Tapping into the power and influence of online reviews

Tapping into the power and influence of online reviews Dayle is the head of marketing at Lithium Technologies, responsible for all strategic marketing activities for the company including branding, positioning, communications, customer acquisition programs and go-to-market strategy. Dayle’s previous experience includes marketing leadership positions at Cisco in Europe and North America, covering product marketing, channel, services and field marketing roles.

Every day we make simple and complex decisions. There are a lot of factors that go into our decision-making process. Some factors are very clear, others are subtler.

Take a moment to think about the last time you made a big purchase – a new computer, a winter coat, or an all-inclusive holiday package. To start your purchase journey, you probably checked out a brand’s digital channels: a website, a Facebook page or a blog. While there, you might have quickly posted something to your own social networks to solicit the trusted input and advice from family and friends (because, as we all know, word-of-mouth goes a long way). Then, there’s no doubt you started comparison shopping to see how the product or service in question stacks up to the competition.

If you’re like me – you know, always in search of a great deal – you might have hunted for coupon codes on third-party promotions sites as well. There’s also a very good chance many of you did this all on your mobile phones, too.  

All sound familiar? Well, consider this, too: at practically every step along this decision-making journey, there’s a consistent factor at play that been shown to have a tremendous amount of influence over consumers – online reviews.

Shared experience

Whether it’s customer testimonials on a brand’s website, contributed influencer content on a brand’s blog, product reviews and ratings on comparison shopping sites, or even chatter on social channels, today’s consumers – especially millennials – seem to care a lot about the experience other people have had with a brand’s products or services before making a big purchase decision. And on top of that, they’re paying close attention to how you how you’ve handled that feedback, for positive customer service experiences are just as if not more important than the (hopefully) positive experiences customers have with your products and services.

Delivering a great end-to-end digital customer experience today means exceeded expectations on all fronts.

New research from Feefo found that when making decisions related to the financial services industry 85% of consumers in the U.K. aged 16 to 34 said they trusted verified reviews more than any other source of information. They’re also three times as likely than older generations of consumers to turn to social channels to find more information on specific products or services.

Additionally, as was published in Lithium’s own “The Path to Happy Customers” research report, we found that consumers like to talk about their experiences. 64% of adults in the U.K. surveyed said they would gladly share a positive experience they had with a brand with other consumers while 57% would opt into sharing a negative experience through digital and social channels.

consumers are becoming more skeptical about the brand messages they see and hear

What does this tell us about ever-changing purchase behaviours? First, its suggests that consumers are becoming more skeptical about the brand messages they see and hear, even passively, across all media channels. This might have a lot to do with the fact that consumers – especially the coveted millennial consumer – are inundated with media stimuli at practically every minute of every hour of every day. It’s pretty hard these days to just “turn it off” or cut through the noise.

As a result, many consumers now rely on the experiences – good and bad – of others who have purchased the same products or services they’re considering to help them decide the right fit for them. As opposed to a brand’s own marketing messages, reviews and ratings are perceived to be more honest, more authentic, and more effective at helping consumers visualise the kind of experience they may have with a specific product or service. This isn’t to suggest that consumers don’t entirely trust brands, but rather that they now place more value on the candid input from other people “in the same shoes.”

Feedback loops

Understanding the important role that online reviews play in today’s digital purchase journey, brands have no choice but to step up their game – which shouldn’t be all that hard because most consumers are ready and willing to share their honest feedback.

So, what can marketers do to bring more of this influential customer feedback into a brand’s end-to-end digital customer experience?

Here are a few starting points:

Simply Ask
Most consumers don’t immediately think about leaving a review the minute they’ve made a purchase. (Though, if their experience was a truly negative one, with your product or with customer service, don’t be surprised if they jump at the opportunity!) You need to guide or incentivise to leave a review.

Simply asking is a good starting point, but, to make your request even more compelling, help them understand that their review will not only help you improve your own products and services, but also help make a positive impact on other consumers who are shopping around. Invite them to weigh in on the things they truly love about your products and services, but also give them the opportunity (with open arms) to provide honest feedback around the things your brand could do better. This is the kind of candid information that other consumers will find most valuable.

Make It Personal
While you’re at it, don’t just ask for feedback. Go a step further by inviting customers to share a unique story about how your product or service positively impacted their life – and give them the freedom to share all the reasons why. Research and the web show us that today’s consumers, especially millennials, want to be part of the conversation and make their experience with your brand more personal.

In fact, you could even say they genuinely want to have a deeper connection with the brands they love. And even though not every story you collect will be as revealing as you would like it to be, the real opportunity here is, therefore, your ability to create a more meaningful relationship with your customers vis-à-vis their experiences with your brand. So, don’t hold them back. Encourage them to share their personal stories. This kind of content can drive significant value across the entire business.

Take Time to Respond
Once a customer has chosen to leave a review, don’t let that be the end of the interaction. Instead, use it as an opportunity to connect in a more meaningful way. One way of going about this is to transform that online review into a conversation. Be ready to make this a two-way dialogue – especially if the review received was less than stellar.

Take the time to acknowledge all feedback and thank the customer for taking the time to provide it. It’s important to let customers know that their views matter, even if a brand disagrees with the views or cannot help solve the problem, the fact that it has been brought to your attention is worthy of gratitude and recognition.

Empathy matters – and it doesn’t only have to happen when a brand is at fault. For example, an airline’s customer service agent responding to negative feedback by saying sorry to hear a situation has occurred isn’t an admission of guilt.

have clear guidelines on when to take conversations offline

It is, however, a way to show empathy and an opportunity to humanise the interaction. In these cases, it’s important to have clear guidelines on when to take conversations offline – and out of the public domain – to be dealt with on a one-on-one basis, either by phone or email. While simple customer service interactions can be made public, others require more personalised attention and should not be out in the open for everyone to see.   

That being said, when customers see that their input is truly valued – and that you’ll go the extra mile to make them happy – they’ll be much more likely to keep giving you more to work with. Not to mention, it’ll help other customers see how you genuinely care about and take action on feedback, which goes a long way for driving loyalty and, of course, business growth. Building relationships with your customers should be a top priority for this reason alone. Being an active participant in the conversations they start with you via online reviews is an easy way to get those relationships going.

Share, Share, Share
A great review only has influence over the consumers who see it. So, when you’ve been gifted with a review that’s worth sharing, don’t hesitate to post it everywhere. Get it up on your website, add it to your social channels, include it in email communications to your database, post it on digital screens in-store, etc. And don’t forget to give your customer a positive shout out because, as we all know, everyone loves a little time in the spotlight! You get the point. A great review is the gift that keeps on giving.

Make sure as many people as possible actually see the positive reviews that make your brand shine. Who knows, it could be the critical element that helps one potential customer choose your products and services over another brand’s.

If you haven’t made online reviews a priority for your brand – whether on your own website or elsewhere across your brand’s digital presence – you could be missing out. In today’s world where consumer expectations are rising to all-time highs, making online reviews a big part of your brand’s marketing strategy and a cornerstone of overall digital customer experience can give you a serious leg up against the competition. So, why not use it to your advantage?

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