Customer ratings and the tyranny of democracy

by Tom Albrighton 20 January 2010 Digital and social

Every so often, a marketing contrarian will float the notion that customer testimonials or ratings aren’t worth featuring in your marketing, because they so transparently serve your own interests. I find this astonishing.

Let me qualify that. I’m not talking about quotes or ratings presented in a manner of your own choosing. Quotes included on your website or in your brochure are clearly open to editing, manipulation or even fabrication. And obviously, they’re selected too – you don’t seek or publish quotes from clients who weren’t 100% happy.

However, reviews submitted at third-party sites can be completely beyond your control. Every time I invite a client to review me at FreeIndex, I’m making myself a hostage to fortune. Of course, I choose the ones I think are happy, but for all I know they’ve been holding back on a reservation about the timescale or the price. In fact, anyone can review me at FreeIndex, whether I invite them or not. And the pages rank highly.

In fact, it’s arguably far too easy to post negative reviews. Have a look at this profile for a copywriter on Touch Local. She’s rated one star on the strength of one anonymous, invisible review, submitted via a one-page form (you can see it further down the page). Who did that? A customer? A competitor? A drunk teenager?

Assuming it’s not genuine, presumably, the onus is on her to notice the rating, approach the site and attempt to have it rescinded – or, failing that, gather enough positive reviews to bring her average up.

Even if it is a genuine rating, it seems like a raw deal – particularly since she’s contributed to the viability of the directory by submitting her details and may even be paying for priority listing. All that marketing effort and/or outlay has ended up harming her prospects instead of enhancing them.

What do you think? Has democracy gone too far?

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