Metro

A Cambridge company wants to do away with the five-star online rating system

The idea of Tap is to allow companies to more quickly close the social media loop and respond to unhappy customers.
Forrester Research
The idea of Tap is to allow companies to more quickly close the social media loop and respond to unhappy customers.

A chain of little stars appears next to business listings across the Internet, giving users a quick idea of how consumers rate everything from hair salons to global industrial corporations.

But if Forrester Research Inc. gets its way, that ubiquitous rating system will soon be on its way out. In its place, the Cambridge company proposes a system based on the humble stoplight: Green is good, yellow neutral, and red bad.

Forrester said Wednesday that it had rolled out the system as part of its first consumer product, a mobile app called Tap that allows users to pick one of the three colors for any business they want to rate.

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The catch? You can’t weigh in without offering some feedback.

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Forrester’s chief executive, George Colony, said the system is a simpler way for customers to reflect their feelings about a transaction and then suggest how it could have been better.

“We want to make the entire world green, yellow, and red,” he said. “This is about the emotional side of the experience.”

Forrester, which has built a business around surveying consumers and selling the insights it gleans to some of the world’s largest companies, is betting that Tap will help it deliver results in real time.

“Our clients kept asking us, ‘Hey what’s going on right now?’ ” Colony said. “We believe that the customer is now so powerful in the economy that your experience has to be excellent, and you have to be responsive within a matter of hours.”

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Social media have amplified consumer feedback to the point where brands can quickly get buried under an avalanche of unflattering tweets over controversies that can spread, well, like a virus, causing lasting economic damage.

The idea of Tap is to allow companies to more quickly close the loop and respond to dissatisfied customers. Users can either write their own feedback or second others’ opinions. Comments with five or more users spark a “mob,” which enables the business to reply.

For instance, the general manager of AC Hotel by Marriott Boston Cambridge recently addressed a mob of 20 people who were asking the establishment to offer more craft beers. He responded by saying that he planned to add more choices, and added, “Let me know next time you are here for a free beer on me.”

Though today’s consumers have no shortage of options for offering feedback, Forrester said it believes Tap can be more useful than sites like Yelp or Twitter.

“What we’re going to try to create over time is the knowledge of Tap as a place where you can get change to happen, versus going on Twitter and punishing them publicly,” chief technology officer Steven Peltzman, said.

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The app was officially launched about two weeks ago, and so far has prompted a few thousand downloads and between 10,000 and 15,000 reviews, according to Forrester.

The company hopes to quickly grow those modest numbers, especially in Boston, where in coming weeks it will be stepping up a marketing campaign focused on areas like college campuses. Forrester also is asking clients to start embedding the tricolor ranking system on their websites.

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.