Published on 2019/07/10

Don’t Be Afraid of the Bad Ones: Bringing Customer Reviews to Higher Ed

The EvoLLLution | Don’t Be Afraid of the Bad Ones: Bringing Customer Reviews to Higher Ed
Whether buying a luxury car, finding a doctor or enrolling in a postsecondary program, prospective customers are leveraging customer ratings and reviews to inform their decisions.

The modern customer is a stealth shopper, conducting as much research as possible on their own before ever engaging with a service provider. In higher education, this phenomenon is leading institutional leaders to rethink their enrollment strategies, looking to emulate how eCommerce giants like Amazon serve their audiences. And one major element of the shopping experience Amazon provides is in customer ratings and reviews. Modern students now expect reviews, even for programs and courses. But it is important that they are authentic and verified.

In this interview, Andrew Monnich reflects on the role of ratings and reviews on the consumer shopping experience and shares his insights into how this can be applied to the educational industry. To download a whitepaper exploring this topic in more detail, please click here.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Looking across the eCommerce space, how do companies benefit from sharing customer ratings and reviews?

Andy Monnich (AM): If you think about how consumers look online to make a decision, they’re looking for social proof to help them understand the value of a product or service. According to a study by the Spiegel Research Center, nearly 95% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase, whether they’re buying simple products, luxury cars or even something as critical as choosing a doctor. Reviews have become the norm across all consumer decisions, for both online and offline purchases.

Conversely, a lack of reviews can deter consumers from making a decision. It’s a great tool to show value and help consumers better understand the promotion, the product or the service.

Evo: Why do consumers put so much stock into the opinions of, essentially, strangers?

AM: There’s a lot of risk involved in decision making, so consumers seek information to make them more comfortable in that process. People do much more online research with more complex products and services such as selecting a healthcare provider or choosing a school or program. They are looking more and more for information to support their decisions.

Evo: Why should postsecondary administrators be looking at ways to collect and share ratings and reviews from current and past students?

AM: According to the 2017 Social Admissions Report, 90% of prospective students use school planning and review sites, many of which include unverified anonymous reviews. Over half of students say they use online reviews to evaluate a college.

So it’s important for leaders to realize that this is already part of the higher education industry. Prospective students are looking for this type of information right now and going to third-party sites, looking at anonymous and unverified content. Making ratings and reviews part of your enrollment strategy is more about embracing what the consumers are already doing.

Evo: For postsecondary institutions and divisions serving adults this seems uniquely important, given this demographic’s experience as shoppers. How can verified customer reviews help an institution, or a division, stand out to the modern adult learner?

AM:Adult learners are looking for things that fit them personally and professionally, including flexibility and support services from the institution. They want to understand value and are truly engaging in a shopping experience when looking for a course, program or a degree. These individuals can look at a lot of different offerings to support them, and institutions need to stand ready to compete against platforms like LinkedIn Learning, bootcamps and other sources of education services and content. Many of these alternative providers are sharing ratings and reviews to students, from students who have taken courses through those platforms.

One of our former clients surveyed their previous students—mostly non-traditional students in healthcare degree completion certificate programs—over two years. Over 70% of that population said the verified reviews provided by that institution strongly influenced their choice to enroll.

These individuals want to see from their peers whether the program fit their lives personally and professionally and if the outcomes were worth the time and investment.

Evo: What’s the difference between a verified and an unverified customer review and what’s the responsibility of an institution in making sure the reviews they post are actually from past or present customers?

AM:When you think about someone looking for a product or service, they want to make sure the content they’re reading represents the population of individuals who have purchased it. As a prospective student looking at a school, they want to be reading reviews that represent a wide variety of students who went to that institution—not just individuals who just landed on a third-party review site and happened to write a review.

When we talk about verified reviews, it’s ensuring that reviews are from proactive outreach to students who’ve gone through your program. When a prospective student looks at that content, they can trust that you have asked for ratings and reviews from every person who’s completed the program. It’s no different than going to Amazon, where every individual who purchases a product is asked to leave a review.

Evo: What impact does a bad review truly have on a prospective customer?

AM: Consumers want authenticity. They want to see the pros and cons of other individuals who’ve used the product or service. We sometimes don’t give consumers enough credit that they can weigh negative comments versus positive appropriately. A study by Spiegel Research Center found that 82% of consumers are specifically looking for negative reviews. The review that’s most powerful isn’t a 5-star review; it’s between 4-4.7 stars.

As higher education institutions, we have to embrace the idea that some reviews may be negative, but if it’s one out of 10 reviews, it simply supports the decision-making process.

When there are no negative reviews, consumers get suspicious. They want authenticity in the data that’s provided to them.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the value of ratings and reviews in the ecommerce space, and the lessons higher ed leaders could learn from some of the insights there?

AM: Other industries that offer products that individuals are emotionally and financially tied to in many ways—whether it’s healthcare or financial services—have embraced the value of ratings and reviews. You can find reviews on their websites, and they understand that their online reputation is key to helping support consumers in the decision process. These other industries are a great guide for us to look at and learn from how they embrace and leverage reviews to drive more business for their organization.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To learn more about the power of customer ratings and reviews in the postsecondary context, download this whitepaper.

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Key Takeaways

  • Prospective students are already looking at reviews of your institution on written by anonymous users on third-party sites. Instead, give those prospects real reviews, from verified students and alumni.
  • While institutions fear negative reviews, the lack of these reviews is likely to deter students from making the decision.
  • Educational institutions can learn from other industries, such as retail and finance, how to best leverage online reviews as a tool for business growth.