Brace yourself for a world in which everything – attitudes, prices, quality, behaviour, methods, processes, and other business practices that were previously thought to be private business – will be completely accessible and therefore potentially outed as ‘flawed’. I’m not just talking about the legal safeguards put in place by governments to protect consumers from the questionable operations of dishonest companies, illustrated by the collapse of multinationals like Enron. I’m also talking about subtle (yet equally infectious) things like user reviews, ratings, posts, comments, and general online word-of-mouth chatter.

Despite what most business owners fear, it’s not actually isolated negative reviews that kill brands. In fact, there’s evidence to say the opposite applies. Consumers aren’t stupid – they know that no product can possibly satisfy everyone, all of the time. According to an article by in early 2012, 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores. Another study showed 30% of people suspect censorship or faked reviews if there aren’t any negative comments. Now here’s the clincher … found that prospective customers who go out of their way to read bad reviews are 67% more likely to convert to paying customers than the average shopper.

Things can, and will, go wrong. While consumers are able to complain with more impact than ever before, brands too can react and respond. The real damage to a brand’s reputation comes not from bad reviews, but rather from not listening to customers. Most consumers don’t post their bad experiences for everyone to see straightaway. They tend to notify the company first. However, mismanagement of complaints and conflicts invoke online postings, which can spread like wildfire. Even if a negative review does go public, the response of the company is critical. Maritz Research reported that 83% of people who complained on Twitter and got a response from the brand they complained about liked or loved that the brand responded and 85% were satisfied with the response.

Perfection is an illusion. Trying to maintain a flawless image can do more harm than good to a brand. With consumers likely to find out everything about your products, services and activities anyway, you have no option but to embrace the flaws in each.

If handled well, negative comments and responses from customers can be turned around in your favour. Be sure to read my post on How Complaining Customers Can Double Your Profits.