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How consumers really feel about perfection

How consumers really feel about perfection

Customer reviews. They’re the online equivalent of a test score in grade school and every brand is in the market for a top-rating. 

Typically debuted on a scale from 1-5, many would assume that a 5-star rating from customers is ideal. But what if it isn’t?

We spoke with Dr. Eric Frazer, top psychologist and Yale professor, about consumer receptiveness to high reviews, what consumers look for in a review and how you can ethically ensure customer satisfaction.

Factors of a good review

Online reviews certainly have a home in consumer psychology. They’re a type of social proof, the idea that consumers are more likely to follow the lead of like-minded people — and it heavily relies on trust.

In the day of bots and artificial intelligence, trust is increasingly important to the average consumer. Reviews are no longer being taken at face value. Consumers also want more than ratings and that means asking oneself, ‘Did a person write this review or did a machine write this review?’ The answer lies in context and detail. 

“Validity and evidence of specific information is the first thing that people tend to look for,” Frazer said. “So, if it’s a review of a pair of sneakers and it’s just these general words — great, comfortable, a lot of fun — you can say that about a lot of consumer products, especially apparel.”

While star-ratings still have purpose, they aren’t much help to the majority of consumers. A 2021 Yelp survey, found that more than half of survey participants believed that “a rating without review text should not be considered a review at all.” Instead, they preferred a review with a star-rating and a minimum of 16 words. 

A trustworthy review can also be boiled down to what’s being discussed in the text. Is the reviewer speaking on the service or are they focusing on their personal preferences?

“Let’s look at two reviews of a restaurant...The first says, ‘This food was so salty, I would never come here again.’ That’s a preference because what we view as salty might be very different,” said Frazer. “But if someone says, The service here was impeccable. The waitress was polite, the food came out just right, and the facility was clean…’, these are things that every restaurant goer is looking for.”

When you make the distinction between preference and objective data, that lends back to the validity of the review. Consumers have checkboxes in their minds, qualities of a product or service that must be present in order for them to feel confident in their decision to purchase from you. This may include:

  • Detailed text specific to the product or service
  • Confirmation that it was written by a verified reviewer/person
  • Date of the review 
  • Total number of reviews

You’ll notice perfection is not on that list. 

What consumers want to see, Frazer says, is a bell-curve that leans more toward the higher star-ratings. 

“Five represents perfect, and anyone who is reasonably intelligent knows that’s an unreasonable goal. That’s not to say people can’t have great experiences, but if there are only five-star reviews we know it’s skewed because that’s not the real world,” said Frazer.

Beyond that, consumers are interested in reliability. They want a brand that does what it says it’s going to do. The star rating is merely a symbol of a brand’s ability to do so.

“What really matters is not the star, but if the brand is able to fulfill its promise. You don’t have to be perfect to do that,” said Frazer. “If the stitching on a pair of pants comes undone, I don’t care that it’s not perfect if the brand’s promise is that they’ll repair it for free.”

Ethical, trustworthy reviews aren’t to be tampered with or made under pressure, but they can be influenced by authentic actions made by your brand.

“Where smart companies need to double down, instead of working on how they segment their reviews and tweak them, is thinking about how they can build trust by fulfilling their promise,” said Frazer.

In the eyes of consumers, perfect reviews aren’t nearly as important as promises fulfilled. 


Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.

Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.