How effective are companies at responding to online reviews?
Published on 09/06/2022 by David Jani
As our previous reports have shown, online reviews are valuable for both consumers and businesses by providing essential information for both parties. However, do UK companies’ consumer review management strategies really line up with the expectations of their userbases?
In this article
If you’ve ever written a review for a product or service, you’ve probably done so with an expectation about the response you would receive. You may have also wondered what goes on behind the scenes in forming the reaction to your feedback.
In our final look into our online reviews survey data, we aim to compare what consumers expect from the review responses of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) against how companies approach the task of responding to feedback. From this, we hope to learn whether these responses meet the desired outcomes customers want from posting feedback on a review platform .
The full methodology for our consumer and employee online reviews survey can be seen at the bottom of the page.
Do SMEs respond frequently enough to consumer reviews?
As we saw from our previous deep-dive into online customer reviews, a total of 87% of consumers rely on online reviews “very much” or “a little” before making a purchase. Furthermore, 28% of online users check reviews more today than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, a response from a company can make a huge difference to customers who have posted online reviews. Yet does this mean that companies make a public reply a priority as part of a reviews management strategy?
Overall, we found that the answer to this was yes. 96% of employees surveyed said their company responds at least some of the time to online reviews. Only 4% do not reply at all.
However, whilst this seems to show a proactive approach to customer service from most companies, the situation is not always reflected by consumer experience.
42% of our consumer survey sample said that they never received a response to the online reviews they had written. This reveals quite a large gap between the reply rates companies report and what customers see from their interactions with businesses.
Surprisingly, however, the customers we surveyed were mostly indifferent to receiving a response. 61% said they didn’t have an overall preference. Although those that did indicate preferences favoured receiving a response (23%) over those that didn’t want one (16%)
Are SMEs responding to reviews fast enough?
The speed of a company’s response to a negative (or sometimes positive) online review can have a big impact on how well a business is regarded by its customers.
However, it seems that companies are not always as quick to respond as they could be.
Whilst 14% of employees surveyed said their company responds immediately to online feedback and 32% within a day, 38% said they only reply within a few days. This is quite a long time in the world of online reviews.
How fast should companies respond to a customer’s online review?
In general, it is best to respond to any customer feedback within a day of receiving it.
Business.com, for instance, recommends waiting no longer than 24 hours to respond to a positive review left by a customer. This can help the reply appear more authentic and meaningful.
An analysis of customer reviews by Harvard Business Review also points out that companies should react quickly to negative reviews to avoid them going viral. Ideally, SMEs should therefore aim to respond to bad feedback within a few hours of it being posted, if not sooner.
We also found in our consumer survey that whilst 52% will check the responses companies leave to positive and negative reviews, 20% will mostly look at the replies to the negative ones only. Considering around one-fifth of customers are checking company reactions to bad reviews with the most scrutiny it is especially important to ensure they are handled promptly.
However, speed is not the only factor that affects customer satisfaction. How companies react is also crucial.
How are companies responding to customer reviews?
The way that companies respond to an online consumer review can be just as important as the speed at which it is posted.
We found that customers have strong opinions about the kind of responses they receive, with most wanting to see personal acknowledgements of their online feedback.
An equal amount of consumers ranked a personal greeting (30%) or an apology (30%) as the most important element of a negative online review response. Fewer (7%) wanted to receive detailed information on how their problem would be resolved.
On the whole, companies seem mindful of these wishes and respond in kind to negative reviews. When we asked employees whose companies respond to online reviews how they generally handle negative reviews, a significant majority (62%) said they apologise and act on the complaint. This can involve a direct response from the posting member of staff or the forwarding of the customer’s information to the relevant support team.
Nevertheless, companies are not always as conscientious as they could be when responding to reviews. 14% of the employees in this group said that their company apologised without any follow-up action. More concerningly, another 10% would attempt to have the bad review removed, or report it to the platform it is published on. 2% said they do not take any action at all.
This goes to show that, while many employees work for a business that takes an active approach to customer reviews, a combined 26% of employees observe their companies fall well short of consumer expectations.
Do companies use standardised templates or personalise their replies to reviews?
Some businesses may use pre-prepared templates to save time when replying to customer reviews. However, is this the best strategy for businesses right now?
As we saw in the previous section, 30% of the consumers from our survey wanted a personalised greeting to a bad review. This would imply that end-users prefer an answer that is genuine and written just for them, rather than a boilerplate comment.
This is a fact the companies in our sample seem to be well aware of:
It seems clear that ready-made response templates are very much out of vogue with UK SMEs right now when it comes to online reviews. However, there is still a significant number of businesses that rely only on canned responses to customers.
What policies are SMEs using to respond to reviews?
Online review management policies are vital to ensuring that strategies are properly implemented. This gives staff guidance on how and when reviews should be tackled, as well as by who.
As we’ve already seen, speed and approach matter when it comes to achieving the most customer satisfaction from online review responses. However, we found that companies used a number of different tactics to do this in practice.
In our employee survey, we found that organisations who respond to reviews manage their policies in one of a few different ways:
- 53% of employees surveyed said their company has a policy on how to answer reviews (what the answer should contain, the tone, the style, etc.)
- 32% of employees surveyed said their company has a policy on how fast to respond to reviews
- 20% of employees surveyed said their company has no policy for replying to reviews
- 18% of employees surveyed said their company have a policy on who responds to reviews
As evidenced from our findings, most companies have a system in place in some capacity. While most favour a strategy where details on the tone, style, or contents of an answer are managed by internal policy.
It was, however, more surprising to see that around a fifth of businesses don’t rely on any policies at all. This could potentially cause problems especially given the potential lack of consistency in the responses to reviews given by staff in these entities.
Are online review strategies meeting consumer expectations?
Overall, we found that a combined majority of 84% of consumers believe that companies pay attention to the consumer reviews they receive in some capacity. However, 59% do not think that businesses pay sufficient attention to the feedback they get. Only 16% of the consumers we surveyed felt that companies paid no attention whatsoever to reviews.
This shows that despite a seeming belief companies take reviews seriously, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Nevertheless, there are many ways companies are planning to enhance their response to online reviews, as we detail in the next section.
What improvements are SMEs looking to add to their reviews strategy?
Strategy is an ever-evolving process and that is no exception when it comes to handling online reviews. Nonetheless, there is not always a single approach to managing this.
When asked how they could improve the ways their company handled online reviews, the employees we surveyed highlighted a number of different methods they felt would be useful.
Many were focused on improving their review management response rates in some capacity.
It appears from this data that most businesses are mindful of the fact they must improve their responses to online reviews. As we’ve seen before, customers clearly feel that companies don’t currently pay enough attention to reviews. This is evidently something that will need to change to help this form of marketing remain trustworthy.
Customer reviews posted online can affect the marketing performance and reputation of a business significantly. Therefore consumer review management is absolutely essential.
Some of the most significant learnings we gained from this research include the following points:
- 96% of employees said their company responds at least some of the time to customer reviews, although 42% of consumers report never receiving a reply from their posted online feedback .
- A combined total of 46% of employees reported that their company usually replies to online reviews within 24 hours, although the majority take longer.
- 62% of SME workers said that their company personalises their responses to online reviews.
- Another 62% of employees work in companies that post an apology and action a follow-up in reaction to negative reviews.
- Whilst our results showed significant time and resources are dedicated to replying to online reviews, 59% of consumers still feel more attention could be given to them.
Data for Software Advice’s Online Reviews Survey 2022 was collected in April 2022. Results for our employee survey comprise responses from 401 UK employees. To be eligible for this survey, participants had to be:
- Aged between 18 and 65.
- Employed in the UK by a company with under 250 workers.
- Working for a business that receives, manages and leverages online reviews for a product or service.
- Responsible or aware of their company’s process for managing and monitoring online reviews.
For our consumer survey results comprise responses from 599 UK consumers. The criteria to be selected for this study are as follows:
- UK resident
- Aged over 18 years old
- Have used online reviews to make a purchasing decision
- Read online reviews always, often, occasionally, or rarely before buying a product/service
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