Online Reviews: How to Learn from the Good and the Bad

Constructive criticism is one of the most powerful tools available to businesses of all types today. After all, who better to tell you how you’re really doing than the people you’re supposed to be pleasing in the first place? Thanks to the Internet and the scores of online review sites that have cropped up over the years, you don’t have to look very far anymore for someone’s honest opinion of a product or service, especially now that everyone has an equal voice in the proceedings.

However, the key word in the phase "constructive criticism" is "constructive." Online review sites tend to be a collection of overwhelmingly negative reactions, regardless of whether or not they have any basis in fact. As a result, many people tend to immediately discredit them or wash their hands of online reviews altogether. In reality, there’s a huge amount you can learn from both the good and the bad online reviews — provided you know how to wade through the noise and find it.

Overwhelmingly Positive Reviews: Not as Overwhelmingly Helpful As You Might Think

Overwhelmingly positive reviews can be a great boost to your confidence as a business professional. They can be a great indicator that you’re on the right track and that you’re meeting the expectations you set for yourself when you started a business in the first place.

Unfortunately, these overwhelmingly positive reviews that give your business 11 out of 10 stars aren’t telling you anything you can actually use to make your organization better. Make no mistake: you are never as perfect as you think you are. Every business, regardless of industry, always has room for improvement. While a dramatically positive review may be a nice pat on the back, it isn’t something you should necessarily spend too much time thinking about.

Negative Reviews: Finding the Needle in the Haystack

When people are angry, their emotions tend to take over. This is evidenced in just about every one-star review you’ve ever read for a product or service online. They’re usually lengthy diatribes about how "everything was awful" and tend to even mention things that a business can’t necessarily control, like the way the post office handled a delivery.

It can be easy to quickly dismiss these types of reviews, but you really shouldn’t for a simple reason. At the core of the one-star review is still a dissatisfied customer you can learn from to make your business better in the future. Try to go through a negative review and delete all sentences that are pure emotion. A sentence that says "this is the worst company ever" has nothing valuable to tell you. Once emotion is gone, you’ll be left with a much clearer indication of what really happened.

The Math Equation of Constructive Online Criticism

If you want to quickly get to the heart of all reviews and paint the clearest possible image of how you’re doing, you need to approach online criticism like something of a math equation.

Consider three reviews: one overwhelmingly positive, one neutral, and one negative. Compare all three, and look for the common elements. Does the overwhelmingly positive review have something in common with the neutral review, like a positive employee encounter? If it does, you can rest assured the referenced employee is truly doing a great job.

Likewise, does the negative review share something in common with the neutral review? Would the neutral review have been more positive were it not for X, which is also present in that one-star comment by a disgruntled customer? If so, then you’re looking at a genuine point of contention that should be fixed as soon as possible.

Online reviews are inherently valuable thanks to the equal voice they give everyone, from the people who love your business to the people who don’t and everyone in between. People have an instinct to wash their hands of online reviews due to their anonymous nature and the grand emotions that are on display, but this is a mistake. So long as you know exactly what you’re looking for and how to find the grain of truth hidden in that emotion, you come away with valuable, actionable information you can use to make your company better moving forward.

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