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Trust and Reviews

It seems everything is open to questions about its veracity these days. Facebook is renowned for spreading false news stories through its sea of groups. Video editing can make a person say something they never actually said. Pundits on TV and radio openly make up their supposed facts to make their case.

And online reviews can be made up or skewed to promote or denigrate the product or business.

But people still use them to make all sorts of decisions, including about whether or not to use a medical provider. Over the decade we just completed, online reviews have become integral in the consumer purchasing decision.

With that in mind, let’s check a recent 2019 survey conducted by BrightLocal to see just what is the state of online reviews.

First a few stats

This survey covered a lot of ground. Let’s start with a few overall stats:

  • 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses
  • The average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business
  • Only 53% of people would consider using a business with less than 4 stars
  • Among consumers that read reviews, 97% read businesses’ responses to reviews
  • 67% of consumers have now been asked to leave a review for a local business, with 24% of those people being offered a discount, gift, or cash in return
  • Positive reviews make 91% of consumers more likely to use a business, while 82% are put off by negative reviews

Can they be trusted?

We’ve all heard stories of false reviews. A competitor ripping a product of a rival on Amazon. A reviewer being paid to write a review. Reviews that were edited or otherwise doctored. So, how’s the state of trust with online reviews?

Apparently very high. The Bright Local survey found 76% of people trust online reviews as much as recommendations from family and friends. Those numbers rise to 89% with 35-54 year-olds. Young people, ages 18-34 were the most trusting at 81% (although that was down 8 points from 2018). The least trusting group was people 55 and older, where nearly 40% said they didn’t trust reviews as much as personal recommendations.

What’s important in reviews?

So, what do people look for in an online review? What is important? These are what survey respondents ranked as the five most important factors in reviews:

  1. How recent the reviews are
  2. The business’s overall star rating
  3. How many reviews a business has
  4. How legitimate the reviews appear to me
  5. The sentiment of the existing reviews

This shows that it’s not enough for your practice to get a few 5-star reviews to have a high overall rating, and then not push for more reviews. People notice if your reviews are aging like the skin at a dermatology practice. In fact, the survey found that 84% of people feel reviews over 3 months old aren’t relevant. Ongoing reputation management is important to continue to garner new reviews.

Stars still matter. The survey found only 53% of consumers would consider using a business with less than a 4-star overall rating. The oldest age group is the most punishing about bad reviews, with 48% saying they needed to see a minimum of 4 stars before they’d give a business their business. That is important for practices dealing with aging issues. Plastic surgeons, med spas, and dermatologists all work with older patients. This group wants to see high ratings.

Another reason to keep pushing for reviews of your practice is the survey found that consumers read a whopping 10 reviews before feeling they can trust the business. So you need lots of reviews, and they need to be current to matter. Now you see why you need a continuing stream of reviews.

What about fake reviews?

As mentioned in our lead, there is more and more overtly false information floating around out there, and that’s really an unfortunate trend for the country as a whole. Online reviews aren’t immune. Sometimes they are easy to spot, such as when you see atrocious grammar on a mindless Amazon rip review. Other times they are hard to spot.

The survey found that 46% of people believe they’ve read multiple fake reviews in the past year. That rose from just 33% in 2018. Over another third said they had read at least one fake review, with only 18% saying they had not read a fake review. Of course, those people may simply not know and ate up the fakery.

Overall, 68% of consumers question the authenticity of reviews. Unfortunate.

Responding can help

We advise all of our practices on the importance of responding to reviews, preferably all reviews, but surely negative ones. Why is this so important? It shows you’re paying attention to your patients and that you want to make the problem right (if there was one) or that you’re grateful for the review.

There’s another reason — consumers are paying attention…in a big way. The BrightLocal survey asked, “Do you read businesses’ responses to their customers’ reviews?”

Almost universally — 97% of consumers — read what the business wrote in responses to reviews. Of that group, 46% said they “always” read the responses.

This presents an opportunity for your practice to show you’re attentive and focused on your patients. It’s also a way to counteract the distrust of online reviews noted above. If a practice responds to a review then the review obviously isn’t fake. This is especially true if there was a problem and you addressed it.

Bottom line? Online reviews have become an integral part of any business, including medical practices. They help patients get over the hump of distrust, moving to where they can trust a practice and possibly book a consultation or appointment, or call with a question. But there need to be numerous reviews on your practice, they need to be current, hopefully they’re 4 stars and above, and they need a response from your team. If you do all of that, online reviews can be an important part of bringing in new patients and building loyalty with existing ones.

Rather than thinking of online reviews as a nuisance, think of them as an opportunity to show your customer service chops to the world.

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