8 September 2017
The online loan company, 247Moneybox.com, based in central London and established in early 2009 has hit a major milestone surpassing the 1380 reviews mark on an independent review website. What's more the average score is 8.7 out of 10 which the site rates as being "Great".
The company gathers reviews and testimonials from its customers to contribute to the management information and virtuous positive feedback loops all with the goal of improving their customer service. See the firm's own testimonial page here and the independent review site here.
Sarah Price Customer Experience Manager states: "To reach this number of reviews in such a short period of time shows that firm is going about its business in the right way. We are pleased with the feedback our customers have given and want to encourage more to let us know how we can improve our service. We pride ourselves on putting our customers at the heart of everything we do, and featuring reviews that can be trusted, from fellow borrowers, is an ideal way of achieving this."
Whilst this is an obvious achievement for the online loan firm it raises an interesting question about how important reviews are to a potential customer and do they influence the purchase or consumption decision? Figures out there suggest that up to 9 out of 10 customers say that reviews matter when they are deciding whether to make a purchase.
Often reviews are like a lead indicator or signpost that something is going right or, more often than not, wrong. If a company changes a feature or rolls out a new product you can be assured that you will hear about the negative responses first before the positive. This is more than likely down to the fact that customers who have had a generally positive reaction are unlikely to take the time to let others know about it relative to those that have had a poor experience.
Learning to read and interpret reviews is a skill. It is said that reviews can generally be categorised in the following ways:
Positive reviews clearly shout out that the business is generally spot on and for potential customer in due diligence mode those great reviews are the collective green light that say "What are you waiting for? Choose this firm!"
A lukewarm review that's neither all positive or negative or contains elements of both can been seen to be a comment on the overall strategy, customer service, quality assurance or product. Close attention must be given to convert them into a positive review by addressing the underlying reason.
If a firm is getting a large volume of negative reviews, then something major is off, especially if they coalesce around a theme or topic. This is when a full root cause analysis kicks in and each warning flag type review needs a response.
There have been plenty of cases of fake reviews. These fakes can be all 3 of the review types listed above. Competitors may cloak themselves as a disgruntled customer or a firm might try to list excellent reviews of themselves.
It's impossible to please absolutely everyone all of the time. Leading on from above, where a firm only has a large number of positive reviews then it does raise the suspicion that it might not be a genuine snapshot of the customer base. It's likely that every business will, at some point, get a few negative reviews. Potential customers generally understand mistakes happen from time to time and that as long as there isn't a trend, they generally can be quite forgiving. However, where a trend appears or a business appears not to care about its customers then negative reviews can take on a life of their own and have a detrimental impact on business growth.
Whether online or offline, a firm will get customer feedback. This is to be treated in a positive way and not only that but grasped as an opportunity to improve the business. Just keep in mind that when someone expresses dissatisfaction online, their issues will have a large and potentially endless audience. A firm must treat these views with the respect they deserve. For example, if a business captures customer data via an application form and goes on to make some changes, why wouldn't they want to know that it doesn't render correctly in a particular browser? Firms spend millions on UX testing so if it is being offered for free a business should jump at the chance to make a positive change. The business would be advised to engage early and often and keep their fingers on the pulse of customer satisfaction.
An interesting question as its already established that there are significant benefits in treating reviews as feedback however there might be other benefits too. There are suggestions, and to be honest no one other than a few departments at the online search engines themselves can confirm this, that online reviews can affect your organic search ranking. This put reviews into the domain of a firm's SEO strategy along with its link profile and on-site optimisation.
Whether this is true or not it's unlikely that the major search engines will ever tell anyone. However, it does have logic. If an individual searches for the best Italian restaurant in the north London area then it makes sense that the search engine would return results not only geographically bounded by the request but also ranked by reviews to address the "best" requirement.
This raises a further interesting question about which online review site to target as a business' main collection point. It would be logical to target the one that not only is the easiest for the customer to leave that review, i.e. the least friction but also one that has the maximum influence on a firm's organic ranking.
A firm's presence is not just press releases, social media interactions, media articles and advertisements they are also what real customers perceive the business to be about. A firm must also consider the weight in terms of influence of each of these mediums. A well placed paid for puff piece in a friendly magazine is likely to be drowned out from a potential customer's perspective by even a few negative reviews on a well-respected review site.
As mentioned above perception is everything, especially where the firm customer interaction is online and faceless. Pattern or trend spotting in any business is crucial not only to address the specific issue being raised but also to be seen to be taking action in response to a complaint. Being ignored is up there with the number one gripe when analysing complaints about businesses in general. It can happen to any size firm in any industry. Some review sites take this further promoting badges that firms can display on their homepages and promotional material.
Not just talking from a firm's and customer's point of view here but also the review site themselves. As a business model, these sites rely on growing big becoming a trusted brand and being sought after by consumers. Firms will often pay for the privilege of asking customers to review them on these sites and carry the brand of the review firm into their own customer base. A neat kind of revenue generating viral marketing model.
There are lots of analogies out there about something being just a small representation of a larger picture, (icebergs) being one of them. Reviews are only left by a small fraction of a firm's customer base however businesses should ignore them at their peril as they are likely to be read and digested by a far great number. This is similar to some social media phenomena where many more users passively consume but rarely interact with the data flows.
Another interesting question. If a customer of a firm leaves a review about the firm at the behest of the firm then who actually owns that review. Is it the customer, the firm or the review site? It seems upon reviewing the majority of review sites that it is the firm that owns the review or at least can download them and move them elsewhere. Whether the original reviews are then removed from the previous review site is another good question as it wouldn't be good form to have duplicate content knocking round the web as search engines tend to take a dim view of this. A philosophical point it may be but once firms have built up thousands of reviews and if the current trend continues and they grow in importance, then it is going to be of major importance to those firms especially if the review sites become even more aggressive in their pricing model.
Most review sites have the ability for anyone to report a review If they think it isn't quite legit. This is an important feature as it leverages the power of the users to effectively self-police the site which is often far more effective than the employees of the firm. Almost certainly the review sites deploy algorithms to detect spam and fake reviews as they may display certain characteristics such as being from the same IP address or even the same device. Other methods that scammers and fraudsters may use is to try and buy huge batches of reviews (often from the dark web). Here the practice is to create thousands of legit profiles with bona fide characteristics such as geographic spread and social media accounts with legit activity who then go on post favourable reviews about the paying firm. Let's hope the review sites get smart to spot this and the community at large is savvy to spot suspicious reviews.
Well the above has covered how not to generate reviews so how would a firm actually go about getting legit reviews? Well the one answer is to wait for someone to review the firm. Hmm a little passive and unlikely to generate the potential number of reviews a firm could get. A better way is to be more proactive in the approach. To be fair, a firm must ask everyone to review them not just cherry pick satisfied customers in an attempt to skew the results into being more positive. Another way firms can invite reviews is to place the invite around the site such as the check-out page or the order confirmation. Some firms might like to try some offline invitations such as at the end of every inbound phone call. However, a firm collects reviews it is important to be honest open and transparent about the process in order to engender trust to all stakeholders.