A recent paper led by a researcher at the University of Edinburgh Business School has uncovered a hidden positive effect of online reviews that has the potential to produce a win-win-win situation for firms, employees and customers.
Mobile phone in the hands of its user

The study found that when an employee in a service setting simply imagines that their customer might write a review, they go above and beyond to enhance their service offering to that customer. 92% of front-line service workers imagine that a customer may write a review about the service that they provide. This perception can be based on what a customer says (e.g. “This product has great reviews on Google”), what the employee sees (e.g. seeing a review page opened up on a customer’s phone) or even what the customer wears (e.g. they are perceived to look like a stereotypical reviewer). This boost in performance of employees occurs because they are incentivised to get a good review as they think it is beneficial for their careers.

Dr Ben Marder, Senior Lecturer in Marketing and lead author of the paper, said: ‘If customers subtly hint they may write a online review, employees serving them will bring their A-game, and the customer will receive an enhanced service.’

Dr Rob Angell, Associate Professor in Marketing at the University of Southampton, and co-author, added: ‘Just thinking about reviews makes employees more determined as it ups the stakes of the encounter.’

Marder continues: ‘We suggest that businesses can use our findings in this paper to create and promote a ‘review-orientation’ policy, which ensures employees know if a customer writes a review it will be read by management and potentially rewarded.’

The team intend to further this research by exploring the potential ‘dark sides’ of these review-based workplace policies, whether that employees begin to feel frustrated or angered by the incentive, or if a customer were to lose subtlety and begin to threaten to leave a bad review if their demands are not met.

This paper is co-authored by Dr Rob Angell (University of Southampton) and Dr Eric Boyd (University of Central Florida).

Read the full paper ‘How and why (imagined) online reviews impact frontline retail encounters’.

Ben Marder

Dr Ben Marder is our Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Director of PGR Programmes.