Customer experience is the new marketing, but understanding just what that experience is and how to take advantage of it is where companies get bogged down. There needs to be a handoff from the strategy people who founded the company and the tech people who gather customer data, to the marketing people who understand customers.
In a customer-centric environment where customers are demanding and receiving more control and a bigger voice, the customer review has taken on outsized importance. Good marketing is no longer just creating a need and telling the customers what they want; good marketing happens when the customers tell you what they want, and then you give it to them. The innovation of the online customer review guides that conversation.
If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation
The need is clear, and most companies recognize it and are responding with more engaging call centers with empowered agents, imposing business practices such as Six Sigma, utilizing big data and analytics to spot customer trends before the customer is even aware of them and issuing mandates from the C-suite. New as-a-service platforms such as inQuba that analyze that data, link social media to the customer journey and provide a platform for responding to them take the millions of customer experience data points generated and make sense out of them.
Innovative companies don’t just compile and react, however. They take a role in guiding what is being said.
“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” Don Draper, quintessential sixties ad man from the hit show “Mad Men,” uttered those famous words. Today, the conversation is online and can go viral in a heartbeat, so the best way to win is to make sure that conversation is in your favor from the very beginning. This starts with simply having a customer-centric, customer-friendly company; but it also means making sure the conversation is held in all the right places before it even starts.
You won’t look good in a black hat
Mad Men’s Roger Sterling looked dapper in a black hat, but don’t be tempted. Engaging in a customer review strategy can be a minefield of black hats. The Web is full of review sites that are thinly veiled pay-per-click engines, meaningless one-liners with five stars generated by SEO companies and subscription-based review venues that lock out casual consumers who don’t want to pony up 40 bucks just to read about what other people think of you. P.T. Barnum aside, most customers know when they’re getting flim-flammed, and they may lose confidence in reviews very quickly.
With black hat, you don’t get the real value of reviews. The real value isn’t just the SEO; it’s the presence of meaningful user-generated content, and it’s the ability to get meaningful, true feedback from customers that you’ll never get from a focus group.
Review site strategy
If a customer didn’t have a positive experience, the feedback doesn’t stop at the call center agent’s desk; the feedback lives forever, online, for everyone to see.
Customer reviews can make or break your company, and there will always be at least one dissatisfied customer who loves to write scathing reviews, no matter how great your product or service may be. Two tactics will mitigate that lone poor review: Increase the ratio of good reviews to poor ones and respond personally to everyone. If a problem is brought to your attention, resolve it and make sure you mention that resolution in the review thread.
The heart of a review strategy, though, is to make sure those reviews are written on the right venues. Customer reviews serve two purposes: as a marketing tool and as a means to inform your marketing strategy based on user feedback.
The customer is in control
Customers can tell a real review from a fake one and will seek out legitimate review sites that have a reputation for honesty. Having your brand on blatantly pay-for-play review sites will only harm your brand. Review strategy must start with forsaking those easy pay-for-play sites for the real thing. When considering a review site, try to figure out where the reviews come from and how companies are ranked. If it’s not obvious to you, it’s not obvious to the customer.
Legitimate review sites should be transparent to the customer, with information about ranking made public. The ranking algorithm used by CrowdReviews.com, available on the public website, sets a standard for openness. Before joining any review site, consider ranking. Is ranking simply based on popular vote with no weighting? Are there obvious affiliate links next to each listing?
A few other factors that a legitimate review site may take into account include the relative age of reviews, whether there has been a resolution to a negative report and whether the reviewer has been verified as authentic.
A factor often neglected is the average length of the review. A common black hat tactic favored by low-budget SEO providers is to spam review sites with hundreds of generic, one-line reviews that are generally positive but say nothing specific about the product. The consumer ratings must be balanced against the legitimacy of the reviewers and the quality of their comments.
It’s up to you to start the conversation
Nobody ever wants to be the first at anything, and that’s true for writing reviews. Best practices for a successful review strategy start with finding and joining the best and most legitimate review outlets. Once the stage is set, then engage with your customers; give them a link to the review site. Publish that link on your home page. Monitor social media on a regular basis and join the conversation. Encourage people that say good things about you to write a review. A review plan around a broader customer experience strategy and cultivation of a customer-focused culture will prove to be a valuable engine of growth and customer loyalty.
Jeev Trika is CEO and founder of CrowdReviews.com, a crowd-driven platform for reviewing and ranking companies providing goods and services across multiple categories, for both businesses and consumers. The consumer-friendly site is the first unbiased and fully transparent reviews site to be driven completely by the crowd.