They're America's most reputable brand.
Amazon tops a 2016 list of the world's most reputable companies. But, this isn't anything new. Way back in 2010 they were listed as the most trusted company in America by a different source.
Not just reviews, but the tools and features included with their reviews.
Values are the foundation to high-quality reviews
As a general rule, self assessments aren't always trustworthy. Ask customers why they don't trust a seller's assessment of their business and the response is often about deception.
"What if we're being lied to? Maybe sellers are saying whatever it takes to get my money."
These complaints are legitimate. Some sellers are willing to lie if it gets them what they want. This short-sighted thinking pathologizes the marketplace, creating fear and distrust. It makes selling so much harder than it needs to be. But, this isn't the real reason we need reviews.
Conflict of interest.
This is why we need reviews. Our position is, by definition, at odds with customers. They want a solution, we want their money. Our goals aren't aligned.
Amazon understands this.
If you look closely, you'll notice their review platform focuses on a few specific things.
1. Creating safety. They make it safe for customers to share their thoughts and feedback. Reviewers are able to make and respond to individual comments. Customers can report inappropriate behavior and more importantly, Amazon takes action on it. When customers feel heard they're far more likely to contribute.
2. Truth through community. Customers can agree or disagree with other reviewers. Customers are able to ask questions, disagree and debate with each other. Amazon has developed a trustworthy community around reviews.
3. Drawing out specificity. Amazon consistently asks customers for their feedback. They do their best to draw out the specific details of a customer's experience. They sort their reviewers into categories so customers know who is reviewing their product. Professional reviewers, verified purchases and enthusiasts are all stated clearly. Amazon gives people the opportunity to ask very specific questions about products.
4. Transparency. Amazon shares important product details with customers. They approach the review process as objectively as they can, staying out of the customer discussion unless it's absolutely necessary. They don't attempt to steer, manipulate or control the flow of the conversation.
These values make it easy and far more likely that customers will share their feedback. Next, Amazon uses review features to build customer trust.
These Amazon review features are needed everywhere
Here's the bad news.
Most of the time, customers don't want to take the time to write a review for your product or service. In fact, it's far more common for customers to simply ignore reviews.
The biggest reason?
Most sellers don't ask. Amazon repeatedly asks customers for their feedback. But, the magic happens after they get a review. They implement specific on-site features collectively increasing the value of their reviews.
Let's look at these features.
Is this an unbiased customer or connection that's willing to say anything to help you out? This feature is incredibly valuable because it (a.) shows customers have skin in the game. They've spent their money on your product (b.) implies they're far less likely to act in the seller's best interest and lie, especially if they're unhappy and (c.) provides important details that are difficult to fake.
3rd party review sites like ZocDoc do this as well.
As far as features go, this is easier for specialty review sites to implement. Generalists like Yelp, Google or Facebook currently offer check-ins as an alternative.
The 1-9-90 rule is a rule of thumb, stating that only 1 percent of the users of a website actively create new content. The other 99 percent are lurkers, silent observers who simply consume content.
Exploding Kittens shows us why it's a problem.
Exploding Kittens is a popular card game. Most of their Amazon reviews are positive, but there are a few major issues that keep popping up in their reviews. These reviews are helpful because they expose a problem that was missed.
This customer says the playing cards are flimsy.
How many people feel that's a problem? Are customers actually concerned about this? Maybe it's just this parent.
How do you find out?
You look at Amazon's Helpful Votes.
When you look at the product page, the first three reviews mention this problem. Using Amazon's helpful votes feature, 1,375 people have stated this is a problem for them.
Helpful votes show sellers (you) the problems customers want fixed. It's an incredibly easy way for lurkers to get involved. That's important because their contributions are important.
The Review Breakdown
When you visit the review page for a product on Amazon you're met with this:
It gives customers a quick and dirty assessment tool they can use to gauge the quality of your products. Customers make inferences about the values of your company and, most importantly, how other customers feel about your product or service.
Doesn't sound like much until you do some comparison.
So, let's do that.
First, let's look at "Exploding Kittens"...
The difference is pretty dramatic. The weight loss book has more negative reviews than positive. Customers have some pretty unpleasant things to say about this book. It's no surprise then that Kevin Trudeau, the author, went to prison for some questionable activity around the sale of his products.
On the other hand, Exploding Kittens is a customer pleaser. Customers are, for the most part, really happy with their game. They're just unhappy with the quality of the cards, which is a relatively easy problem fix.
Review Star Filters in Search
Amazon builds something powerful into their search engine.
The ability to filter and sort reviews based on star rating. Want to quickly get a sense of the things happy customers are saying? Filter by five stars only. Looking for the deal breakers and specific problems unhappy customers have encountered? Focus on one and two star reviews.
Amazon makes it easy to filter by star rating.
Search for the product you want in their search engine. Then scroll down to the "avg. customer review" sidebar on the left. See the product you want? Hover over the reviews to get a quick snapshot of a product's review portfolio. Click on the "5 star" links to sort by five star reviews for that particular product.
Here's why this is needed everywhere.
Sometimes customers have to choose between multiple variations of a particular product. Exploding Kittens, Imploding Kittens, Exploding Kittens NSFW, etc.
Other times customers are required to choose between products and services in a particular area, e.g. restaurants in Chicago, plumbers in NYC).
Sorting by reviews gives customers a quick snapshot of an industry or niche. They infer who the leaders, contenders and losers are, all based on their review portfolios.
Top 500 Review Badge
Most reviewers are amateurs.
That's usually a good thing. Inexperience helps to convey authenticity and experience. These are helpful markers customers use to evaluate the "truthiness" of a company's review profile. Customers who aren't professionals have a specific look and feel.
Their message is often slanted towards emotion (at a ratio of 60/40 or greater). They use the wrong words, sometimes they ramble. They tell their story out of order.
But your review portfolio needs something more.
It needs the meticulous reviewer.
These are the thorough reviewers who go out of their way to provide other customers with a detailed and clear review. On Amazon these reviewers are given a variety of badges.
See the difference?
This reviewer went out of their way to explain (a.) the point of the game (b.) the types of cards in the game (c.) the quality of the product. They wrote a list, laid out the cards, took pictures.
They were meticulous in their review.
Customers are busy.
Some customers rely on a few reviews to make their purchase decision. That decision starts to make more sense when you have hundreds or even thousands of positive five star reviews. These highlighted pro and con reviews will influence many customers.
The size of the review portfolio and the ratio of positive to negative reviews are typically what customers look for.
On Amazon, these top positive and critical reviews supply customers with the information they're looking for. That could be:
· Emotionally persuasive content. Wonderful stories or examples about the product or company in question.
· Deal breakers customers want to avoid. It could be anything - a product that quickly falls apart. A service not delivered as promised. Values that are out of line. If it's a deal breaker customers want to know.
· Important tips and advice e.g. "you'll need to buy these accessories first..., this won't work if you're missing..."
· Missed expectations. Your product or service is positioned in a way that's confusing or inaccurate. Customers think they're getting A but they end up with B.
These top reviews give customers the broad strokes. With the right policies and procedures in place, customers have what they need to make a decision that's right for them.
Remember the Exploding Kittens review I mentioned earlier? Wouldn't it be nice to get some additional feedback from customers, in their own words?
Yes, it would be.
This is exactly what you'll get with Amazon. These discussion threads are often glossed over but they hold a tremendous amount of value for sellers.
Just by looking at this example, we've been able to confirm:
And this is just one review.
This is doable on Facebook because the review itself is an add-on to the standard status update. But most 3rd party sites don't create or encourage discussion threads.
That's a real shame because it enables sellers to take advantage of the powerful by-product in reviews.
Iteration makes you, your company, product or service, better. You're able to take the mistakes you've made, the ones you know about and ones you don't, and use them as fuel to create a stronger product.
But, only if you have the right mechanisms in place.
Question and answer sections
Prospective customers usually have questions. If they don't have a relationship with you or your product they're going to run into three specific problems.
1. Past experiences. If your customer, family or friend has had a bad experience that fear will be reflected in their objections. Attempt to ignore or avoid these objections and the chances of you making a sale diminish.
2. Inexperience. When new customers want a product they haven't purchased before, they're forced to face a number of unknown unknowns. This leaves them feeling vulnerable and frightened.
3. Perceptions. Fill in the blank. "Used car salesmen are...." You may not be a used car salesman. But, customers have perceptions about you, your business, industry, product or service all the same. They may bring these up as objections. If they're unwilling to discuss it with you they may hide these objections behind others, effectively killing the sale.
Discussion threads give you the opportunity to quietly monitor the conversation. This gives you the chance to iterate, to improve your product or service in a safe, measurable way.
You can't have these features so there's nothing you can do
These features aren't available in every industry. Review sites won't incorporate these changes any time soon so there's not really a whole lot you can do, right?
You always have options.
· You can focus on niche review sites that provide the functionality that you're looking for.
· Use standalone services to get the functionality you need. Use Twitter or Facebook Status updates to solicit feedback and discussion. Embed the thread on your site, then ask customers to continue the discussion. Display these with your reviews on site.
· Create a standalone review site. Populate it with your competitors information. Then, ask them to post a review. Just make sure it's something your industry can actually benefit from. You always have options.
But, whatever you do, don't ignore your reviews. It's an indispensible part of the sales and marketing process. Without it, customers won't have what they need to buy with confidence.
Be Reputable Like Amazon
Reviews give you the structure you need to sniff out objections, problem solve and iterate. It doesn't matter if you're part of a large Fortune 100 company or you're a solopreneur that's just getting started. Customers want to work with reputable brands.
Reviews show customers you're reputable.
And they come from one of the most trustworthy sources available.
Deliver incredible amounts of value to your customers. Then, ask for their feedback and support. With consistent effort you'll find a conflict of interest is no problem at all.