Many businesses see negative reviews as something to be feared or combated—but smart businesses see them as an opportunity.
More travelers than ever are making use of online reviews, both to inform their booking decisions and to document their experiences. According to a YouGov study in late 2014, almost four in five Americans consult online reviews before making a purchase, and more than half of that group are active reviewers themselves. Separate research by Harvard Business School found a direct correlation between online reviews and revenue growth—a one-star increase in online ratings equated to a 5- to 9-percent increase in revenue.
This makes racking up positive reviews a must for tour and activity businesses. But online reviews are a double-edged sword. YouGov's research found that while most reviewers left positive feedback, 32 percent of consumers visited review sites to express neutral sentiment, and 12 percent to report negative experiences.
A mix of ratings is a good thing
A study published in the Journal of Marketing analyzed around 600 books on Amazon, and found that one of the biggest influences on purchasing was not the positivity of the reviews, but their variability. In other words, if your business has 5-stars across the board, travelers will think something fishy is going on.
Review site Reevoo found similar results, reporting that 30 percent of consumers who saw only positive reviews assumed there was fakery afoot.
Reevoo's study went one step further and found that consumers who seek out negative reviews to inform their purchasing decisions are two-thirds more likely to purchase. CEO Richard Anson said: “Counter-intuitive as it may seem, negative user-generated content is actually one of the most effective conversion tools."
None of this is to say you should seek out negative feedback, but a smattering of 3- or 4-star reviews can actually boost your customer base significantly.
Show off your customer service
Customer service exists to solve problems—so the measure of your customer service isn't whether problems occur, it's how they're handled.
A 2014 study showed half of people who received responses on public customer service channels (such as Facebook, Twitter, or review sites) felt more positive about the company in question after the interaction.
Not only will you be increasing your chances of winning that guest back, you'll be increasing the odds that people reading the negative review will book with you. Market research firm Wakefield found that a customer is twice as likely to purchase if they see a good response from a company underneath a negative review, and seeing direct responses to negative reviews makes a third of consumers think a company has “great" customer service, with two-fifths saying it shows the company “really cares" about its customers. Fix a guest's problem in public and it wont go unnoticed.
If that's not enough incentive, consider this: a study of online reviewers back in 2011 showed that after receiving a meaningful response to a negative review, one third of reviewers removed their review or updated it to be positive.
How to turn negative reviews into a positive
Monitor review sites and respond quickly
The Internet is real time, and a third of consumers expect responses from brands in less than 30 minutes.
A canned response isn't much better than no response at all. An overwhelming 94 percent of eCommerce and digital marketers say personalization is “critical" to success online.
Follow up elsewhere
Travel businesses are in the fortunate situation of having additional contact information for guests. More meaningful conversations can be had over the phone or via email.
While it isn't the greatest feeling to receive critical feedback, you can always turn negative reviews into a positive. How do you deal with negative reviews? Share in the comments below.