10 Overlooked Facts About Customer Reviews to Help You Improve Customer Service

Finding out what your customers really think is about more than just sending out a satisfaction survey or asking the Net Promoter question after each interaction.

You’ll get better results if your company ‘runs on feedback’ the way a Tesla runs on electricity. That’s how you can live up to the high standard of being truly customer centric – or at least achieve optimum market fit for your products and services. 

But as anyone who’s ever tried to build a customer feedback strategy can tell you, it isn’t exactly straightforward – especially if you’ve got lots of stakeholders who all want to get something out of those customer reviews.

Sometimes you need an honest look at the facts to help you cut through the marketing mind tricks floating through the interwebs. 

So here are 10 commonly misunderstood truths that can guide you as you create and embed customer feedback systems that reward your customers AND give you valuable insights to drive business forward. 

1. Remember Why People Write Customer Reviews

They don’t give feedback to help you.

According to research by customer review platform Trustpilot, people leave reviews with the following 5 goals:

  1. venting their frustration after a bad experience
  2. praising and supporting the company after a good experience
  3. self-expression and feeling empowered through sharing their views
  4. getting recognition for their knowledge or tastes
  5. belonging and contributing to a community.

All of these benefit the customers themselves, making any happy outcomes for your company only coincidental.

Even point 2, helping the company if the experience was good, serves the customer’s psychological need of self-expression (it’s basically the same as point 3). Customers feel good afterwards where they enjoy the satisfaction of voicing their beliefs and values in a public forum. 

For example, consider this review for the shoe company Po-Zu.

Po-Zu Customer Review

Yes, this customer was happy to do Po-Zu a favour (see point 2). They also got to express their core value of supporting fair, sustainable manufacturing (points 3 and 4). This, according to The Science of Attitudes by Joel Cooper et al., is in itself an empowering source of satisfaction.

People give feedback for their own benefit, not yours. Click To Tweet

2. What’s in it for Customers When You Ask for Feedback?

Just because leaving reviews feels good, doesn’t mean people are willing to take the time to do so. 

As Ashley Verrill writes on the CustomerSure blog, customers are more likely to share their thoughts if you tell them what/how their feedback will be used or how will it add value to their experience of the product/service. For example, you could say something like: “We want to know what we can do to make your experience better. We are collecting ideas from our customers, and will implement changes based on the most popular ideas.”

Wording is essential here: note how explicitly Ashley mentions “changes” and “ideas from our customers”. She also uses the phrase “make your experience better”, which speaks directly to the user or customer so that they see a direct benefit for themselves.

In contrast, this invitation for customer review uses a less powerful phrase “improve our customer satisfaction”:

Trust pilot customer review

The outcome you are aiming for  is the same, but how much of a nudge it is for the customer is different. When you use phrases like “improve our customer satisfaction” it is not compelling enough for the customer to write a review, making it feel like an unrewarding effort for them.

Nobody takes the time to leave a review if they feel there's nothing in it for them. Click To Tweet

3. It’s about Getting the Balance Right

A lot of the advice out there focuses on handling negative customer reviews. Should you respond? How should you respond? Should you delete the review or publish it? What’s the ideal ‘quota’ of good vs. bad?

In reality, you should think about acknowledging and responding to positive reviews as much as you do for negative ones. By knowing both your zone of excellence AND what’s not yet working well, you will be able to put your continuous improvement on a solid footing.

Think of your positive reviewers as your superstar customers and treat them as such. Give them your full attention, and they’ll reward you with more praise, repeat purchases, and glowing advocacy. As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman explain in their bestselling management book, First, Break All the Rules: “Since human beings are wired to need attention of some kind, if they are not getting attention, they will tend, either subconsciously or consciously, to alter their behavior until they do.”

This is an area where the rules of great people management and great customer management overlap.

Furniture company Skandium does this quite well:

Skandium customer review

Don't forget to thank people for their positive reviews. Click To Tweet

4. Small Companies Can Hurt the Relationship with Customers by Responding the Wrong Way

Building a personal relationship is one of the best parts of buying from small businesses. It’s also a great foundation for asking customers to leave a review. Experts tend to encourage small companies to ask this favour from their customers

However, as in any personal favour we do for family and friends, we like to feel our actions have been noticed.

If you’re a small business, pay special attention to reviews that mention the names of anyone in your team — like Rachel in this review:

Review on lukslinen.com

lukslinen.com customer review

Ideally, you’ll need to ask Rachel to respond to the customer: either by replying to the review (and publishing her reply on the page) or in a personal call or email, or even both.

If someone's name appears in the review, ask them to personally thank the customer for their praise. Click To Tweet

5. Your Customers Want Feedback Too

Many people who leave a good review hope others will feel grateful for the tip. They desire emotional closure, craving the knowledge that their review has indeed been helpful for someone else.

Seems obvious and yet, many review systems still don’t enable that rewarding feedback loop between customers.

So, how can you give the reviewer that sense of closure?

Unbounce recommends testing a setup that allows customers to rate each other’s reviews. For example, you could introduce simple thumbs up or thumbs down.

Karen, for example, would probably love to know about anyone who followed her recommendation and bought a pair of Seven Feet Apart sneakers:

Seven Feet Apart sneakers

Reward your most fervent advocates with emotional closure by allowing customers to rate each other's reviews. Click To Tweet

6. Writers of Negative Reviews Want You to Fix Their Bad Experience and Turn Them into a Happy Customer

Too many companies neglect the opportunity to respond to negative feedback and turn the situation around. Especially as most shoppers rely on reviews in their decision making and might feel more inclined to buy if they see the company do a great job here.

When you reply, never copy/paste a template response because using templates is as good as not responding at all. Here’s an example taken from Feefo.


Instead, make your replies personal and human like this one from the Feefo profile of BAM Bamboo Clothing.

Bamboo Clothing

Negative reviews are a brilliant opportunity to show off your outstanding approach to customer care. Click To Tweet

7. Deleting Customer Reviews is so 2010

People leaving a damning review often hope to spare others the same disappointing experience:

negative customer review

If you get that kind of review, don’t delete it!

Instead, it’s extra important that you make things right for the customer and respond to their review. If you’re lucky (and tech allows), the customer might even reply on the review site to thank you publicly. And shoppers reading that exchange will feel that extra bit of reassurance that you’ll do what it takes to make them happy.

Prioritize posting helpful replies to reviews that say 'don't buy from them'. Click To Tweet

8. But Sometimes, Ignoring is Bliss 

Some might want to punish you for a disappointing experience. At that point, the relationship is often already broken beyond repair. But it’s worth trying anyways, because other people are watching.

Respond as you would to any other complaint. Take extra care with your wording: stay warm and human. Don’t fall into the trap of losing your temper, adding heat with lots of exclamation points or turning a cold shoulder with formal language. 

With one exception. Don’t reply to ratings that aren’t related to someone’s direct experience with your brand — like this one, left for a well-known airline in the US:Reviewcentre.com

If someone leaves a review to punish you, keep calm and carry on giving great customer care. Click To Tweet 

9. Fake Customer Reviews Need Not be a Problem

Some people leave bad customer reviews even though they haven’t even experienced the thing they’re reviewing. (Hello, Amazon… looking at you here!)

Amazon Review

In 2015, newspaper The Telegraph reported that reviews by trolls cost UK businesses up to £30 million per year. Indeed, this is such a big issue that Marketing researchers have published papers on the phenomenon. Their advice: offer people alternative ways to express themselves. Make it easy to get advice (as in the given example). Invite complaints by email, chat, phone so that people don’t have to vent publicly.

And, most importantly, boost engagement from your happy customers. Their praise can drown out the negative noise.

Never respond to review trolls in kind. Removing their posts should be your very last resort. Click To Tweet

10. Your Approach to Reviews is One of the Easiest Ways You Can Stand out from Your Competitors

Very few companies take the time and effort to read all the customer reviews they get and respond to each one individually. In fact fewer companies put in the effort to record the points raised and address the problems that customers experienced.

In other words, replying to as many reviews as possible is a brilliant way to go above and beyond expectations.

Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters, agrees: “This is much different than how most businesses interact with customers (especially online), which is to answer some complaints, in some channels, some of the time.”

A review is not the end of the customer experience. It's the beginning of the next one. Click To Tweet

Is there another common misconception about customer reviews I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments!