Who doesn’t want to visit a five-star restaurant or stay at a five-star hotel? Everyone? According to new research from ConsumerAffairs, that’s not necessarily the case.

The organization’s recent survey says review content is actually more important than star ratings. While star ratings still matter, surveyed consumers showed a stronger likelihood to purchase a product or service even when the star rating was as low as one star, as long as the review content indicated a positive experience.

Empty stars lack value

Are five-star ratings really good for your business?

While five stars still seem to matter when referring to restaurants and hotels (on average, a 4.5-star rating tends to return the best results), ConsumerAffairs research suggests they aren’t necessarily the most helpful tools for the average business. In fact, they call them “empty,” meaning without any meat to back up the review, each star’s significance fades.

In the ConsumerAffairs study, 60 percent of participants say they pay more attention to customer comments than to star ratings. Only 11 percent of consumers pay more attention to star ratings, and more than one-fourth (29 percent) say they balance star ratings with review content for a more complete picture. And it’s the younger consumers who are more skeptical and need more review content to make up their minds.

When ConsumerAffairs asked consumers directly how important star ratings were in their purchasing decisions, the majority (57 percent) chose “somewhat” to “not at all.” This makes it clear that star ratings do matter, but they are not the primary factor for most consumers in choosing a brand.

Following up that line of thinking, ConsumerAffairs asked survey participants an open-ended question on what was more important than star ratings in helping them choose a brand, and “reviews” was the most frequent — more than three times the second factor. Review-related elements, such as customer experience stories, were also mentioned.

Double-edged reviews

Reviews can provide a business with good data and attention in the forms of SEO and marketing strategy, not to mention boost customer count.

But for every good review, there is a chance for a customer to post a bad review. While this may help improve your customer experience in the long run, a business should put in place a system for responding to poor reviews in order to show customers they are listening and addressing feedback. The good news here is that 75 percent of reviews are deemed “fair,” a 2013 Marketing Profs study says.

Don’t have time to manage customer reviews or respond to them? You may want to reconsider. People who actively seek out negative feedback on a company are actually seven times more likely to convert into customers, ConsumerAffairs says. This authenticity of showing slightly less than five-star ratings with response and interaction appears to be a more significant motivator for turning prospects into clients than five-star ratings alone. And as the investment in the service grew, research showed the more customers turned to reviews over just a star rating.