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GUEST COMMENT Are you really listening to your customers?

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When it comes to reviews, the main focus for online retailers tends to be ensuring that the average star rating shows them in a good light – that their business is a trustworthy one from which people can expect a good experience.

That rating is visual and creates an immediate (and, arguably, lasting) impression for people, so it is of course important to have a strategy for improving your firm’s rating. But reviews should not be thought about as one-way traffic – just as your prospective customers gain information about areas of your service from them, you too can regard reviews as valuable sources of information.

Reviews are not just opportunities for people to praise your performance or vent their spleen – they can also serve as highly valuable mechanisms for gaining feedback to help you understand how well your business performs, allowing you to adapt accordingly.

Many reviews are specific to a stage of the customer journey – which may relate to a product they purchased, the delivery experience, customer service, and more. What even many experienced e-Commerce professionals don’t realise is that at each stage and interaction with the customer reviews can offer valuable insights into customer sentiment, helping to refine your offer and experience. This article breaks down the customer journey analysing how reviews can play a role at each and features elements of a recent Trustpilot / IMRG joint report ‘Learning from online reviews’.

Product reviews “I love this camera, but the lens lets it down a bit.”

The customer’s impression and experience of the product they bought will tell you, above all, the perceived quality of that product. Note that, if it’s negative in tone, often the issue may be that the product doesn’t live up to expectation – it may not be that it is a poor product as such, but how it was marketed didn’t correlate with its reality. Potential areas to review include the product description, photograph, videos or other ways the product may be misrepresented on the site that could be frustrating. Product reviews can also give you an indication of how to build product associations. If you find that customers generally like a product, except for one aspect, you can respond accordingly. For example, if you have reviews for a DSLR camera along the lines of ‘Great camera, but the lens could be better’, perhaps you could include another lens in a product bundle.

Post-receipt of goods “I only ordered a USB stick. Did it really need such a huge box?”

The arrival of the product can really make or break the overall experience for customers. This is where you can find out about your standards of packaging, and the overall degree of customer satisfaction around delivery. Your customer may be frustrated at the amount of packaging that was used to deliver a relatively small item, and this can be amplified if it means that a purchase that should have fitted through the letterbox becomes a failed delivery. Similarly, a surly driver can sour the experience and damage your brand, even if the delivery was performed by a third-party provider.

Post-purchase “Took me ages to find the thing I was looking for.”

A review of the post-purchase experience can offer a view of the on-site experience. At this stage, the reviewer has made a purchase but not yet received it. Uncoloured by impressions of a newly-arrived product, this is their impression of the site and the purchase process. It’s a specific time to gain feedback that may be among the most revealing in terms of where the friction points are on the path to purchase, and what a customer would like to see changed about the checkout process or site experience as a whole.

Customer service “The dress was the wrong colour. I called customer service and they sent me the right one straight away. They were incredibly helpful.”

Good customer service can prevent the loss of a potential repeat customer – and turn a negative experience into a positive one – and in extreme cases salvage potential damage to your brand. This specific feedback can indicate much more than your own general impression of how good you are at customer service. It shows whether or not you resolved an issue, how well you did, and how the customer feels about your brand afterwards. The feedback also provides a clear indication of exactly how the respondent would have preferred the interaction to go and can provide a blueprint for improvement.

Post-return / post-refund “The bag turned out to be a bit different from what I wanted. But it was easy to send it back and swap it for a different one.”

Does the shopper consider the return of the product / refund of their money as the conclusion of your business together – does the sentiment suggest that’s their last engagement with you or would they likely buy from you again? Is this just a product they didn’t like, even though they remain very fond of your offering and your retail experience more generally? If the customer was wavering on the issue of whether to shop again, did the return process drive them away or save the day? Reviews in this area can help provide clarity around such questions. Amazon has clearly paid attention because it offers instant refunds even before the product has been received.

Major sales periods “The site is really slow to load.”

The date on which the customer wrote their review could have some influence on the content or tone of their review. For example, supposing the review came on a day like Black Friday, would the enormous sales event affect the sentiment? The customer may expect less – things like customer service may be less on their mind when huge savings take prominence. Or perhaps they expect more. The havoc of the day may inspire a greater need for customer service. At Trustpilot we know busy periods impact sentiment, in fact over the Christmas shopping season the percentage of negative reviews left on Trustpilot increases, from circa 8% to 11% on average.

So when you’re considering how reviews can work harder for your business it can really pay dividends to carefully consider when and how you collect customer feedback. Our research shows that only 14% of customers are ‘very likely’ to write an organic review (i.e. unsolicited) but when reviews are actively solicited, the response rate jumps to 29%. Therefore, the ball is in your court and you have the ability to collect, and act upon, a rich seam of insights.

Alan Duncan is marketing director Europe at Trustpilot

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