Legal cases about fake reviews on Yelp has shone a spotlight on the growing importance (and hazards) of online reviews for brand reputation. Here Gary Topiol, InMoment’s Managing Director, International, discusses how brands can best navigate the minefield of online review sites and harness their power for business growth. The UK Customer Experience Awards is delighted that InMoment, formerly Empathica, will be sponsoring the Insight and Feedback Category at the UK Customer Experience Awards 2014.
Technological developments over the decades have transformed the way that brands interact with, and learn from, consumers into the sophisticated tools we see today. The dynamics of customer feedback – and their relationships with brands – has changed radically. We’ve seen explosive growth of customer reviews over the past few years with people airing their opinions online like never before – both positive and negative – meaning brands are now facing a huge challenge. How best can they take on board this new form of customer feedback and manage their online reputations in the social media age?
For brands, the emergence of review sites is a double-edged sword. Amateur critics tend to write about either great or terrible experiences, and often leave reviews full of glowing praise or angry complaints. And it is the recognised power of these online comments to either make or break a business’ reputation that lies at the heart of the Yelp court case.
There are four main challenges with review sites:
Quality of reviews – because the reviews may or may not be from real customers, their quality is questionable at best.
Quantity of reviews – with typically only a handful of customers posting an online review, there just aren’t enough reviews for a consumer to make a well-informed decision.
Timeliness of reviews – reviews can often be old and not a fair representation of what is actually happening NOW at the location.
Focus of reviews – because consumers are commenting on whatever they choose (rather than being directed with specific survey questions to service elements that are most important to drive brand loyalty), there is no way to know if the comments will actually help brands to improve their operations.
While we can acknowledge that reviews are definitely a new type of survey, they’re unlikely to displace all other types of surveys. Reviews do provide a good indicator of overall performance and how a location measures up against a few basic key drivers. But brands also need to delve deeper by asking specific questions to enable managers to understand which elements are most important to a great brand experience, and also help drive the right front line actions to ensure those key elements are consistently delivered.
The volume and unstructured nature of online comments pose particular challenges for brands wanting to continuously improve their customer experience by connecting with customers to build long term loyalty and drive brand advocacy. So, how can brands uncover the needles of actionable insights in the ever-growing haystack of customer feedback?
The good news is that we’ve gained decades of experience figuring out what data has to say and how to make use of it. Through today’s enhanced text analytics tools, businesses can now gather unstructured text feedback from any source, such as online reviews, and view it alongside structured survey feedback to give enhanced customer insight. This holistic approach enables brands to make sense of multiple feedback sources – both solicited and unsolicited – to focus staff on what is most important to the customer and implement required behavioural changes and operational improvements to deliver great experiences.
Today, transparency has become of paramount importance for brands wanting consumers’ trust and custom. Products such as OpenTell™ have been developed to overcome the current challenges brands face with review sites, collecting authentic reviews in high volume and only allowing verified customers to publish reviews to avoid fraudulent activity from skewing customer ratings and harmfully influencing public perception.
Using social media advocacy solutions such as GoRecommendTM brands can further amplify the reach of real customer recommendations of their experience using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and review sites including Yelp, Trip Advisor and Google Plus.
If social media has taught us one thing, it’s this: power is now in the hands of individuals and every customer counts. Brands must learn to leverage their feedback to gain insight and harness the power of online reviews. In this data-driven age, using the right tools and technologies will help brands to stay ahead of the competition by empowering them to turn insight into the right operational actions that drive business improvement.
Gary Topiol has more than 20 years of experience in developing global customer experience strategies for FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 retailers. As Managing Director of InMoment’s international business, he oversees the UK-based Global Centre of Excellence, which supports multi-unit brands in rolling out multi-market VoC programs that conform to the unique service expectations of different cultures and markets. InMoment currently operates in 125 countries and 28 languages throughout the world.
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