Building Loyalty with Customer Reviews

by on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Kevin Stirtz of Amazing Service Guy has an outstanding post in The Social Customer called, “10 Ways to Turn Online Reviews into More Loyal Customers”. Kevin’s advice is not just smart, it’s easy for any merchant to adopt. Things like, respond to every review; when you’re wrong, apologize; stay positive and consistent. Simple points, but they get at what makes a review platform like Zavee so powerful for local merchants.

I have only a few thoughts to add to Kevin’s. First, I absolutely agree with responding to every review, at least with a thank you. Depending on the platform, merchants can respond publicly (on the platform), privately (via direct message or email), or both. For example, I’ve seen public responses to reviews on TripAdvisor but not on Yelp. I’ve received private responses to reviews on Yelp. Zavee supports both public and private responses. Having access to both domains gives merchants a lot of flexibility but requires thought about how to use them. For example, a general statement of apology probably should always be public, but a promise of specific compensation might best be communicated privately.

Kevin doesn’t make the point explicitly, but underlying his comments is the notion that reviews can be shared socially. An inappropriate response can easily make the social rounds and do more damage than the review that the merchant was responding to. A gracious and informative response can be shared as well, but with the opposite effect. In other words, responses to reviews are marketing communications, and should be crafted as carefully as a news release or an ad.

Shout!

shout! (via Sandra Nahdi - Creative Commons)

Kevin rightly advises against writing fake positive reviews, calling them a distraction from the real work of improving the business. I agree that they are a distraction but I think another reason to avoid them is that they jeopardize the credibility of the review platform as a whole. Think of it as “Gresham’s Law” applied to content.

However, merchants frequently tell us they are more concerned about fake negative reviews, e.g., from a competitor or extremely dissatisfied customer. Merchants can never completely prevent malicious reviews but there are two things they can do to limit their impact: First, merchants should be extra vigilant about not rising to the bait and engaging in an online shouting match with the reviewer. Kevin makes this point about all negative reviews but it the more negative the review, the more important the merchant’s self-restraint. Second, merchants should trust their customers. They are pretty good about spotting outlier reviews, recognizing them for what they are and discounting their impact accordingly.

A more annoying problem for merchants is reviews that are stale. Restaurants that have changed chefs, hotels that have repainted their rooms, and stores that have changed suppliers have all been victimized by dated reviews. No one knows why anyone would wait months to describe a shopping, dining or travel experience they probably barely remember, but it is a common occurrence. Our attempt to limit the impact of both dated and false reviews is to permit shoppers to post a review only after making a purchase and within 30 days of that purchase.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • Respond to every review, if only to say “Thank you” or “I’m sorry”.
  • Treat every review as a marketing opportunity, to both new and existing customers.
  • Treat every response a marketing communication, one that may be shared well beyond merchant and customer.