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Andrew Teman

Service Review Behavior (A Quick Thought)

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in my career, working on digital and brand strategies for service companies. And the one thing I hear from every single one at some point or another, is this:

We get a ton of awesome emails and letters from happy customers, but all of our online reviews skew negative. How can we get our happy customers to post their positive reviews online?

In fact, just in the past 48 hours alone, I received a frantic text from my brother-in-law (he runs marketing for a health club chain and was agonizing over a negative Facebook review), had a conversation with a client concerned with overcoming their 2-star Google rating, and then my wife forwarded me this gem.

These bad reviews, and company’s inability to surface the good ones more easily, is something that makes brand managers, marketers, and PR folks go insane. I’ve seen it and heard it dozens of times.

But while these brands are all looking for some technical fix (build me a system to make it better!), the problem isn’t a mechanical one, it’s a behavioral one. It has to do with motivation, and why people choose to review their experiences where they do.

Here is how I observe it.

People are compelled to post negative reviews online, publicly, because their motivation is to warn and help others (“beware of this company/product!”), and also (I’d imagine) to gain some level of retribution against the company they feel wronged by, through public shaming (“I really showed them!”). It’s one of the sharpest weapons an individual can wield against the big bad organization in the face of conflict.

People tend to send positive reviews directly to the people that they are praising (via email or postal mail), because their motivation is to show appreciation to the individual that helped them, by thanking them specifically. In many cases, the feeling tends to be that some single person at the big bad organization, stepped out and helped you. So the positive review becomes about repaying the good feeling to another human, that they gave to you. It’s a shared moment of two people helping and appreciating each other, and thus, doesn’t really need to be public.

Of course, every company wishes that this was reversed. They want the good reviews to be public and the negative ones to be private. Behaviorally though, it just doesn’t work that way.

This is merely an observation/pseudo-insight, and I am aware that I’m not offering a solution here. Just something I was thinking about this morning though and wanted to get down on “paper”

If anyone has any thoughts/expansions on this though, I’d love to add to it.