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Should I incentivise customer reviews?

Gathering customer feedback offers excellent insights as to why some customers keep buying from you and areas where you can improve. However, it’s not always easy to get customers to give feedback, which can be frustrating for businesses desperate for insights into people’s experiences with them.

This can lead some businesses to look at incentivising customer feedback to try and encourage more responses. This can work really well, and we’ve seen positive results from customers using Review Tui and incentivised responses together. But there are some considerations to factor in should you be investigating this route. In this article, we’ll explore a few of these additional elements.

What drives people to give customer feedback?

In theory, incentives encourage people to leave feedback because they get something in return. After all, people don’t just do things out of the goodness of their heart, do they? While that’s sometimes true it’s not the only way to get people to take a survey. Some people are naturally happy to leave their feedback when asked.

A consumer report by review platform Trustpilot outlined that 67% of US consumers listed their primary motivation for leaving feedback as wanting to share their experience. In Europe, 65% of consumers did so in the hope of positively impacting another’s buying decision. The report further outlined that the top reasons why people left feedback were:

  • Emotional - whether positive or negative if an experience resonated emotionally the customer was inclined to give feedback.
  • Expression - customers feel empowered (especially with reviews) to hold underperforming companies accountable and applaud excellence.
  • Self-importance - individuals posted reviews because they saw their experience as influential and feel powerful in influencing other people’s decisions.
  • Altruism - some leave reviews and feedback to help others. You might be helping someone avoid a bad experience, or have a great one thanks to the review/feedback.

None of the reasons given outlined a reward as the main driver in the user’s decision to leave feedback. And while the report mostly focused on public reviews it’s an interesting insight as to why people take the time to share their thoughts on an experience.

Is money the best incentive for getting people to give feedback?

An interesting study on the motivations behind customer feedback was conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand. Their study used cash as one of the incentives and also used other incentives alongside this, to see which worked best under the hypothesis that cash would likely be the best reward. The complete list of incentives studied was:

  1. Lottery (1 in 50 chance of a $10 gift card)
  2. Charity ($10 donation to a charity of choice from a list of 4)
  3. Cash direct payment ($10)

A control group received no reward and each was compared against the other. The study group were emailed a link to the survey and the team measured the open rates of each campaign, the number of people that started the survey, and the number that finished the survey.

The results were very surprising. While the direct payment group had the highest number of email opens it had the lowest number of people initiating the survey and the highest total attrition from email open to completion (27.3%). All of the other incentives, and the no incentive group, had very similar attrition rates, at between 15.5%, 15.4% and 15.3% across the three groups. So while a direct payment of $10 was the worst-performing incentive, which of the others worked well?

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No incentive at all performed marginally worse than the other two incentives with 11.5% of the people that opened the email starting the survey. This led to 9.7% of people who opened the email completing the survey, which resulted in a 15.5% attrition from email open to survey completion.

The next-best incentive was the prize draw/lottery. This had the highest ratio of people open the email who then initiated the survey at 13.9% and also the highest percentage of email opens to completed surveys at 11.8%. However, because this also received the second-highest number of email opens we see an attrition rate of 15.4%, which is 00.1% higher than the best-performing incentive. That’s right, the charity donation incentive was the best-performing option.

With 11.9% of people that opened the email starting the survey, it outperformed direct payment and no incentive (although the latter only marginally). 10% of people who opened the email completed the survey meaning it had the lowest attrition rate of all the incentives at 15.3%. But what does this mean, and why was cash payment the worst-performing incentive?

The study highlighted a number of potential reasons why cash incentives didn’t work as well. These include the fact that people directly associate a dollar value with the time and effort required for a task and, if the number is too low, it’s simply not worth the effort. Another reason raised is that people’s main motivation is an intrinsic feel-good element to giving feedback, this may be counteracted by the receipt of money for their efforts. The latter theory may also explain why the charity donation received the lowest attrition rate as it could reinforce people’s altruistic motivation by giving them the opportunity to support a charity too. A feel-good double-whammy, as it were.

Do incentives sway the sentiment of the feedback?

incentivising customer feedback

According to a study by Cornell University incentives have the potential to increase positive reviews of a company. This study used a standard incentive but had the groups perform different tasks, and told them of these incentives at different times to see if the outcomes were influenced by either approach. There were seven experiments in total with the first four aiming to uncover whether incentives improved the enjoyment experience in writing reviews and the relative positivity of review content. This was confirmed during these tests.

The fifth experiment had a not-incentivised control group and an incentivised group that was asked to write a review for a cereal. Some candidates were asked to read a negative review of the cereal first. In this test, incentives did not produce positive reviews for a company viewed in a negative light. Could this mean that incentivisation increases feedback overall, but doesn’t sway the outcome?

The reviews people read before purchasing from a business set an expectation. It stands to reason that if your product or service does not meet this expectation then a customer will feel disappointed. As we highlighted, emotion was one of the main drivers of leaving a review and this negative feeling could create a detractor from your business. So while paid incentives may get more business through the door, you may create a wave of negative reviews if the reality does not meet the promise.

Is it illegal to incentivise public reviews?

Different countries have varying rules on this so it’s best to check with local experts and legal professionals. While few countries prohibit incentives for internal customer feedback many have restrictions on using incentives for public reviews on platforms like Google.

The Federal Trade Commission outlines that it is prohibited to have undisclosed paid endorsements for your business or product. If you offer payment (of any kind) for a review, and it is not disclosed, you may be in breach of the FTC’s regulations. And while there are guidelines available on the FTC website it’s worth noting that this isn’t a legal requirement, simply guidance. However, in countries like Australia and New Zealand, it can be a crime to fake or adjust customer reviews and testimonials and companies have been fined millions of dollars for influencing or faking their customer reviews. Our blog covers Australia and New Zealand’s legal guidelines around reviews so definitely check that out if you gather customer feedback and use them in your marketing in either of those countries.

Should I incentivise customer feedback?

Having analysed Review Tui’s alpha tester data there is a noticeable difference between companies that incentivise customer feedback, and those that don’t. But there’s also a massive difference between companies that have a culture and system for asking for feedback and those that don’t.

Using marketing automation, or a refined process for asking for reviews is a very good way of increasing the number of reviews and feedback submissions you will receive. Many businesses don’t need to sweeten this deal to get feedback so we recommend implementing a robust process before you add in incentives. If, after successfully implementing this process, you’re not seeing the results you’d expect then you can consider an incentive.

Based on the data from Otago University you may be better off using either a charity donation or a lottery over direct cash payment. However, it’s worth pointing out that the figures for incentivised responses versus non-incentivised were so marginal that you would need to consider the ROI from whatever payment you offer for the uplift in responses. Additionally, you would need to consider Cornell University’s findings that incentivised responses could sway the sentiment of the feedback. If you’re after honest and impartial responses would it be best to reduce the influence your incentive has over the feedback? The incentive, should you choose to use one, needs to be relevant to the user. So consider what you're offering and consider changing it if that too doesn't work.

If you’re interested in running your own experiments to see whether incentives increase feedback submissions then Review Tui could be the perfect tool for the job. You can easily create a single survey but tag each test group to a different campaign and see which generates the most responses. If you’re using a platform like HubSpot or Salesforce, or even Mailchimp, you can run an A/B test on your emails to see which gets the best open rate and engagement.

Review Tui is set to launch later this year so sign up for updates to be notified of its release. To do so simply click the button below and fill out the form.

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