Commerce has always relied upon trust — we trust that a piece of paper printed by the government is worth a unit of value we call a dollar. We trust we’ll be paid for our work. Trust has always defined our professional lives but recently, trust has taken center stage. It’s now a significant economic driver and it’s no exaggeration to say that it doesn’t matter what business you’re in: If you’re not taking part in the trust economy, you’re falling behind. In a few years, you may even be out of business.
Trust is now table stakes. The parameters of the “trust economy” can seem vague on the face of it, though: It’s the idea that your reputation is currency. As customers, we review our vendors. As vendors, we respond. It’s that interaction that leads customers to make a purchase. When those customers read reviews, they discover businesses that meet their needs. Because businesses are rated by actual users, companies are rewarded based on service and utility; not their advertising budgets.
There are ground rules, of course: It’s best if the reviews are handled by a third party. The reviews process must be transparent. Negative reviews can’t be scrubbed just because they’re negative. Positive ones can’t be written by paid copywriters. And when vendors interact with their customers — that’s the sweet spot. Over time, a symbiotic relationship tends to form: Customers and vendors have an ongoing dialogue.
There’s research to back up these statements too. According to Spiegel Research Center at Northwestern University, online reviews have a “significant and quantifiable impact” on whether or not someone makes a purchase. The BrightLocal Customer Review Survey from 2017 says, 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Companies such as electronics maker Anker thrive because of their Amazon reviews, beating larger, more established rivals such as Samsung and Apple.
But what if your business isn’t some consumer product? What if your business is aimed at a specialized, B2B audience? You still need to compete. First, there’s the standard business advice that remains true: You aren’t competing against your present rivals; you’re competing against the future. Whatever the landscape looks like now — in five years, it’ll change. Our economy is undergoing digital transformation and if your business isn’t looking to compete based on trust, some new rival will. Your business will suffer because consumers seek out reviews to mitigate risk. If your product isn’t cheap, purchasing managers will read reviews and it won’t matter that they like you personally or if you include them on your holiday cards list.
Trust is the foundation of disruption
Look to the avatars of disruption, and you’ll see they all partake in the trust economy, from Airbnb to Uber and Lyft. Each one of those sites relies on a transparent process based on clear community guidelines. This transparent and objective model allows for a level playing field: On Airbnb, that person with a cabin in the wilderness has the same opportunity for recognition as a multi-million-dollar condo in London.
Generally, the same dynamic translates to the business world — except a large corporation that ignores product reviews can skirt the issue (for a while, until disruption) because people know their brand. Rightly or wrongly, people assume if the brand advertises heavily and is well-known, then it must be good.
When your business is a small-to-medium sized operation, people may not know your work. Your opportunity lies in gaining trust — in having a reputation for making good on your promises. It doesn’t take a huge budget to achieve recognition in the trust economy, just a willingness to interact with your customers in both good times and bad. As in everywhere else, customers are more likely to recommend and buy products from a company that values their patronage.
Potential customers don’t want to see 100-percent positive reviews. If review after review is full of bland praise, customers are likely to assume those reviews are fake. Instead, they want to see dialogue and consideration. They want to witness vendors interacting with their customers to meet their needs. In fact, 82 percent of shoppers specifically seek out negative reviews as a way to learn more about vendors.
Also, potential customers don’t want to read anonymous reviews. According to Spiegel Research Center, purchase likelihood improves 15 percent when buyers read verified buyer reviews. Spiegel also says potential customers want to read multiple reviews — and having five reviews results in an increased purchase likelihood by a factor of almost four times. It’s therefore in the interest of your business to encourage multiple reviews.
Reviews sites give your business an opportunity to interact with your customers. They also give you new-customer prospects — and are an ideal way for you to take part in the new and bourgeoning trust economy.