As the COVID-19 pandemic has gripped the US, consumers shifted nearly all of their buying online. According to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, U.S. ecommerce jumped 49% in April, compared to the baseline period in early March prior to shelter-in-place restrictions.
User-generated content around ecommerce has also exploded. This includes consumer reviews, responses to those reviews by other consumers and brands, along with a marked increase in the posting of Questions and Answers and other content, to help inform consumers and support browser-to-purchaser conversion.
Proactive management of the reviews process is an essential element of both ecommerce and – more broadly – brand reputation management. In today’s digital world, it only takes one consumer and one negative review to bring down a brand’s reputation and inject fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the collective digital consumer consciousness.
In a recent webinar with my co-host Sri Rajagopalan, I had the opportunity to discuss the heightened need for proactive customer engagement with Jon Jessup, CEO of Reputation Studios. I have formulated a list of key takeaways and best practices for proactive reputation management.
Brands’ Responses to Reviews are Nearly as Impactful as Consumer Reviews.
Many organizations understand the importance of landing great customer reviews to influence sales. But a best practice reviews management program necessitates monitoring and responding to reviews and the brand’s response can influence buyer behavior as well.
In fact, a Consumer Review Survey conducted in December 2019 shows that 73% of consumers say they “always” or “regularly” read brands responses to reviews. And 71% said they are more likely to do business with brands that have responded to existing reviews.
Customers Expect Timely Responses from Brands.
How long is too long to respond to a customer online? A timely response should come in a day, but theoretically a customer will accept a slower response if a review is posted over the weekend or on a holiday. There’s also a bit more leeway if a customer posts a 5-star review saying they loved the product.
The response time window is dictated, in part, by the platform used for the review (i.e., Google reviews or Twitter).
Additionally, the exact response time depends on the product, category and the type of review – positive or negative.
If a consumer has an adverse reaction to a product applied to the body or ingested, there are FDA requirements dictating the timeliness of the response and specific process to be followed.
Negative Reviews Require More Urgency.
There’s more urgency to respond to negative reviews 1) to satisfy the customer and 2) to protect the brand reputation.
Typically, a customer expects a response on a negative review in three to five business hours or less. But even this timeframe can be too long if a customer posts something negative on Twitter or via Facebook Messenger.
If brands don’t respond to a negative review in a timely manner, the reviewer can become even more vocal, alerting other followers to the brand’s lack of response. However, brands that respond quickly and address a customer’s needs can reap rewards – as a detractor can become a strong brand advocate.
Q&A Forums Augment Product Details.
Q&A forums have become a common feature on most ecommerce sites. The Q&A section of a site can be exceptionally strategic in helping to fill the gaps in customer product knowledge.
However, the content must be accurate, and this requires monitoring. A consumer who thinks he or she knows the answer may offer an answer, but the details may be wrong. The brand can – and should – comment on another person’s answer, and especially so if it is incorrect.
In this respect, it’s vital to give this responsibility to individuals who actually know the right answers and who are well-versed in customer and consumer engagement.
The need for timely response applies for Q&As as well. If a question posed remains unanswered, customers can question the brand’s lack of a response.
According to one research study, 82% of consumers look for an immediate response from brands on marketing or sales questions. This near immediate need for response was deemed “important” or “very important.” And overall, nearly two-thirds of buyers expect a response within 10 minutes to any marketing, sales, or customer service inquiry.
Staying abreast of Q&A content can also help brands understand the customer experience and opportunities for improvement.
Embrace automation. But not too much.
Automation can help brands manage an influx of customer reviews. But authenticity is key. So the role of technology should be to assist humans so they can respond to the customer quickly and efficiently. For example, populating reference and phone number information for reviews.
The first step is to consolidate everything from all channels into a single response platform. You can then provide automated responses for the simplest reviews. More complex issues can be filtered and routed to the right people internally for response.
If, for example, a customer leaves a 1-star or 5-star review on Google, but with no explanation, an automated response asking for further details is acceptable.
Similarly, if a customer leaves a 1-star or 5-star review of a product citing a particular feature, automation can filter those responses based on context and sentiment intent. They can then be forwarded to the right customer care agent to formulate a response in the brand’s “voice.” Rating-specific and channel-specific response templates can help customer care agents answer customers quickly and efficiently.
Having the Right Data and Analytics to Uncover Insights Pays Big Dividends
Brands typically capture a ton of data about their customers. But few leverage UGC insight in the same way they do survey or CRM data. The truth is it represents fantastic information to drive key product and organizational improvement.
How can companies use the data to make their products better? How can they use the data to better target customers?
Even analysis of your UGC program can have big impact. Which products need more reviews? How does interaction with your UGC drive purchase activity? And beyond that, you can analyze response volume and quality to ensure your reputation management processes are as effective as possible.
Liberate Customer Sentiment to Inform Your Business.
The best way to gain 5-star reviews is to have a 5-star product. The next best thing is to listen and respond to customer feedback to create a 5-star product and/or a 5-star experience. Too often, customer engagement is siloed and the Voice of the Customer isn’t flowed throughout the organization. This is a mistake, as insights from reviews can be invaluable in informing and guiding business improvements from product development to customer service to site content.
Brands should collaborate often to review feedback from customer reviews to respond to trends. Some brands discuss customer sentiment monthly, which isn’t nearly enough. Consider meeting a few times a week to enable a more proactive means to understand and respond to any shifts in consumer sentiment and proactively manage the customer experience and brand reputation.