IRCE Recap: Should companies take control of their reviews?

Photo: Getty Images
Jun 15, 2016

Online reviews are more important than ever for customers everywhere in the buying journey. Because of this, according to Mike Ward, president and CEO of ThriftBooks and Jordan Garner, director of customer success at Trustpilot, letting customers do the reviewing and hoping for the best isn’t enough, and companies need to take an active role in both collecting and managing reviews. This was the main thrust of their session given at the Internet Retailer Convention and Expo in Chicago.

Mr. Ward discussed ThriftBooks’ piecemeal way of approaching reviews in the early days of the company, when he would sometimes Google search the business and find a negative review that had been up for months.

“That [negative review] sits there, like a big zit on your face that you can’t get rid of,” said Mr. Ward.

Mr. Ward and Ms. Garner advocated a proactive approach as an alternative to ineffective “Whack-a-Mole” responding.

Ms. Garner said soliciting reviews from customers was the first step. She said that without asking for reviews businesses could expect, at best, a 50/50 split of positive and negative reviews. Conversely, she claimed that 83 percent of a business’s reviews will be positive if the business actively collects them.

“Your advocates will speak up for you, you just have to make it easy for them,” said Ms. Garner.

Ms. Garner explained that businesses could implement various different collection vehicles (such as email, text messaging or embedded review forms) depending on the desired type of feedback, and could do so along differing timelines, with accompanying calls to action. She noted, however, that response rates tended to be better if no incentive is offered for the reviews.

The second step of the strategy discussed was responding to negative reviews apologetically and with a real intent to resolve the issue, turning critics into advocates. The final step was leveraging reviews through sharing on social media, using for promotional purposes, encouraging customer advocacy and mining reviews for insights.

“If you have a marketing person taking care of your reviews, change that today — get it to be a customer service function.” said Mr. Ward.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How important is it for a retailer to treat review management as a customer service function with a full strategy behind it? Can businesses go wrong in soliciting and trying to manage reviews? How?

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12 Comments on "IRCE Recap: Should companies take control of their reviews?"

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Ian Percy

Ms Garner has it exactly right on all counts. “Managing reviews,” unfortunately, usually means creating false positives and/or removing true negatives.

I’d add two points that don’t seem to be here. One is to encourage people to suggest remedies and new possibilities in the review function. The other is to keep the chain going (engaging the customer) and present what’s been done to resolve any problem. Think about responding to even positive reviews by noting how you’ve seen and acted on new possibilities prompted by positive reviews, raising your customer service bar even higher.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
I agree with the article, however the emphasis needs to be as proactive as possible. Companies need to make sure they hear what they don’t want to hear. The alternative to a systematic feedback process (positive or negative) is customers taking to social media to complain about a company’s product or service. Companies need to turn such “grumblers” (telling everyone but you) into “complainers” (telling you). In my research on Millennials, I found that almost 20 percent use social media to complain about a faulty product or bad service. Once a proactive system is in place, the key is to manage the heck out of customer feedback. How? Ask customers as well as associates how they would fix noted problems. Take the positive comments and make sure the rest of the world is aware of them. Provide feedback to customers, thanking them for taking the time to communicate with you and letting them know what steps you are taking to address their issues. Such feedback, not normally expected, will result in customers taking to social… Read more »
Kenneth Leung

Yes to treating reviews as a customer management function, but the title of this article is wrong — companies cannot “take control” of customer reviews. You can influence them, you can interact with customers and deliver great customer service to drive positive reviews, but you can’t “take control” of them. There will always be negative reviews, and some can be converted and repaired, some can’t. Treating reviews with a customer service function methodology is a good start.

Brian Numainville

Companies need to take control of asking for, listening to and responding to all feedback, regardless of the channel. It is important to be proactive in asking for feedback as that illustrates care for the customer and their experience. But equally important is carefully listening to the feedback and responding to it so that the provider of the feedback knows they have been heard and something is being done to address their concern (if appropriate) or thanking them to take the time to let you know about a positive encounter (and not just by using a standard form letter). And whether it is a review or any other type of feedback, making it easy is key.

Ed Rosenbaum

Companies need to have a better handle on their online reviews. There can be no disputing this in the age of technology. It has matured so quickly that the function has to be in the hands of a competent customer service department. I reiterate the word competent because customer service is one of the last pieces of the puzzle to be looked at and accepted as an important role; not as a “let Sam handle it. He is good at talking to people” role. It can not work like that anymore. Retailers, as well as others, need to see this as a standalone piece of the business.

Gene Detroyer

Way back in the last century, when people wrote letters of complaint, there was a theory that for every letter you got, there were multiple customers with the same complaint and for every dissatisfied customer who wrote one, they told 10 friends. As a result, we had two full-time people personally respond to each letter with a solution or over-compensation. Their letters were copied and shared with the appropriate departments: marketing, sales, manufacturing and R&D.

We seem to be having some semantic issues with the word “control” . Taking “control” suggests controlling the reviews. That is death once customers sense that. The action should be to address negative reviews directly on the posts. Engage, answer, give a solution. This turns negatives into positives.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Agree with Kenneth — “control” is a bad way to think of it — any sense that it’s being curated in any way would probably boomerang. Transparency would be the key — get a great review, say thanks. Get a bad review, publicly fix the problem.

Kim Garretson
6 years 11 months ago

One of the best customer service departments managing reviews is at Cost Plus World Market. The retailer has embedded Facebook comments right on individual product pages, and customer service monitors the product reviews and questions feed. Often, they respond to both positive and negative reviewers as other commenters here have suggested. And when shoppers pose questions like “when will this item go on sale?” or “when will this item be back in stock?” customer service points the person to the “Get Alerts” or “Get Back in Stock Alerts” feature near the “Add to Cart” button. Most other retailers respond to questions like this as part of positive reviews with: “Sorry, we don’t know. Keep checking back.”

Kai Clarke

All businesses need to be sensitive to their reviews as a source of quality, product assurance and customer satisfaction. Dedicating resources to managing and communicating these reviews should be a standard for all companies. However, companies should not be able to “filter” these reviews. Instead any posting of a review, should also have the capability of posting a reply by the company involved. This allows the company to follow up, and for the reviewer to also follow up with their postings and update their status after receiving feedback and assistance from the company.

Gajendra Ratnavel

Managing reviews should be customer service function as Mr. Ward states and absolutely a great idea to take control of them. Often times, a negative review can be neutralized with a good response. There is a great TED talk on “trust” or in other words, reviews becoming the new currency in the future for online business.

Ralph Jacobson

“Management” of customer reviews can be a slippery slope. It wasn’t that long ago that companies tried to “manage” social channels, too. There is a fine line between managing and influencing reviews. Be certain to create a strategy that is unbiased in every way.

Christopher P. Ramey

Retailers must manage their organization on a granular basis, including reviews. This doesn’t mean manipulate reviews. Authenticity remains king.


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