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In 2006, the American Marketing Association released a study on the effect of word of mouth on sales. This study by Judith Chevalier and Dina Mayzlin has served as a tool of benchmarking for many marketing organizations since its inception. The most influential and impactful finding was what is now known as the negativity effect.

What is the Negativity Effect? 

To put it simply, when consumers utilize peer-generated reviews, ratings, and word-of-mouth data in the decision-making process of a purchase or interaction, negative feedback will be far more influential and credible than positive feedback.

Multiple studies (this included) indicate that negative unsolicited opinions are perceived as having higher credibility as well as less artificial, or bribed, influence.  In fact, two out of three purchasers will make their final decision to engage with a service or secure a product not based on the highest scoring review but instead by considering the risks associated with worst-case scenario.

(Check out: “Online Reputation Management Tips: What to Do After Getting a Really Bad Review”)

According to several marketing scholars this type of behavior is far more prevalent in female consumers, who tend by virtue of their gender to be far more risk-averse than their male counterparts.

Minimizing the Impact of Negative Reviews

There are many factors that will impact the holistic perception of a review set and will influence the customer toward or away from a purchase or engagement. For most businesses, aspiring for a perfect score is simply a utopian dream, and even if it is possible it may not be desirable as having a perfect score can reduce the overall credibility of the review set. (Check out: “Look on the Bright Side: 4 Ways Bad Online Reviews Can Be Good For Your Business”.)

But if a business believes its product or service is suffering the consequences of negative online reviews, and consumer feedback, there are several actions that will help minimize the impact and correct a trend of reduced sales or customer engagements.

First Things First: Get Your Act Together

The first, and most important, step as your business engages in damage control associated with a negative review is to identify the problem and correct it at an operational or product development level. Once the problem has been addressed, the possibility of repeat negative feedback on the same issue is reduced and most likely eliminated.

Follow Up, Speak Up, Engage

The second step necessary to mitigate the damage caused by a negative online review consists of engaging the aggrieved customer with a timely, relevant and contextual response that seeks to provide the individual with both an explanation and a resolution.

Make sure to take into account both spoken and unspoken concerns of the user who provided the negative feedback, as well as other individuals exposed to the feedback who might consider what was said just as they’re making a purchase decision.

Quick engagement with the reviewer gives you the final word and provides future customers with the reassurance that they are dealing with a customer-focused organization that has a willingness to listen and has a commitment to improve, based on the expressed needs of its customers.

Let Time Run Its Course

The third step in reducing the negativity effect in your online or live transactions that have been influenced by consumer feedback is to rely on the rule of recency and encourage new customers who have experienced outstanding service or received superior products to provide their feedback. (Check out ReviewTrackers’ new review request tool for helping you generate customer feedback!)

Newer positive feedback will often supersede and have higher perceived value than negative outdated feedback. As long as you commit to product improvement and excellence when it comes to consumer interactions, you can be comforted by the knowledge that, when it comes to the negativity effect, time and hard work indeed cures everything.

As a final note it is important to remember that most sophisticated consumers look more at text than overall statistical scores. Every customer review provides you with the unique opportunity to engage directly with potential customers and provide insights that may just point new customers toward a sale and tip the balance in your favor.

Organizations aiming to effectively manage and minimize the negativity effect will seek to implement policies and processes designed to address every facet of the customer experience. The key to successful online customer engagement is still very much based on consistency. Industry leaders treat each online review as the first, last and most important unit of feedback. By embracing this type of culture, customers are empowered with the knowledge that their feedback truly matters.

Chris Campbell

Chris is the CEO of ReviewTrackers. He has helped tens of thousands of businesses hear, manage, and respond to what their customers are saying online.

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