When trying to decide what to buy, where to buy, how much to spend, etc., consumers are regularly relying on each other for help. Research shows that nearly 7 out of 10 people read online reviews before making a purchase.

Some marketers have caught on to this trend, and have added features on their brand’s websites for shoppers to write reviews and rate products. However, some companies here in the UK are still behind on this word of mouth phenomenon. Some simply don’t offer places on their website to discuss products, while others have the tools available but aren’t utilizing them properly.

One major area where marketers are failing is in the management of the online review features. Yes, people like to read other people’s thoughts and comments about products — but in order for them to be successful they have to be managed properly. No longer can a brand just set up the programs and walk away. There has to be engagement with the customers to let them know their opinions are important and heard.

They won’t talk if no one is listening.

The first step in having a successful online review program is to understand what makes customers want to participate. Research shows that the most common reason why people give feedback is to thank a company for an excellent product or service. For them, it’s a way of giving back. Less often, consumers want a place to vent their frustrations. While this is a main reason why some companies shy away from offering rating systems online, it can actually be a good thing. Many brands have been able to take negative reviews and make themselves look good by responding to any problems or issues and getting them resolved quickly. For example, when a brand responds to a review in which the customer is misusing the product, and provides detailed instructions, shoppers who see the response are three times as likely to buy as those who didn’t.

Then there are times where consumers are hesitant to share their experiences. According to Forrester Research “consumers are often in doubt about the impact of their responses.” The way to overcome this hesitancy is to show customers how their feedback is used to improve products, or add helpfulness voting so they can see how their opinions helped other shoppers buy. And respond to any concerns: Aviva, the UK’s largest insurer, responds directly to every customer review that gives them a score of 3.5 or less in a move to improve its service and customer satisfaction levels.

By sharing their experiences, the consumers may also be hoping to either provide information they believe will be useful for others’ purchase decisions. In the past year alone credibility in “a person like yourself” has leapt by 22% and trust in social media has grown by 75%.

Learn from and act on feedback.

Reviews not only give consumers the ability to share their opinions about the products or services they buy, but it also offers marketers a way to evaluate and track what people are saying about their business. If managed properly, the platform gives these marketers the ability to respond to and resolve any issues that may rise to the surface.

Another type of platform for customer feedback is a question and answer forum. This can also be a good way for marketers to address questions about a product and show consumers they are interested in their opinions. Questions reveal gaps in web copy that marketers can fill to make sure all of a shopper’s questions are answered.
Not only do these conversations help marketers keep up with the consumers’ opinions of their products, but they can also help determine what — if anything — about a product or brand should be altered or improved in R&D’s next iteration.

Engage beyond your website.

While research shows it’s a necessity for brands to begin offering feedback platforms on their websites, it can also benefit them to step outside their own space and interact around the web. These days consumers engage with brands on social media, retailer sites, via search engines, on mobile devices, and in brick-and-mortar stores. Enabling user-generated content at all of these points is where the relationship between your social engagement program and commerce is most effective and powerful.

The computer giant Dell is a prime example of how a brand can get creative and reach customers outside of its own website. Dell has one of the most active social communities online, where members are treated to special announcements about upcoming news and developments. They are also often invited to pre-test new products and share their opinions before they’re even released to the general public. Not only does this connect them more to their consumers, but it allows them to get feedback about products before they are released–giving them time to make improvements as needed. For example, Dell made 20 changes to one of its notebooks based on customer recommendations.

Allowing consumers to give feedback is a win-win situation.

When brands encourage customers to rate or review their products they’re creating a better shopping experience and allowing people to express their concerns. And, as research has shown, people want to hear what others are saying about specific products and services before they cough up their hard earned money to pay for them. Good reviews lead to more purchases. Negative reviews (when they do happen) allow marketers to make adjustments to products and show compassion for their consumers. Both consumer and brand benefit from these opinions — they’re truly a win-win.