Today’s consumers have extremely short fuses. After just one subpar experience, they’ll happily hop online, write a bad review, and vent to their (and your brand’s) entire social network about it. Even if this one instance of poor customer service was a total outlier, the resulting negative sentiments—as inaccurate as they may be—will live on forever. We can never be perfect, but that might need to be the goal in this era.
With Amazon rate-and-review shopping habits and the fact that there’s a smartphone in nearly every shopper’s pocket serving as a real-time portal to an infinite number of online reviews, it’s never been more important for brands to ensure they’re providing a level of service that’s worth writing home about. A whopping 92% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase, and 88% trust these reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations.
However, just because customers are more informed than ever doesn’t mean they’re more rational than ever. One isolated incident (and the resulting flood of poor reviews) can easily overshadow all of the positive feedback you’ve received over the years.
The Ripple Effect
Costco—a generally well-liked company—recently learned this lesson the hard way.
In February, the chain announced it was ending its partnership with American Express, which meant that countless customers now had invalid Amex Costco cards. The company didn’t mail out new cards in a timely fashion—and once it finally did, customers struggled to activate them. To make matters worse, the hold times for customer service were outrageous during this period, with clients clogging the lines to find out what was going on.
As a result, these same furious customers took to social media to voice their complaints, and a dedicated hashtag was born; thanks to this fiasco, Costco currently has an online review rating of 1.3 (out of five) on ConsumerAffairs.com.
Though some customer service snafus are completely unavoidable, the ensuing fallout that occurs online doesn’t have to be devastating. Here are five ways to boost your company’s customer experience, generate positive reviews, and limit the impact of your missteps:
1. Create widespread internal buy-in Every person associated with a company—even a third-party partner—contributes to creating value for the customer. Establishing a brand promise and making sure every employee understands his or her role in delivering it to customers is key. Begin building internal buy-in during the interview process and reinforce it during training. Survey employees as they’re on-boarded, review the results, and make changes to your training protocol if needed.
2. Provide exceptional customer service This seems obvious, but there are still companies out there that don’t make customer service a priority. One way to do this is by having actual humans answer the phones. These aren’t people who just direct customers to your website and tell them to figure it out on their own; these are people who have vast knowledge and the authority to make decisions. Empower your employees!
3. Monitor and act upon online reviews Someone should be tasked with monitoring what’s being said about your brand online. This person also needs the internal leverage to instill change. He or she needs access to key executives, and the higher-ups need to understand the importance of this objective so adjustments are implemented when necessary. If the review monitor notices that there’s an area experiencing recurring issues, he or she needs a red phone to call.
4. Collect and listen to customer feedback A good way to collect customer feedback is through a Net Promotor Score survey — a numerical scale that measures loyalty. Once you know what the market is saying about your company, you can implement the feedback into a performance-sharing plan metric that ties everyone within the organization to the score. This will lead employees to think carefully about their customer-service decisions.
5. Learn from negativity Even if you disagree with them, negative reviews shine a light on areas of your business that people feel should be improved. The way a company handles these complaints matters. Respond to negative reviews in a timely fashion (generally within 24 hours, but sooner on social sites like Twitter), be apologetic and empathetic, and offer a solution to the unhappy party. If the customer is satisfied with the outcome, he or she may update the negative review and even become a vocal loyal customer.
A company’s online reviews are an essential part of its digital presence. They play an undeniable role in the purchasing decisions modern consumers make, and it’s pivotal for all brands to monitor, respond to, and adjust to them accordingly.
With the right approach, online customer reviews can become your brand’s greatest asset—not embarrassing relics of your past missteps that hold you back.
Mike McCormick is CMO and senior vice president at California Casualty.