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How Do Online Ratings And Feedback Impact People's Choices?

Apr 17, 2008
Increasingly people are turning to the internet to source information about local services, either where they live or in areas that they are going to visit. Certain sectors have become well established online, for example booking flights, buying groceries and banking. But the internet is now proving indispensable in all aspects of life - for example finding good local tradespeople, a local hairdresser or what's on at the nearest cinema.

Many people are becoming more discerning and demanding and expect as much information as possible about the services they are planning to use. Maps, photographs, detailed descriptions and links to websites all help a potential customer assess whether a local service provider is the right one for them.

One step further is to take traditional values and put them on the web. People like nothing better than a personal recommendation from someone they trust. All too often, however, nobody you ask knows of a good tailor or decorator which is where the internet can help. Many online directories allow you access to comments and ratings by a large population of users who can leave frank feedback on the person or service they have used.

This is an incredibly valuable resource. It releases a huge amount of hitherto untapped information which benefits not only customers but businesses too.

So how can you tell if a directory of, say, restaurants or builders has genuine feedback from genuine customers? How do you know that friends and family have not simply done the business they know a quick favour and added a positive comment?

Firstly look at the comments critically - if any given business has both brilliant and appalling reviews, with little in between then chances are the comments have been written by friends and competitors only and not by genuine users. Sites that allow businesses to build up their ratings are more likely to have genuine, useful information. This approach also gives the business a real incentive to do a good job.

Some websites explicitly state that only people who have used their system to book a business are allowed to leave feedback and that nobody else is given access to the relevant page. This is known as a "closed rating" system. This is used by some websites that offer a brokering or introduction service where a fee is paid for details each time a service is used.

So what sort of information should you leave if you're the one giving your opinion in a business directory? It's always useful for other readers to know what you were hoping for and if that expectation was met or better still surpassed. People like to know if the service provider gave good value for money, was competent, courteous and mindful of your specific needs. They are also interested in whether any deadlines that you gave were met. If appropriate and if the website allows, you could upload before and after pictures of what the business did for you - your new haircut, bathroom or garden.

Online business directories are becoming increasingly useful sources of information and now offer so much more than print directories. Their use is increasing every month as more businesses switch to online marketing and people realise what is on offer on the web. The thought of telephoning endless builders or hotels until you get to one that "sounds alright" now seems ridiculous when you can get so much information and opinions from internet based directories and recommendation sites. In short, they are a real step forward.
About the Author
Expert business consultant India Cooper explains that in today's internet obsessed age people expect ratings as part of an online business directory. To find out more please visit http://www.ratedpeople.com
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