Posts Tagged ‘Yelp’

Customer Engagement (Part 1)

by on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Richard Meyer has a typically thought-provoking post about customer engagement on his New Media and Marketing Blog. In the post he tees off on a research report that uses ‘likes” on Facebook as the sole metric of customer engagement. Richard has a big problem with this: “Who the hell cares who ‘likes’ your posts?”

Richard goes on to say that engagement “doesn’t mean a damn thing”. I completely agree that clicking the “like” or “follow” button doesn’t mean that customers are engaged, but I think there is such a thing as engagement. I also think that marketers can and should take steps to encourage engagement, but that ultimately they can’t control it. I also think that we are a long way from effective engagement metrics.

Scuderia Ferrari

(Helena.40proof via Flickr)

I would define an engaged customer as one who acts as if he/she has a stake in the marketer’s business that extends beyond the specific transaction. These are the customers who can provide valuable insights and information both to the marketer and to other consumers. Under this definition, “liking” or “following” is about the weakest possible form of engagement imaginable.

Even in the absence of marketer involvement engaged customers can have a significant impact on sales. Because they may know more than the typical consumer and be more willing to share, they can be effective advocates for the marketer’s brand and products. Even if they point out product flaws or own up to having made a mistake in purchasing the marketer’s product (although Richard disagrees, Yelp and Trip Advisor contain plenty of reviews in which customers take at least some of the responsibility for their negative experience).

If the marketer does involve itself with its cadre of engaged customers it can do more than increase short-term sales. It can increase long-term sales by optimizing its business in areas such as product features, merchandise mix and customer service. By bringing them inside the tent the marketer may make these customers even more engaged and even more vigorous advocates for the brand and its products.

Customers don’t have to become unpaid product testers or spokespeople to be engaged. Engagement can include attending marketer-sponsored events or participating in marketer-endorsed charitable activities. By concretely affiliating oneself with the marketer and — critically — by sharing about it, engaged customers can drive the marketer’s message and build the marketer’s brand. Whether these activities result directly in sales depends in part on how they are structured and how the sales cycle normally works (cars and colas aren’t purchased the same way).

How vital is the marketer’s involvement to customer engagement? The short, if obvious, answer is that it can’t hurt. Perhaps surprisingly, however, some marketers with highly engaged customers have little if any involvement with them. One example, admittedly atypical in terms of both product and customers, is Ferrari. The Italian sports car maker has a passionately engaged base that includes not just current owners but past owners, hope-to-be owners and probably-never-will-be owners. This high level of engagement takes place with virtually no involvement from Ferrari, which pays attention only to the very top tier of its customer base (even for Ferrari, all customers are not created equal).

In the absence of marketer involvement, the Ferrari faithful have turned to enthusiast sites such as Ferrari Chat as well as marque clubs such as the Ferrari Club of America and Ferrari Owners Club (which hear from the marketer mainly when it believes its trademarks are being infringed). They have returned Ferrari’s lack of involvement by creating their own communities, whose benefit to the marketer goes unrecognized and unrewarded, but probably not unnoticed.

If it’s clear that marketers shouldn’t use likes and follows to measure engagement, what are some appropriate metrics? That will be the subject of Part 2 of this post.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • Customer engagement exists, but “likes” and “follows” are its most trivial form.
  • Engaged customers can help marketers improve their business, and not just by purchasing more.
  • Marketers can ignore, monitor or facilitate customer engagement, but it isn’t always clear which strategy will have the highest ROI.

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! (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.

4 Things to Consider About Negative Reviews

by on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Now that a New York court has dismissed claims against Yelp by a New York dentist based on a (very) negative review and on Yelp’s alleged removal of positive reviews, this might be a good time to think about what makes a review “negative” and what negative reviews mean to – and for – your business. You may think that negative reviews are just angry people taking shots at you. Here are four other ways to look at it:

via Marten Bjork (Creative Commons)

Readers recognize – and discount – outliers. Positive or negative, excessive emotions in a review diminish their credibility. It’s great to get an exceptional review for exceptional service. But if the glowing adjectives are out of proportion to a typical customer experience, readers are likely to apply the old saying: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Same thing with negative reviews. The surest way to lose credibility IS TO WRITE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS WITH LOTS OF PUNCTUATION!!! These are actually the best negative reviews you can get, because even if they are accurate, who will believe them? It’s true that some people write reviews to blow off steam, but readers know that, and respond accordingly.

Mixed reviews are not necessarily negative. Have you ever used Rotten Tomatoes to decide whether to see a movie? The site’s “Tomatometer” rating is based on whether published reviews were positive or negative. However, a review can only be either “fresh” (i.e., positive) or “rotten” (i.e., negative), no matter how mixed or qualified the review might be. For “Going the Distance” (51% rating), the fresh reviews include “solid but totally forgettable” and “hilarious in many individual scenes [but] less than the sum of its parts”. Rotten reviews included “funny but forgettable” and “The laughs kept me involved … but after I left the theater, it occurred to me that this slight comedy hadn’t gone very far at all.” Hmm. Many reviews – of anything – are mixed enough that it would be hard to give them either a thumbs up or thumbs down rating. So don’t consider every mixed review a thumbs down.

A mixed review is often more thoughtful, detailed and nuanced than an outright rave or pan. A customer who writes a review that contains some negative feedback isn’t venting, she’s helping. These are the reviews your customers will take seriously – and you should do the same. When you respond to reviews like these (easy to do on Zavee) you can use the review as the basis for an ongoing relationship. If you want a second chance at the customer and a more positive review the second time around, being proactive is the only way to get results.

Yes, competitors can try to hurt your business with fake reviews, but there are reasons you don’t hear about it happening very often. If you are running a good business deceitful reviews are unlikely to harm you, especially if you are actively communicating with your customers. Why? First, as discussed above readers will tend to discount rants whether or not they are malicious. Second, users of social shopping sites tend to be very skeptical of reviews that differ greatly from what most (real) customers experience. The unusual experience is another kind of outlier. On the other hand, negative reviews that go into detail about the experience and/or are written by a reviewer who has demonstrated credibility based on other reviews may well be taken seriously, but how many of your competitors are willing to invest that much effort just to undermine your business? If you are actively communicating with your customers you should be able to deflect even the most sophisticated malicious review. Finally, social shopping sites are trying to safeguard against malicious and fraudulent reviews. At Zavee, our system will reject a review unless the author has had a transaction at that merchant within 30 days of the review. Could a competitor jump through all those hoops just to hurt your business? Probably, but how many would bother?

A negative review is a positive experience. On the most basic level, a thoughtful review that recounts a negative experience provides valuable information for your business. You can’t be everywhere, and if a waiter or a sales associate didn’t behave appropriately, or if a product or service fell short of expectations, wouldn’t you want to know? Of course you would prefer to hear it privately, but in our increasingly social world these conversations are being held in the open. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A negative review can be a positive experience because your handling of the situation – again, in public – gives you the chance to move the conversation forward: increasing customer engagement and loyalty, building your reputation and your brand, and even persuading non-customers to give you a try.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • Readers are smart, and they are good at recognizing which reviews to take seriously.
  • Negative reviews can hurt your business only if you ignore them or react passively. Especially on Zavee, where we make it so easy for merchants to interact with customers, make sure you respond to every review.
  • Always follow through on anything you promise – and don’t forget to talk about it.

Do You “Like” Me? Do You Really “Like” Me?

by on Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Remember Sally Fields’ famous acceptance speech at the 1985 Oscars? “You like me! You really like me!”  But what if we didn’t mean it?

One of the recent changes to Facebook has been a great expansion of the “Like” concept which, among other things, replaces the “Fan” concept.  Yelp and other social networks have followed suit.  At least for now, Zavee is still inviting shoppers to become “Fans” of merchants they haven’t yet shopped at and not just “Like” them.  Why?  Because we think that, on some perhaps subtle level, being a “Fan” implies a higher degree of emotional engagement than merely “Liking” someone or something.  How substantial is that difference? It’s hard to tell.  If you follow sports you might agree that there is a difference between liking a team and being a fan.  If you follow the New York Mets or the Miami Dolphins you almost certainly do.  At Zavee we are considering changing the “Fan” concept to something completely different – something that retains a high level of engagement but provides greater flexibility.  More news to follow on that new feature.

One thing we didn’t think about when we were debating “Fan” versus “Like” was whether a lower level of engagement might make it easier for users to be less than candid about what they say they “Like”.  Would people really do this?  And why?

Starbucks Barista Badge from Foursquare (via pbende)

No less a social media authority than Robert Scoble says they would, and do.  In fact, he says that he has done that very thing.  Why?  Scoble says that it comes down to a fundamental truth about human nature: we present ourselves as we want others to see us.  Since the pages, users and merchants we “like” become part of our public social persona, we can change that persona by changing what we say we “like”.  If our tastes run to country bands and donut shops, but we’d rather be thought of as someone who prefers singer-songwriters and vegan restaurants, our “likes” can reflect that.

Is this a problem for smaller businesses? It might be. For one thing, advertisers tend to take us at our word.  Check in frequently enough at Starbucks and you can win a discount off your coffee.  Starbucks can’t tell whether you like the coffee, just how often you showed up.  Clicking the Like button on Yelp for a bunch of restaurants gives rise to inferences about your preferences and behavior, and advertisers will target you accordingly. Providing a misleading social persona is just a waste of time for both advertiser and user, unless it’s being done as a form of protest against behavioral targeting.

Like much about social media, behavioral targeting presents legitimate privacy issues, and they need to be worked out. However, if advertisers lose faith in the accuracy of consumers’ self-descriptions the effectiveness of social media for marketers is likely to decrease. For small marketers who are drawn to social media marketing by, among other things, its low cost and high effectiveness, this could be a very unfortunate result.

It’s probably true, as Scoble says, that advertisers have ways to verify, at least in part, the accuracy of the things we claim we like.  But the deeper point is that the value of social media as a communications tool for users in the network depends in large part on the credibility of other users.  A user who creates a false or misleading social persona may only lose personal credibility within the network, but if enough users do the same thing the credibility of the network as a whole may suffer. A recent paper about dating sites reports that deception in profiles is rampant. The paper suggests that one reason is that users understand what makes them desirable to potential mates, and create profiles to reflect those expectations. Dating sites like to advertise their successes, but they may have become just one more system to game.

Whether Zavee stays with “Fan”, changes to “Like” or goes in a different direction altogether, the principal means by which Zavee shoppers communicate the quality of their shopping experience is by writing reviews. It takes more effort (and commitment) to write a review than to click on a button, but that very fact gives proportionately more weight to the reviews and less to a simple “Fan” designation. One safeguard we put in place expressly to improve the accuracy, timeliness and fairness of reviews is for the system to accept a review of a merchant only if the reviewer has made a Zavee purchase at that merchant within 30 days.

We hope that social networks and their users develop means to limit the influence of false social personsas, not to protect advertisers but to protect the networks themselves and to permit them to continue to deliver valuable, relevant experiences to their users.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • Once it becomes trivially easy to create a social persona, that persona may itself become trivial. The problem is that those personas are taken seriously, both by advertisers and by other users.
  • It’s natural to present ourselves as we’d like to be seen, but invented personas can make the the network as a whole less valuable to users who rely on other users for timely and accurate information and opinions.
  • Local businesses will suffer disproportionately if social media marketing loses credibility, because it’s a particularly attractive tool for them in an environment where conventional alternatives aren’t nearly as cost-effective.

The Positive Side of Negative Reviews

by on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Actor, author, shortstop or chef, no one likes a negative review. But when we were developing the Zavee business model we decided early on that we would have to include negative as well as positive reviews. The goal we set for ourselves was to create a framework for reviews that were accurate, timely and fair – and that meant including negative reviews.

Our commitment to getting reviews right stemmed from our insight that reviews were another form of Social Media and, as such, were going to be a vital component of the Zavee experience and value proposition. We also learned, based on research with merchants, that many business owners who expressed concern about potential harm from fraudulent, malicious or even accurate negative reviews also intuitively understood the benefit of hearing about issues directly from the customer affected.

As marketers are learning, people will say whatever they want to whomever they want, and merchants don’t have the power to control their customers’ conversations. They can, however, do two important things.

First, they can listen, learn and respond. Thanks to Social Media, including reviews, merchants can make necessary adjustments to their business almost in real time. This is something that every business should be doing, all the time, through every available channel. Twitter and Facebook are great listening posts, but reviews are a channel that exists solely to provide feedback about the customer experience.

Second, merchants can participate in the conversation. By actively engaging with their customers merchants can address problems quickly and publicly; they can provide perspective that helps customers evaluate reviews; and they can favorably shape perceptions about the business.

  • Responding quickly is important because unresolved issues tend to fester. Responding publicly is important because it gives the merchant the chance to address at one time a concern that may be shared by many customers.
  • Actively participating is the only sure way to get the merchant’s perspective into the conversation. Both the manner and the substance of the merchant’s response can help customers determine how much weight to give a negative review, while the absence of a response does nothing but add credence to the reviewer’s complaints. A measured, factual response may not erase the impact of a negative review, but at a minimum the merchant will have extended the relationship with the customer and demonstrated both interest and respect.
  • Simply committing the time and effort to engage customers in conversation sends a positive message to all customers and can go a long way toward shaping perceptions of the customer experience. This can reinforce the positive experiences of current customers and build loyalty, but it also can lead non-customers to have a favorable impression of what it would be like to be a customer. In other words, an impressive response to a negative review can actually bring in new business.
Creative Commons 2.0

Reviews (via fengergold)

In benchmarking Zavee against other sites that feature reviews we observed a wide disparity in the treatment of key issues. Some sites filter reviews while others list them all chronologically. At least one site that uses filtering algorithms has had to defend itself against allegations that it improperly manipulated the placement of reviews. We decided not to filter or change the placement of reviews, because we believed that the less we intervened in the substance of reviews, the more confidence shoppers would have in them and, ultimately, in the Zavee brand.

We also observed that some sites permitted reviews (both positive and negative) that described experiences that had occurred long before the review was written. We thought reviews that were dated were so likely to be inaccurate that it would be unfair to both merchants and shoppers to have them on our site. We also were concerned, as many merchants seemed to be, that on some review sites there there were insufficient safeguards against fake reviews or even fake merchants.

We addressed these problems by requiring that any shopper who wanted to review a merchant had to have made a purchase from that merchant within the previous 30 days and by permitting only one review per purchase. Zavee solicits a review after every transaction, and the shopper’s My Zavee page lists recent transactions and the time remaining to submit a review. Zavee automatically rejects reviews that do not meet these rules.

We also were concerned about reviews that, while perhaps not fraudulent, seemed hostile or malicious. We initially considered moderating reviews, the way we moderate comments on Zavee Thinking, but we decided not to. There is nothing wrong with having editorial standards for reviews – we are, after all, responsible for the content on our site – but we thought the better way to deal with potential problems was to let shoppers and merchants have their say but remove reviews that violated our Terms of Use.

Because we passionately believe that reviews should be a dialogue, we also made it easy for merchants to post responses to shopper reviews. Merchants are automatically notified whenever they are reviewed and have 7 days to post a response. Responses appear with the original reviews and always show up together in a search. Shoppers can respond the the merchant’s response, and the entire conversation is threaded so it can be seen by everyone who sees the original review.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • You can’t control what your customers say, but you can listen, learn and respond to concerns – almost in real time.
  • Use negative reviews as a conversation-starter, not a relationship-ender.
  • How you handle unfavorable reviews can shape perceptions about your business, for future as well as current customers. Treat reviews as an opportunity to be impressive – you may be surprised by the results.

Update (4/14/10): MediaPost’s Marketing Daily reports that S.C. Johnson has been receiving substantial negative feedback, including reviews, about a new pet care product – and tells Marketing Daily that it is bringing the feedback to its product development team for consideration.

Social Media Marketing Goes Mainstream

by on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Still think that Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the Social Media universe are just for geeks and kids? Think again. None other than The Washington Post ran a feature story yesterday about how marketers and their agencies are using Social Media tools for both word-of-mouth marketing and reputation management. Although the news hook for the story was a local (i.e., D.C.) restaurant joining one of the class action lawsuits against Yelp, the focus of the article was about how major marketers such as Chrysler, Sony and Domino’s are sponsoring tweets and giving samples to bloggers, as well as monitoring the Web for negative comments and reviews.

Entrance to The Washington Post

The Washington Post (via Dion Hinchcliffe)

The article cites Nielsen data that 70% of Internet users trust online recommendations and reviews (we cited the same study here), and quotes a Boston University professor as to why: “[C]onnecting with other consumers is more helpful [than traditional ad messages]. It’s more fun. Consumers love to interact.” The article also reports that digital word-of-mouth marketing is expected to top $3 billion a year by 2013.
The article describes at some length how marketers and agencies are using Social Media tools to influence customer perceptions, including by sponsoring posts and tweets. This is a controversial subject that has been discussed extensively online, including by us. Sponsorship raises issues about the nature of Social Media, including whether media such as Twitter will eventually become less effective if sponsored tweets become more prevalent.

Sponsorship also inevitably raises the issue of disclosure: when and how prominently to disclose, and whether even full disclosure can prevent consumers from losing trust in the communication and, by extension, in the marketer itself. All of the agencies mentioned in the story claim that they fully disclose any sponsorship, either with a hashtag such as “#ad” or some other signifier such as “(sponsored)”.

Interestingly, however, the Post reporter seems openly skeptical about whether the average user understands that these communications are sponsored. A writer for Time voices similar concerns. This is a perspective that we all would do well to keep in mind. Much of the online commentary about sponsored tweets and posts seems to focus on issues other than whether the consumer comprehends the disclosure. If it’s true that casual users might actually be misled (as opposed to merely annoyed) by sponsored tweets and posts, marketers should be extra cautious before launching a Social Media campaign that involves sponsored communications.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • It’s official: Social Media Marketing has arrived.
  • Users trust online recommendations and reviews. Let’s keep it that way.
  • Sponsored tweets and posts raise a lot of issues. If the risk of misleading consumers is one of them, it’s time to think twice about the tactic.