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In the age of Yelp and TripAdvisor, online reviews have the power to influence purchase decisions and shape consumer behavior.  

According to a study by international market research firm YouGov, 78 percent of Americans check out reviews before making a purchase. They do so in order to assess the quality of a product or service.

Countless other research studies support the notion that, on the questions of what to order, where to eat, what to buy, where to stay, and what to check out, consumers turn to their peers’ opinions — mostly in the form of customer reviews — as sources of insight and information.

Businesses and marketers can also leverage reviews as a key learning resource. Here are some of the things that you can take away from what customers are talking about on online review sites — plus how you can apply them in order to drive your business forward.

You learn how consumers perceive your brand.

Customer reviews can shape your business and brand reputation.

Common sense will tell you that, to those who are ready to buy right here and now, 5-star ratings and glowing comments make your product or service look extra attractive.

On the other hand, low ratings and negative customer feedback are major turn-offs for potential customers, and can even be, for local businesses, a kind of “condemnation to death” — as described by Cornell University researchers.

If you’re looking to discover what customers really think and how they really feel about your brand, read the reviews. Tune into the voice of the customer and actively monitor feedback being posted online.  

You learn about what you can work on and improve.

Like it or not, negative reviews are bound to happen to you. Even the world’s most successful brands are not immune to 1-star ratings and critical feedback.

While you can do little to prevent bad reviews from happening, there are concrete steps you can take to protect your reputation, while also learning about how your business can improve and deliver better experiences next time.

For example, instead of reacting impulsively and harshly to a negative customer review, attempt to identify legitimate issues that the customer may have raised. It could be a metaphorical fly in the soup, or an operational policy that needs to be changed, or an opportunity to provide extra training to a staff member.

Whatever it is, read your online reviews in such a way that you are in a position to solve real customer problems and do better in the future.

You learn where brand-related conversations are taking place.

Your business may already have pages and profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. But customer-driven, brand-related conversations are probably taking place on online customer review sites, too.

We’re not saying you should stop sharing, listening to, and managing tweets and Facebook posts. But realize that you must also look beyond traditional social media channels and extend your listening scope to include reviews, which studies suggest may have an even longer shelf life (and greater relevance) than social media content.

You learn what your customers love and care about.

If you’re managing a restaurant, you can turn to your reviews and easily find out which items in your menu are most beloved or talked about.

If you’re running, say, an automotive service franchise, customer reviews will tell you which locations are performing well, and whether or not the free oil change is something people actually care about.

Indeed, customer reviews are a window into the minds and hearts of your customers. They serve as a great source of information not only for understanding what sells, but also for discovering how you may be able to expand your product and service offering, or how flexible your pricing can be.    

You learn about the language that your customers use.

Analyzing your reviews can help you more clearly understand the thoughts and sentiments of your customers. You can even use reviews to learn how they speak and express themselves.

For example: fashion brands used to insist on calling hoodies “hooded sweatshirts.” Textual analysis of online customer reviews left on Amazon, however, shoppers preferred the term “hoodies” — whether they were reviewing an item they had purchased or simply searching online for a product in that category.

With that insight, retailers began to switch to “hoodies” in their product descriptions, catalogs, and marketing materials.

Not only did this allow for better engagement levels and greater brand resonance among target audiences; switching to “hoodies” also fostered improvements in search engine rankings and relevance.

Simply put: customer reviews can help tailor your brand messaging and communications, so that the voice of your brand speaks the language of your customers.

Migs Bassig

Migs is the Content Manager for ReviewTrackers. He's a creative writer who has helped numerous companies communicate more effectively online, and he loves sharing his local marketing knowledge to help brands and business succeed.

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