The art of being a good listener is tough to master. As a business operating online though, it’s an essential one to get right. Customers are more empowered than they’ve ever been, with a multitude of ways to publicly express their feelings about a particular company, and the value of their feedback has never mattered more.

When deciding to buy something, consumers will tell themselves a story about a brand, which they’ll then seek to validate with a sophisticated level of social proof. According to research by Nielsen, the two most influential sources for this social proof are recommendations from family or friends (92%) and consumer reviews (70%).

While the first is difficult to track and even harder to meaningfully influence, the second represents a significant opportunity. Those businesses that can steel themselves for the bumpier moments stand to learn a great deal from customer reviews. Not only can they use this customer insight to build upon what’s working well, but they can spot opportunities to improve.

A common worry from companies considering opening themselves up to customer reviews is that the only people who will leave them are angry, and so will give an unfairly negative impression of their service or products, but this is a misconception. Our statistics show that 83% of online reviews remain positive. Additionally, each one of these reviews could hold a great deal of value for a business, as research from Practical eCommerce shows a single positive review might help increase conversions by 10%.

However, any business that operates online is bound to get a few bad reviews mixed in with the good, and those can be difficult to read. This is why it’s so important to be a good listener. Negative reviews contain valuable criticism for those brands that are ready and willing to address concerns, and adapt and improve their business and service as a result.

Negative reviews also have another, less obvious benefit – they can help humanise a brand. A few bad reviews can make a business more relatable, by showing the company in its true light, warts and all. Simply getting a bad review shouldn’t be regarded as the end of the world. After having a bad experience, our research has revealed 55 per cent of people would accept an apology from a provider, while 46 per cent say businesses can regain their trust simply by showing that they care enough to try and resolve the issue.

Reviews can also have a direct impact on the success of a business, and help drive both conversion and traffic. Our data on organic search results shows company profile pages on the Trustpilot platform receive over 157 million impressions per month in Google. The data also shows that around 4 million consumers per month click through from Google’s first page to read service reviews on Trustpilot after searching a business.

Additionally it’s important to be proactive about reviews. Rather than waiting for reviewers to take action themselves, businesses should be soliciting customer opinions. Email invitations are a good way to do this, and A/B testing can determine what language works best at getting a response. Businesses that don’t get an immediate response should send a reminder and customers of ours who use invitation reminders have seen 35 per cent of reminders lead to a customer writing a review.

Reviews can also be used to generate and convert leads. Leading smart home company Vivint Smart Home saw its paid search activities drive a 12 per cent improvement in conversions during a 28-day A/B testing period. The company also saw significant increase in confidence at key conversion points and a strong impact on organic search conversions.

Gathering feedback is essential for any company these days. Not only does it provide customers with an essential, trustworthy third party channel at the key point of purchase, it also humanises a brand and makes the company more relatable. They also work well for businesses, by improving search rankings, increasing conversion and enhancing online reputation. If companies can allow themselves to weather the trickier bits of feedback, they’ll find that the reviews customers leave are a fantastic way to build upon successes and identify where the company needs to adapt and evolve to improve.

By James Westlake, VP Trustpilot UK