1 Jun 2016 Research

How Honest Consumer Reviews Can Help You Win More Business

Ruchi Dhami
Ruchi Dhami
Director of Market Insights & Development

By now, I’ve (hopefully) convinced you of the importance of consumer reviews, and Ashton has laid out some simple strategies for managing your brand’s online reputation. But now you’re probably thinking, “Ok, great. How do these two things relate? And where do I go from here?”

Funny you should ask…

I sat down with our reviews extraordinaire, Alex Carlin, to discuss how businesses can leverage consumer reviews — even negative ones — to build trust and drive growth.

Ruchi: In your professional opinion, why are consumer reviews so important?

Alex: People are looking for reviews all the time. In fact, this is how people are seeking information online. Someone who is making any sort of purchasing decision wants to know what it’s going to be like once they buy a product or invest in a service. And, who better to tell them about that product or service than someone who has done it before? This is the new “word of mouth” — it’s just like getting a personal reference, but it’s completely digital.

Ruchi: What is the advantage for a business?

Alex: Anyone who owns a business knows that a personal reference is the best kind of free marketing. A satisfied customer is going to tell his or her network about an amazing product or service, and the word is going to spread. If I eat the most scrumptious burrito from a restaurant, I’m going to tell all of my friends that, the next time they want a burrito, they should go here.

Ruchi: Mmmm, burritos. But, Alex, we’re talking about addiction treatment here, not delicious, spicy, cheesy burritos.

Alex: You’re right — addiction treatment is much more serious. You mentioned in your last post that reviews are possibly even more important to those seeking addiction treatment because it’s a high risk and high investment decision that can have pretty extreme results. That is 100% true. Now consider this on top of that: if I’m recommending a burrito to my friends, my mom or my sister isn’t going to be spreading the word, too. Same goes for my friends to whom I’m recommending this burrito place — they aren’t going to call up their parents, grandparents, siblings, significant others to see what they think about this burrito place before they eat there.

For addiction treatment, there are a lot of stakeholders. Over two-thirds of people who enter treatment for a substance use and/or behavioral disorder get there with the help of a loved one or trusted resource. Unlike my hypothetical burrito scenario, my family and close friends would be involved in helping me find addiction treatment options online by looking at reviews, and after I completed treatment, they’d write new reviews. This makes reviews even more significant to addiction treatment centers.

Ruchi: So then, wouldn’t a negative review be totally devastating to an addiction treatment center?

Alex: I don’t want to say that it’s impossible, but it is highly unlikely. In fact, negative reviews are really important, and can help increase a business’s credibility as a legitimate and trustworthy organization.

Ruchi: Wait, negative reviews are a good thing?! Explain…

Alex: Okay, we’ll use you as an example. You’re planning your honeymoon right now. So, let’s you find two hotels that are similarly priced and in similar locations: one has 25 5-star reviews and nothing else, and the other has twelve 5-star reviews, eight 4-star reviews, two 3-star reviews, two 2-star reviews, and one 1-star review. What’s your first move?

Ruchi: I’d want to know what the good and the bad things are about the second hotel. Were those 1 and 2-star reviews systematic issues with the hotel, or were they just circumstantial or the result of a frustrated guest?

Alex: Right — you’d want to know the pros and the cons about this hotel. Can you reasonably do that with the first hotel?

Ruchi: Not really. There aren’t any negative reviews… maybe the hotel is perfect!

Alex: Maybe. But think about the absolute best hotel you’ve ever stayed at — was it perfect to the point that not one person ever could’ve found a flaw?

Ruchi: I guess not…

Alex: Exactly. Now, let’s say that you’re reading the review for the first hotel with all the 5-star ratings. You start to notice a trend that every review is saying basically the same thing in slightly different phrasing. What are you thinking?

Ruchi: That something seems a little off.

Alex: Right! It might seem like the reviews are stacked. Maybe they are or maybe they’re not. But the perception is such that this hotel has someone sitting behind a computer just plugging in amazing reviews on how incredible the rooms are and how delicious the food is. It’s misleading. And, everyone knows that no product or service or hospitality venue is 100% perfect all the time. The addiction industry is no different in that way. Even the best treatment centers providing unmatched quality of care have at least one person who thinks the food could taste a little better or the beds could be a little comfier. Potential clients of a treatment facility and their loved ones who may be helping them find care are savvy, and they’ll catch on quickly if they aren’t seeing comments that haven’t been dipped in honey.

Ruchi: So, since negative reviews help your business seem more legitimate, you probably want them to show up on third-party websites, right?

Alex: Right!

Ruchi: Well, what if your facility receives a negative review? What’s the best course of action?

Alex: First things first: respond, respond, respond. Our reviews platform on, as well as many other reviews’ sites like Yelp or Facebook, allow treatment centers to leave a response to any consumer or user review. I always encourage every single administrator I speak with to leave a thoughtful, timely response on all reviews — not just the negative ones. A majority of the time, someone who is sharing their thoughts and opinions — whether good or bad — just wants to be heard. Acknowledging and thanking that person for taking the time to express their perspective goes a long way in forging trust and establishing a humanized brand. Our market research shows, too, that over 80% of people who are looking at reviews on addiction treatment perceive a center to be more trustworthy if they have professionally responded to a review than if they haven’t responded, thus making them more likely to consider that center for care. A simple response can go a long way in changing the conversation, and leveraging a negative review to a positive result.

I also always encourage facilities to send out our reviews survey to their alumni networks. This is the best way to not only get more data, but to get data that are representative of the alumni population.

Ruchi: What if a facility thinks that a negative review is manipulative or disparaging or left by a competitor?

Alex: Each review we post on is vetted and held to strict quality control measures, so by the time it reaches a listing page, we can say with 99.9% confidence that it’s a legitamate review. That said, sometimes things slip by us, in which case, we defer to a facility to help us out and give us the information we would need to decide if the review is indeed fraudulent. We’ll only take down a review if we have solid proof that it doesn’t meet our standards.

Ruchi: So, it seems like responding to reviews is the gold standard approach. What’s your advice to those at treatment centers for crafting the best response to a review?

Alex: It’s all about having a plan. Just like you need to identify people at your organization who are going to manage your social media pages, and respond to Facebook posts and Twitter tweets, the same needs to be done for online reviews. It can be the same person, or a different team — whatever works best for your organization. After that, it’s about the message. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to facility responses to negative reviews, and trust me, I get it. No one ever wants to hear or read horrible things about their life’s work, especially when you don’t believe it to be true and you’re helping to save lives. Addiction treatment is deeply personal. I can see how it’s easy to become defensive and combative. It’s of the utmost importance to stay calm and professional when responding to a review. It may seem basic, but believe me when I say I’ve seen responses that are neither calm nor professional. Don’t worry — we vet our facility responses just like we do our user reviews, so this content never made it onto our website.

The best responses to negative reviews are simple and brief, and include an acknowledgement of the reviewer’s complaints, an apology, a sign of gratitude for the reviewer’s time, and a line or two about how the facility has or plans to change in light of the the commentary supplied. The best responses to positive reviews are even more simple and brief, and just have a sign of gratitude and well-wishes.

Ruchi: Not so scary when you put it that way!

Alex: Easy as pie!

Questions for Alex? You can reach her at Stay tuned for the next installment in our reviews series!

How do you deal with negative reviews of your business? Tell us in the comments below.

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