Sometimes novices are better than experts

Sometimes novices are better than experts

Expert analysts are weighing-in with their criticisms of this week’s budget. They have crunched the numbers, run everything through Microsoft Excel and come up with the notion that the Budget has some problems. Well, blow me down! Who would have though it? Do you really need to be an expert financial analyst with millions of pounds worth of computing technology to tell us that budget cuts and higher taxes are going to cause families financial difficulties? That’s Primary School arithmetic. Sometimes, so-called “experts” don’t really add anything to our knowledge.

Online, however, many business website owners seek out “expert opinion”; they want them as “guest bloggers” or as reviewers of their products and services. They try to get their comments on articles and even get their testimonials. After all, so the theory goes, if you have the third-party opinion of experts recommending your business or your products, the rest of the world must sit up and take notice. Wrong.

Here’s the problem – experts are more fallible than novices. According to research to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research (PDF) experts know too much to be able to provide reviews and comments which are always reliable. What happens is they fill in blanks with prior knowledge – but that prior knowledge may actually be false for the specific item they are asked to review. For instance, you ask an expert to review your will writing service. They take a look and write a review. But, because they are experts, they already know a lot about will writing services, so they make assumptions and fill in the blanks in your service with material that is stored in their brains.

People who do not have any prior knowledge of will writing services cannot do this. Because they have no previous experience of such services, they have no stored information with which to complete any blanks or to answer any questions they have about your offering. The result is that reviews and comments from novices are actually a more truthful reflection of your products and services than those from experts.

Of course, experts do have another impact – they help your website build credibility and social acceptance. But if you want people to get a really truthful review of your products and services, your website must include comments from people who have no prior knowledge of similar kinds of things, or at least very little knowledge. Perhaps you may need some incentive scheme to encourage such reviews – but if you only have reviews from “experts” you may well have higher levels of customer service difficulties as those reviews are less likely to give a clear picture of what you offer.

Perhaps then it is time the Chancellor had his Budget speech reviewed in advance by people who know nothing about economics, rather than those “experts” in the Treasury. Who said that’s the same thing?

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