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Relationship management

Do anonymous online reviews build trust?

It’s no secret that successful businesses are built on trust, but online reviews are changing how that trust is gained. For business of all types – from established groups with 50 years or more of face-to-face reputation management to startups with five days in the spotlight – a five-word anonymous review online can be a very scary thing.

It doesn’t have to be.

Our recent FindLaw Ratings and Reviews Survey found that the realm of professional services is shifting. American consumers are more likely to hire lawyers and professional service providers with online reviews.

This engagement channel is one that professional service providers simply cannot afford to mismanage, let alone ignore. Each review posted, whether good or bad, potentially reaches an audience a thousand times greater than good old word-of-mouth.

Online reviews are part of most consumers' process when choosing professional services
Source: FindLaw Ratings and Reviews Survey
Online reviews are part of most consumers' process when choosing legal services, regardless of age
Source: FindLaw Ratings and Reviews Survey

A survey of 2,000 U.S. adults for the American Lifestyles 2015 report – conducted by global marketing firm Mintel – corroborates these findings. The results indicated seven out of 10 consumers base their purchases on the digital recommendations of strangers.

In other words, consumers do trust the word of anonymous reviewers.

The truth is that service industries like restaurants and retail have been using online reviews to their advantage for years, directly engaging with satisfied and unsatisfied customers alike over social media and digital platforms. As mobile technology and social media become more ingrained in the way people do all business, the more prevalent these third-party input and insights will become – whether businesses choose to be involved or not.

There’s a right way and a wrong way

Lawsuits filed by Amazon and Yelp over the past year show that a good deal of companies and entrepreneurs are missing the mark; they are purchasing fake reviews rather than facilitating real ones. Punitive measures aside, consumers know how to recognize fake reviews or, at the very least, find tools to help suss them out.

It’s possible that many of these companies have been ensnared by a common misconception: that the internet is dark and full of terrible trolls. According to the FindLaw survey, most online reviewers want to leave a positive review. The trick is enabling them to do so.

And the unsatisfied customers that do fit the “scary internet” model? Even they can have a positive effect on perception. An online response to a negative review can have a better impact than a positive behind-closed-doors interaction. It will have a much broader reach. If you catch the customer sooner rather than later, you can influence which direction the snowball effect will go.

The bottom line is that what people post for reviews is beyond a business’s control, but what happens afterward isn’t.

The FindLaw survey was conducted using a survey of a demographically balanced sample of 1,000 American adults and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percent.

It’s not just about relationship management

FindLaw has issued a white paper that provides additional research on:

Online ratings and reviews survey
Download You can’t control your firm’s reputation now!
  • Why consumers find reviews so valuable
  • Best practices for managing and responding to online feedback
  • How reviews can help refine business models and operations
  • The positive impact of reviews on organic traffic to the content your company does write
  • … and more!

While this paper focuses on legal services, its creative solutions can be applied to any industry.


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