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Advice from a Ratings-Crazed Consumer/Researcher

A guest blog by Marianne Rittner-Holmes

The Voice of the People is upon you, and if you’re not leveraging public rating forums as part of your marketing strategy, your business success and growth will suffer.  I know because I’m an avid consumer/researcher for just about everything that touches my family.

Who am I?  Honestly, I’m probably quite average:  a wife, a step-grandmother, a retiree from the corporate world, a freelance author/writer, a homeowner, a pet owner, an Army veteran.

What do I want?  I want the best buy for my money; I want people to be honest with me; I want to be cared about; I want good customer service; I want good resolution if a product fails; I want fairness.

To clarify, “I want” means I’m advocating for my family, friends and loved ones.  My influence is substantial in surrounding relationships.  I use ratings in all consumer areas to choose which businesses to patronize.  These insights from other consumers are a lifeline for me in the world of way-too-many choices and claims.  I increasingly rely on my fellow consumers to help me by sharing their experiences.  While some write-ups might be bogus or solicited for money, my belief is that most are not.  I believe my fellow average folks will tell me the truth.  And truth is so hard to discern these days.

Let me walk you through how I use ratings to make a decision:

First, I try to find out if there’s a definitive rating forum for the field I’m researching.  For travel, it’s TripAdvisor; for contractors, Angie’s List or Home Advisor; for lawyers, Avvo or Best Lawyers; for doctors, it’s Health Grades and Angie’s List.

Second, I look to see if a business/service has any ratings at all.  Those with no ratings bother me because they seem to have no sense of their online presence.  They may not want to be dragged into the internet fray, but they are by ratings organizations that post their name from available business directories.  “No rating” says to me either the firm is brand new or it’s untended.  Neither gives a sense of comfort.

Third, I look for the highest-rated entity.  Highest-rated doesn’t have to be solid five stars.  Less than five stars is okay because we can’t always be everything to everybody.  Odds are that someone will be unhappy no matter what a business does to try to satisfy a need.  What I’m looking for is a trend that’s well-above-average.

Fourth, I now look at the number of ratings.  This is perhaps the most significant part of the interpretation process.  A solid five-star rating based on two reviews means nothing except that the owner’s spouse and mother love him/her.  Give me a rating of 4.7 based on 987 total reviews, and you have my rapt attention.  That kind of performance tells me this business is solidly performing well all the time.  That’s huge.  It sets the business apart in its marketplace.  I definitely want to know more about them.  Conversely, a three-star rating based on five reviews is detrimental because it tells me that even in a small sampling, this firm is not quite getting it right.

Fifth, I actually read the reviews of the top three companies I’ve chosen to compare.  I look at three high rated reviews and about the same number of the lower.  By reading the lower write-ups, I try to decide if their upset with the business is reasonable or not.

In the past month, I have used ratings to decide on my husband’s new cardiologist (we weren’t happy with his current one), an advocacy firm for Veterans (to answer questions regarding my Vietnam Veteran husband’s benefits), an intellectual property attorney (for a soon-to-be-published manuscript), the purchase of an inversion table (happy birthday to me), the best worm medicine for dogs and a reputable contractor to perform work at the local fire department where I volunteer.

Over the past six months, I used ratings to help my mother and brother in another state decide on a new dentist and on a contractor to repair their boiler.  I also helped two friends find the best online business interface to vend their products.

Additionally, I contribute to these forums by writing reviews for TripAdvisor.  Imagine that little ole average me sitting in the desert 50 miles south of Albuquerque has a readership of 1,800 people based on six food and hotel reviews!  (I just added three more.) Plus I write reviews for other vendors who ask me or who incentivize me to do so.  Please note they just ask me to write the review.  They don’t ask me to write a good one.  I write the truth about what I know.  One recent vendor offered free shipping and a 15% discount for posting a review.  I jumped on it because I like their product and was happy to share!  The truth is that I would have never written a review at all had they not asked or directed me to a specific site.

As you can see, I am just one of many who use these forums for matters that affect our daily lives.  If you are not considering your internet ratings as part of your overall marketing plan, you are making a huge mistake.  If you don’t use them wisely, you are hurting yourself even more.  The people are speaking.  Are you listening?

(Marianne Rittner-Holmes is a freelance writer and a ratings-crazed consumer/researcher.  Find her at http://www.alphadox.us.)