A Penny For Your Thoughts

15 July 2021

In 1900, there were less than 3,000 cars on the roads of France. So to encourage car sales, the Michelin brothers – Édouard and André – decided to create a free guide for French Motorists. It had maps, hotel listings and petrol station locations, as well as handy instructions for changing and replacing tyres. Yes, those Michelin brothers.

1900's car driving
Image Credit

Around 1920, they decided to start charging for the guide. They also started to include restaurant listings and recruited a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants anonymously. One hundred years later, a great review followed by Michelin Stars is the ultimate accolade for a restauranter.

A penny for your thoughts

In 1995, Amazon launched their first website selling books. As part of the new online shopping experience, they allowed customers to post reviews. Why rely on one review in a newspaper when you can get ordinary people (like you) to do the reviews for free? After all, you don’t necessarily care which books sell, as long as some do.

Seven years later, Google started to implement reviews into its ecosystem. Before we knew it, a whole industry had evolved, with services that allowed companies to get reviews dynamically and build up an online scorecard. After all, it’s one thing you saying how good you are, but it’s much more powerful when someone else says it.

In terms of value for commercial reviews. One recent study showed:

Trust

But with great power comes great responsibility. Even from the off, all was not what it seemed, with Amazon, especially, laying all sorts of incentives for review gathering along the way, and recently both companies are being questioned about how they manage fake reviews (or not).

And then, there is the general public.

big ben review

Talk about putting trust in the wrong hands when it comes to writing reviews.

As well as this and other ridiculous reviews, I came across this one recently on a trip to Devon that made me laugh: The Gnome Reserve – A Soul Destroying Experience. It inspired me to write this review about our hotel.

That aside, it does beg the question as to why people review. What’s in it for me, taking the time to sit down and write a review? Am I looking to get something off my chest, be vindictive, or genuinely warn others if something is bad? And, do people genuinely want to help businesses or products with favourable reviews or are incentives in place that muddy the water?

Or, are we all just looking for a bit of selfish attention? Look at me and how clever I am for writing this review.

Status matters

Depending on the type of industry you are in, reviews may or may not impact your business too much. But status – either as the business being reviewed or the reviewer – plays a big part in online reputation.

Reviewing has also been gamified – there are incentives for all who play – which means that rules are often bent or broken.

Most of my clients are small businesses, and I have a 50/50 split between B2C and B2B.

In my experience, B2B clients have fewer reviews, and they matter less. They are usually more negative as well, with disgruntled ex-employees high on the list of moans.

B2C, on the other hand, matters. The customer pool is bigger. More people see your reviews and more people feel compelled to respond. It creates a challenge, managing the game, but it’s worth developing the resource to get stuck in.

They may be a small part of your online profile, but reviews help. They get you noticed, offer a third-party endorsement, and can improve your standing in Google, especially if you are a local business. So, here are a few tips:

Ask – It seems obvious, but so many companies don’t even ask for reviews. I’m not talking about automated marketing and systems like Trust Pilot; I’m talking about face-to-face. I’m talking about leveraging good customer experiences and relationships in a personal way. It works.

One of my clients (nothing to do with me, by the way) – Champion Tool Hire – has been doing just that, and it’s making a very positive difference to their local Google listing.

Platform Choice – There are a host of platforms that offer automated reviewing, but beware. Those reviews, which may feed into the Google ecosystem, are only there while you are a customer of the subscription service. Check-A-Trade customers are feeling that right now, with prices being hiked and quality (and trust) going down (I’ve been told). If you cancel your subscription, you may lose your reviews.

Google is the obvious choice when it comes to collecting reviews as it’s the dominant local platform for people searching. Facebook is another option if it fits your audience.

Testimonials – Another popular review, as part of your own marketing collateral, is the testimonial. But, there is a trust issue. After all,  as you curate your testimonials, you’d hardly put a crap one up, would you?

If you are going to do them, make them as real and as compelling as you can. Video is a good platform as it shows the customer and allows them to tell a contextualised story, not just a generic “they’re really good”. Keep them short, succinct and engaging.

(One of my clients makes a very good point when he pitches and is asked for testimonials. He says that you don’t need me to tell you how good we are so I’m going to give you examples of what we’ve done when things have gone wrong.)

Why not think about how people could review you differently?

Being good matters

Probably, the most important factor of creating status and getting good reviews is to be brilliant in the first place. People’s expectations may be out of whack (“Why can’t you deliver tomorrow for free? Amazon do.”), but great customer service elevates your standing against competitors. It may not pay money in the bank immediately, but it develops goodwill that may deliver over time. I say may because there are no guarantees, except death and taxes, of course.

Alternatively, simply bribe people. Here's an example of an email I received after negatively reviewing a DVD writer that wouldn't write DVDs on my Mac.