User Reviews, Feedback Requests & Questions Part 1 – What Questions Do To Our Brains

Did you know that the average smartphone user receives 46 push notifications per day? Another study says the total average number of smartphone alerts we get is 63.5 alerts per day. This includes messages from the work Slack channel, email notifications, SMS messages from friends and bad jokes sent to the WhatsApp group.

Some of these push notifications will be requests for user reviews. These user feedback requests may be in addition to that average of 46 (or 63.5) per day for some people.

In the modern world we get asked questions all the time. We are living in an engagement economy. Gamification is is everywhere. Our engagement, and the data that flows from that, is a valuable commodity. From the morning news, your favorite streaming service and even at work. Everyone wants to know what you think.

But what effect do these notifications, questions and requests have on us? Are there negative business consequences for these requests for engagement? Is the tech industry annoying users for no reason?

In part 1 of our user review and user feedback request series we will start by looking at the effect of questions on us, what the 90-9-1 rule is and if user ratings matter as much to users as we think they do.

Photo by Philip Myrtorp on Unsplash

What Questions Do To Our Brains?

Who plays Luke Skywalker?*

It’s a good bet that you cannot think of anything else right now.

That is because a question takes over your brain. In that instant it is impossible to think about anything else. Even if you think you are a “multitasker”, and evidence says you are not, a question stops your brain for a moment. It then causes something of a chain reaction.

Even if you do not answer your brain will think of a response to this stimulus. Your rational mind may decide to not respond or respond in a way that is not constructive. There may be social biases in play that mean you will not engage with the questioner. But the question itself is already shaping your thoughts.

You’re In The Middle Of A Brain Reaction…

When we are asked a question, our brains flood with serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for a lot of functions. But in this context it helps modulate mood, cognition, reward, learning and memory. This helps the brain to relax and help it find an answer to the question.

At this point the brain releases the good stuff, dopamine. Dopamine can motivate us to look for an answer to a question, but it may also make us fear giving the wrong answer. This can make it difficult to answer questions in the right way in a stressful situation. Like an interview.

Questions trigger a response called “instinctive elaboration”. Everything described above happens when someone asks you a question. Your brain cannot think about anything else.

It puts those push notifications asking for “star ratings” for your “delivery experience” in a different light. Are they freezing our brains on purpose? 

Is asking questions worth it? In the act of asking a question, are we taxing users too much? We may think in an age of social media that this is “the new normal”. People engage on social media all the time. Right?

User reviews - A lone spectator in a stadium used to illustrate how most users do not engage with reviews.
Photo by Nicolene Olckers on Unsplash

The 90-9-1 Rule

Social media has similar participation levels as other, older, forms of internet engagement. Like forums and other communities. 

In fact most users on social media do not participate much at all. While Facebook may have around 2.94 billion monthly active users, it is harder to find out how passive or active these people are with their contributions. A lot of people use Facebook, but a lot of people use it for different reasons. Some just scroll through videos, some people use the marketplace.

Contribution is a different thing and it ties into something called the 90-9-1 rule.

The 90-9-1 rule is this – 

  • 90% of users are lurkers. They never post themselves, but they read and observe
  • 9% of users are occasional contributors. They will pop up and contribute now and again. But they have other priorities
  • 1% of users are heavy contributors. They will post and reply regularly. Sometimes the intervals between posts may only be minutes

One of the best examples is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is one of the biggest sites on the internet, getting around 1 billion visits a month. But it only has around 121,000 active contributors.

Social networks are merely another form of a collaborative digital community. Like a forum, or going further back, a usenet news group. 

The 90-9-1 rule still stands. It will most likely continue to stand. Will this behavior change with Web 3.0? No one knows. But judging how long the 90-9-1 rule has stood the test of time, things will stay the same in terms of engagement/contribution behaviors.

This raises more questions. If most people do not bother contributing, why send them notifications? Why create a user feedback request? Also if most people will not review or give feedback, are user reviews even worth anything? Are user reviews skewed due their sample size?

User reviews - Image of a yellow star rating.
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

User Reviews – Do Ratings Matter? Or Is It The Review?

If ratings are skewed (or not), it seems that people care less about average review scores than we thought.

A recent University of South Florida study found that top reviews hold a lot more power in the purchasing journey than expected.

We have all seen average user review scores and ratings get pride of place on sites like Amazon and apps like Grab. But according to the study, the text in the top user reviews can lessen the impact of an average rating.

“It’s the text of the top reviews that made a difference,” Denzhi (Denny) Yin, co-author of the study said. “This swaying effect only happened for the text reviews. Without text, people are not swayed. It’s the concrete details that are driving this impact.”

Yin’s study suggests that text in user reviews can overturn the impact of an average rating. He also states that average ratings are the most holistic view of the quality of a product or service. So average ratings are here to stay. 

What Can We Learn About User Review Ratings?

But there are interesting lessons to learn from this. For eCommerce marketplaces, brands and really anyone who likes using reviews. Gaming the review system now looks less effective. Putting lots of effort into getting more “stars” seems a bit redundant and a waste of time. Businesses also should respond to top reviewers where possible. Either reinforcing the review or helping them if there is an issue.

But in the tech/customer experience world, maybe we should all be putting a bit more focus on written reviews themselves alongside the average star rating.

By going with the 90-9-1 rule, the percentage of users who leave a review is very small. The percentage who would leave a text review is (likely) even less. So according to the numbers, these reviews are skewed. They only give the opinions of a minority of users. But the swaying factor outside of an average rating is more in-depth information about why users gave that rating in the first place.

So it is worthwhile sending notifications to users to get a review, because it remains a powerful tool in the purchase funnel.

User reviews - A sign with "Answers 1KM" written on it.
Photo by Hadija Saidi on Unsplash

User Reviews – The Answer To The Question?

So despite freezing users’ brains and knowing that most users will never interact with you, it is still worth asking for feedback.

But it does feel like that tech and commerce companies are approaching reviews in a flawed way. We need to utilize the content of reviews more effectively in the purchase funnel. We also need to stop obsessing about ratings and chasing big review numbers.

Come back soon for part 2 of our user feedback request series. We will be asking if ignored user review/feedback requests are a bad thing, do intrusive requests affect the quality of the user’s experience and why do we humans like to talk about ourselves?

*The answer to the question is, of course, Mark Hamill.

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Do you need help engaging users in a meaningful way? Want to think outside the box in user feedback? Talk to MAQE via [email protected]. We can help you to get deeper insights into user behavior that makes customer experience better.