is perfect (although I might make an argument for the Cole Haan shoes I recently purchased on Zappos). So when we can find any negative feedback online our natural reaction can be doubt and we think “What’s the catch?”.  

In an economy of online interactions and transactions (sometimes between complete strangers) consumers are demanding authenticity, so when brands have some mixed or negative (and hopefully constructive) feedback we feel more comfortable trusting them. We think, “Hey this company is willing to be vulnerable and transparent, and thus is likely more trustworthy”. Rachel Botsman’s TED Talk on the currency of trust is a great example of how our online economy has evolved to trust total strangers and brands in an increasingly-digital world.

So what, you might ask, should I provide sub-par service or a slightly-flawed product to get a few negative reviews? Absolutely not! Keep providing exceptional consumer experiences, but make sure your online reputation is authentic and in-line with reality. While it is important to have a healthy mix of positive and negative feedback online, don’t forget to emphasize some of the most meaningful top reviewers!

Let’s face it, nothing is perfect and not every transaction you work on will go 100% to plan. But don’t let that prevent you from asking for and sharing less-than-perfect feedback. Who knows, maybe a little criticism will yield a few more deals for you this year!


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