Book Review of “Five Stars” by Gradiva Couzin and Jennifer Grappone

I read every word of Five Stars: Putting Online Reviews to Work for Your Business, written by Gradiva Couzin and Jennifer Grappone. So how could I not write a review about a book on reviews?

Five Stars Book Review



The book’s merits and ideal audience:

Is it a thought-full book, with lots of useful, tactical information written by people who have worked in the field? Absolutely!

Is it a must-read? If you work in a medium or large company that sells a lot of products online and receives reviews, I strongly recommended it.

If you are a medium-size company with at least one physical store, and people review your business, products or services online, it is worth reading.

I’ve been working with companies on reviews and local search engine optmization (SEO) for four years now, including work with hundreds of franchisees, and I still learned a lot by reading the 293-page paperback. Just having a reference for everything related to the sprawling and growing field of reviews is worth the $21.77.

I also found invaluable the implementation plan laid out in chapter 9.

The section walks you through developing your company’s personalized online reviews plan, including:

  • Optimizing profiles
  • Monitoring reviews
  • Learning form reviews and making changes
  • Seeking and responding to reviews
  • Advertising on local review websites
  • Measuring results

I wish more authors in the field of online marketing would include a chapter like this, which provides an execution strategy businesses can think through.

I would guess that most small businesses with fewer than 10 employees probably are not going to read this book, simply because of being swamped actually running the business. They might buy it as a reference book to deal with specific situations, such as dealing with negative reviews, or how to appropriately urge happy customers to review the business. Though the content is well written and very accessible, it’s just too much of a manual for most people whose job it is to run the whole business, and do not have the luxury of focusing primarily on marketing. I would urge the publisher Sybex break portions of the book down into handy plastic SPARK CHARTS sheets, or blog posts, in order for the data to be more accessible to that audience.

In the book you will find:

  • An overview of the different kinds of reviews, and lots of good statistics showing they impact sales.
  • An in-depth look at where online reviews occur, and a discussion around fake reviews
  • Understanding who reviews things, what prompts someone to review a product or service, and  how to receive more reviews
  • What factors within a review impacts search results
  • Where and how to monitor for reviews of your business and service
  • An extensive break down of all the major review websites
  • All the ways your local business can be found online

Here was some of the excellent advice they had on dealing with negative reviews:

  • Why you should respond:
    • “The 2011 Retailer Consumer Report by Harris Interactive found that of negative reviewers who were contacted by the business, over a third deleted their original negative review, another third posted a positive review, and 18% became loyal customers.”

How to best respond to the negative review, according to the authors:

  • Thank the reviewer for the feedback.
  • Identify your role at the business.
  • If the complaint is valid, apologize and name the problem and take responsibility, in order to make the apology as real as possible. “We’re sorry we messed up your order,” instead of a more passive “We apologize that the wrong item was shipped in your order.”
  • If it’s an opinion complaint, such as “The products are overpriced,” don’t create a fake apology such as “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Instead, opt for “I’m sorry we did not live up to your expectations,” Couzin and Grappone advise.
  • Do not get defensive, make excuses or argue.
  • Avoid asking questions or trying to clarify things in your response. Instead, request the person contact you offline, and provide your contact information. Otherwise you can get locked into a lengthy, public back and forth, even if the person genuinely just wants to get the issue fixed.
  • Correct facts using simple language and avoid blame.
  • Describe specifically what you are doing to improve the situation. At least say you are keeping the feedback on file for the future.
  • If you have reached out to the reviewer privately, mention that in your public review, so others know you are trying to resolve the issue.
  • Perhaps the best advice the authors provide on this topic is to be real and use the response as an opportunity to put a human face on your business.

Things to keep in mind when responding to negative reviews:

  • Respond publicly to reviews, especially negative ones, while keeping in mind you are not responding to everyone who will see this review. “In 2013, Wakefield Research on responses to product reviews found that “[s]hopper intent to purchase doubles when seeing a brand’s response to a negative review versus a negative review by itself,” the authors write on page 222. They go into great depth on explaining exactly how to respond in a way that does good and not additional damage to your business.
  • Be calm.
  • Know the rules related to responding, for the individual review platform you are using.
    • The authors provide links to all the rules regarding handling responses on Google+ Local, Yelp, Trip Advisor, Angie’s List, Baazarvoice
  • The person responding should be someone in authority over the issues and concerns your reviewers are writing about, but someone who can also keep a cool head. So perhaps the owners and interns should avoid responding. Sometimes a couple people might want to be in charge of the review, so no single person is in full control of what is said, kind of like two people having to turn the key to set off a nuke. (That last part was all me, not the authors!)
  • As a general rule, reviews on sites that matter to you should get a public response. Not responding gives the upset customer the last word.

When not to post a review:

  • If the review is incoherent or breaks the website’s rules, you might be able to have it removed, and no response would then be necessary. In addition, if you wait a few days Yelp will often filter some reviews away from its main page for a variety of reasons, thus making it the particular review practically invisible for most people.
  • On websites specifically set up for venting, such as Pissed Consumer and Ripoff Report, the authors quote an attorney saying just don’t provide an official response, because this coupled with links to the website can often mean the complaint receives more visibility in search engines. More popular websites like Google+ Local and Yelp, are so visible you don’t have a choice but to respond, but are also filled with good and bad reviews, rather than just people getting upset.

Ways to help insulate yourself from negative reviews:

  • Survey your customers directly in order to make changes, instead of just responding to reviews online the whole world can read. They mention the website as a place you can go to create a simple web page to gather feedback and ask customers to write reviews, in addition to offering a “Contact Us” option.
  • Set expectations with your customers, so they know what to expect, such as announcing that around Christmas there tends to be shipping delays.
  • Make it easy to find your contact information.

The book goes into greater detail on the issue of negative reviews, but hopefully this will at least give you some of the best advice they provide, if you are one of those unlucky people who found this post because you just noticed an awful review on your website, and you’re desperately scouring the interwebs for advice on what to do next.

Your Turn:

Whether you have a specific question about negative reviews, you’d like me to advise you on a specific review posted online you are struggling with, or have other questions about the book, feel free to post in the comments below.

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