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Five things I’ve learned about consumer behaviour (that contradict everything you’ve been taught)


After four years at the healm of business reviews website WOMOW.com.au, Fiona Adler has learnt lots of things along the way – not the least of which are some surprising insights about consumer behaviour.

Having access to so much customer satisfaction data has changed her way of thinking about consumers – and changed it for the better.

Here are her five lessons to change the way you think about consumer behaviour too.

1. People are kinder than you think

Although the common thinking is that happy customers will tell three friends and unhappy customers will tell ten or more, in practice this is not true. In fact, our data shows that over 93% of all customer reviews are positive.

When customers are happy, they know that one way they can thank the business for providing good service is to review them online.

So, dont’t panic! Your fears that one dissatisfied customer will wreak havoc on your reputation are largely unfounded.

2. People are smarter than you think

While we might get hung up on the latest thing said about us, fortunately it seems that people are a lot smarter than that.

For example, people judge a business based on all of their reviews, not just the latest one; they can tell when someone is being a demanding brat and the business has been given a hard time (and they often jump to the business’ defense); they can tell if a business owner tries to write their own reviews; and they understand the biases that a review might have when one consumer says “expensive and flashy,” another consumer interprets this as “classy and sophisticated.”

3. It takes a lot to tick people off (and not all that much to impress them)

A hundred and fifty thousand customer reviews tell us that customers are actually a pretty understanding bunch.

They might mention the smallish things that irritated them about an experience, but if it’s a one-off incident, they’ll usually also show empathy towards the business or customer service person.

So long as most things are right, the customer is happy. For example, in a recent review for Mirenesse (online makeup business), a customer wrote:

“I’ve had an experience of being delivered an empty package and the contents were replaced without any fuss. Their delivery time is within two days. Most of all the products are great and I have referred them to family and friends.”

The customer once received an empty package, but still rated this business as five stars!

On the other hand, when a customer experiences an unexpected positive gesture or add-on, it’s something they treasure and talk about.

Hairdressers that serve up a good coffee (or wine), businesses that return calls/emails the same day, and tradespeople that turn up on time and clean up after themselves all get rave reviews.

4. Consumer opinions create a tipping point

Most of us act like sheep and our tendencies to follow the crowd are strong. If one person likes something, ok. Two people? Pretty good. But when five people recommend it? I’m there!

We’ve noticed that when a business has somewhere between 3 and 7 positive reviews, they reach a tipping point and their impact escalates exponentially. They get more interest, more enquiries and lots more new customers.

They also start getting more new reviews (“other people have done them so I should too”), giving them even more popularity.

5. A caring attitude is the most important thing

For all the systems you put in place, all the extras you include, all the effort you put into nice uniforms, furniture, packaging, etc. etc. that you provide your customers, when it all boils down, the most important thing is the attitude of the people actually serving customers.

If customers feel that they’re not genuinely valued, then the other things don’t matter. And conversely, if mistakes are made but the customer thinks that you’re trying and actually care about their experience, they’re likely to forgive a magnitude of sins.

So, the good news is, you don’t need to be an amazing business; so long as you’re pretty good, customers will love you.

And once your word-of-mouth reaches a tipping point, your reputation is likely to attract more and more interest and new customers.

Fiona Adler is a founder of WOMOW.com.au (Word-Of-Mouth On the Web), an Australian business reviews website. She has an MBA, a degree in marketing and a background in strategic consulting and small business.