I’ve recently gotten into drinking tea, and in an effort to be legit, I went on Amazon to buy a brew-in-mug infuser for my exotic loose leaf teas.
I know you’re impressed. I can tell by how quietly you’re sitting there.
As I was scrolling through the reviews, it occurred to me that I was viewing snippets of different peoples’ lives—snapshots of their worlds. One reviewer shared that he had “finally reached an age” when he could appreciate Earl Grey. Another talked about how she uses the infuser to make homemade yogurt. A third wrote that hot tea helps warm his soul in the NYC cold. I was getting to know these people. It felt personal. And I was encouraged to purchase the product.
My own experience reading these reviews echoed what online consumers told me when I worked in e-commerce research before I came to Avvo. I thought: wouldn’t people read reviews of lawyers the same way they read reviews of tea infusers, or scarves, or books? People are people, and they think about reviews in the same way, whether they’re trying to buy a product or find a lawyer.
So here are some insights I’ve gathered from past research on online shoppers to help illuminate what legal consumers might be thinking when they read your online reviews.
1. They are looking for detail.
We’ve all read that glowing review on Amazon that says, “I love this product!” Although that’s a strong positive endorsement, it’s essentially useless. You can pretty much replace these comments with a 5-star rating and call it a day. People read reviews because they want to know why a product or service is so great. Is it the color? The size? The quality? If I’m reading reviews, I’m looking for something specific. On date night you might want a restaurant that others describe as “romantic” or “cozy,” not just “great.” The same thing goes for lawyers. People are reading your reviews because they want to get a sense of who you are when you’re in action. Comments like “She’s an excellent attorney,” though positive, aren’t useful. But comments like “She always answered my calls in a timely manner” or “She studied every detail about my case before going to trial” say a lot more.
2. They are looking for something real.
I once read a paragraph-long review for a product I didn’t end up purchasing. I didn’t end up purchasing it because the review was canned. How did I know? The words were too orchestrated; it read like a college essay that had been edited by a graduate student tutor. I thought the review must have been bought or written by the manufacturer, which bugged me a bit, so I moved on. Turns out I’m not alone. I’ve talked to other consumers who’ve said the same thing: if the review doesn’t sound real, they ignore it, no matter how positive it is.
So what’s real? One person told me she likes to read reviews that unfold like stories so she can imagine what it would be like to experience the product in the other person’s shoes. It’s no different for lawyers. Sure, you can ask a client to leave a glowing recommendation that is perfectly crafted, but consumers want to hear about the real experience. They want to relate.
3. They are looking for the negatives as well as the positives.
I interviewed an e-commerce consumer who said that when she’s buying a product online, she scrolls down to make sure there’s at least 1 negative review. “If they’re all positive,” she said, “something’s fishy. Nothing is perfect.” The same can be said about lawyer reviews. No one expects a lawyer to be perfect. A single negative review can bolster the credibility of the entire review process since less-than-stellar feedback—as long as it’s the exception rather than the rule—can make consumers less likely to think that the reviews were bought or that the system was rigged.
Of course, having too many negative reviews isn’t a good thing. And the nature of these comments also matters—some things are just too negative to ever be positive. But one run-of-the-mill negative review is not a threat. It can actually be a blessing. The best way to react is to step it up and get a couple more positive reviews to balance it out. The good stuff people read about you will suddenly carry more weight.
At the end of the day, people are shopping for lawyers online just like they’re shopping for everything else. When you think about your online reputation, think about what you look for when you’re shopping and how reviews shape your purchase decisions. Consumers crave authenticity. They want details, they want stories, and they’re often looking for a few imperfections to validate all those glowing reviews. Granted, you can’t control what clients decide to write, but you can encourage them to be specific in their reviews. As it turns out, when it comes to how you run your practice, transparency sells.