In a guest blog, Mustard’s Colin Auton explores the pitfalls of taking review sites too seriously.

Whilst on holiday this summer, my wife asked me if I wanted to visit a weekly local market in a village 30 minutes away by bus. Like many others, my immediate reaction was to look at recent reviews of customer experiences at the market, to see whether I thought it was worth abandoning the pool for a day. One of the first reviews I read was titled ‘Used to be a terrific market with quality traders but now it’s full of tat’. The reviewer had been visiting this market for over twenty years, and over time, her perceived view of the quality of the stalls had diminished – trading off local, artisan products for mass-produced, tourist tat.

Having decided to not read any further, I elected to stay put by the poolside, rather than visiting a market that seemed identical to many others I’d visited on holiday in the past. How wrong I was! My wife ended up going on her own and came back saying it was one of the best markets she’d ever been to. She said the village was beautiful and the market had a real variety of stalls. All of a sudden, I felt as though I’d missed out.

My behaviour is no different to what many of us now do when we need to make a choice about restaurants, hotels or attractions. A recent survey suggested that almost 9 in 10 people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Here at Honeycomb, we know that the act of giving reviews is polarising. Take a look at any given restaurant on TripAdvisor – and you’ll find lots of 4- and 5-star reviews, a smaller number of (quite vitriolic) 1-star reviews and not that much in between. Logically, this makes sense. If you had an average time, a review would be short, and not that valuable to anyone, and more likely not actually worth writing about. Those awful and amazing experiences on the other hand make you want to tell others.

Herein lies the problem with using review site data in isolation. Rather than the headline scores being used as quantitative metrics, we think there’s much more value in understanding what is being said in the body of the reviews – a ‘qual-at-scale’ approach if you like, and using the topics that can be statistically derived to elevate experiences. The result of this is that a greater proportion of future reviews will be 5-star rated. Moreover, using this data alongside other research and internal data can provide a more rounded view of what consumers really think about you. We strongly believe that the incorporation of review data in customer experience programmes is becoming the new barometer of feedback for brands, and those organisations who adopt these new integrated solutions will deliver stronger customer experiences in the future.