First recorded word of mouth reco:
Caveman Danook: “Good rock”
Caveman Gok: “Need rock like Danook rock”
Direct, personal, effective. The best type of recommendation.
Fast forward a few millennia – – millions of shopping decisions are routinely made based on star ratings or online reviews – from total strangers.
In other words, online reviews are often less credible sources than Caveman Gok had.
While technology has provided lots of review resources (e.g. Yelp, Glassdoor, Amazon Stars), it has not yet figured out how to protect the integrity of these reviews – – thus making them not totally dependable.
And consumers are increasingly realizing this.
At the end of the day, a personal reco from someone you know may still be your best bet.
Consider these news stories from just the last few weeks:
Joanna Stern – WSJ
Is it Really Five Stars – How to Spot Fake Amazon 5-Star Reviews
“I visited a Facebook group called “Amazon Reviews” and was promised a full refund on a $44 Amazon purchase of a pet fountain if I did the following on the mega-retailer’s site:
1. Write a positive review. 2. Post my photos of the product. 3. Rate it five stars.
Not only is this ethically problematic, it is also against Amazon and Facebook user policies.”
There are 4 types of reviews mentioned in the article:
1. Legit reviews – you bought it, you review it, good or bad.
2. Vine reviews – incentivized reviews for prolific reviewers. Objectivity not guaranteed.
3. Incentivized reviews (like the pet fountain above). Objectivity clearly suspect.
4. Fake reviews – often from Asian click farms. Totally bogus – often products reviewed are not even remotely what is listed.
Not exactly encouraging.
Rolfe Winkler and Andrea Fuller – WSJ
How Companies Secretly Boost Their Glassdoor Ratings
To allegedly combat the bias for negative reviews on sites like Glassdoor, some companies are apparently gently encouraging (and in some cases providing incentives) for employees to leave positive reviews.
“Last summer, employees of Guaranteed Rate Inc. posted a stream of negative reviews about the mortgage broker on Glassdoor, a company-ratings website.
– “An American sweatshop,” read a one-star review in June. “Worst company I ever worked for,” read another in July. The company’s rating on Glassdoor, which is determined by employee feedback, fell to 2.6 stars out of 5.
– Concerned that negative reviews could hurt recruiting, Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli instructed his team to enlist employees likely to post positive reviews, said a person familiar with his instructions. In September and October these employees flooded Glassdoor with hundreds of five-star ratings. The company rating now sits at 4.1.”
One study estimates that while 88% of consumers put their trust in online reviews, at least 20% of them are in reality fake (the reviews, not the consumers).
As time goes on, consumers will judge online reviews with an increasing dose of skepticism, until AI figures out a way to effectively and convincingly screen out reviews that are just not legit. It’s complicated (see example from the Boston Globe).
So what can a marketer do to encourage the most credible endorsements of their products — enthusiastic, personal word of mouth recommendations?
Here are 3 examples, 2 of which involve reaching out and delighting the customer such that they take some sort of action that could influence others:
- Chewy.com. Over the Holidays we received a mystery package that it turns out was sent by Chewy.com, and included an ink-on-canvas portrait of our dog, and a very enthusiastic hand-written card that said “Surprise! We hope you and your furbaby enjoy the portrait. Remember we’re open 24/7. Call us anytime, we’d love to hear from you!” So cool.
– Yes, this cost $, but they got it back in multiples from the number of people we told about it or who saw our social media posts. (Not to mention the fact that we’re just a little more likely to continue buying from them ourselves.)
- YETI. To become an object of their affection, we merely had to go to the trouble of registering online for a gift we received – – a thermo mug, not one of their over-the-top coolers.
Shortly thereafter we received a thank you card with several YETI stickers, some of which of course will end up in a visible place, thereby providing a passive reinforcement of the brand to others.
- Nextdoor. A bit different from the ‘delight’ category is the true word-of-mouth category, represented by the neighborhood network Nextdoor, which is an avenue for sponsored ads in addition to personal recommendations. The credibility factor is high.
There are lots of other ways to engender a personal relationship and loyalty well beyond what stars on a review can do.
- Customer Support that has a personal touch and continuity – so the customer feels a connection with the help desk person (chat, email or phone)
- Personalized customer outreach (email or snail mail) not asking for anything, just staying in touch and inviting the recipient to provide any feedback they may have.
- (Making great products and backing them up doesn’t hurt, either).
Random acts of kindness may be seen as an incremental cost, but the personal connection can not only encourage current customers to be loyal, it can encourage them to tell others about their great experience. And that’s the name of the game.
Just keep in mind: WWDD?