Companies can't control what customers are saying about them on "unbiased" review sites like Yelp, Zagat or OpenTable. But they can make better use of the feedback they receive directly from their customers. That information doesn't always make it into the public domain, something one customer experience expert thinks should change.
Rating and user review sites give customers a way to give feedback to companies who may not offer an option for reviews on their own websites. But this represents a missed opportunity, David Ensing, vice president for voice of the customer integration at Maritz Research, told CMSWire.com.
Ensing has been researching review sites and has uncovered plenty of data on the kinds of people who use them. Now he is working to give companies better insight about what they should do with all that online information.
While companies can't control the Yelps of the world, they should monitor those sites to keep up with public sentiment. More importantly, they should publicize internal customer reviews instead of hiding them away, he said.
"Companies seem to have some trepidation [about exposing feedback] because they don’t want to share what is potentially dirty laundry," Ensing said. "But we’ve found these internal customer reviews are mostly positive."
Obviously, there will always be some less than favorable reviews. But it turns out even those reviews can help companies improve the customer experience, Ensing said.
When reviews are either all positive or all negative, consumers see them as less trustworthy, the Maritz Research 2013 Customer Review study found. That's true even for "unbiased" review sites like Yelp or Zagat.
Maritz Research surveyed 3,404 people about the use of 13 dedicated customer review sites including TripAdvisor, Google+, Hotels.com, Zagat, OpenTable and Yelp. The results have turned up in three reports, the most recent of which is called Money Talks - And Listens: Characteristics of Rating and Review Site Users.
The Power of Transparency
Fewer people use dedicated review sites than you may think. In addition, the users are typically younger and have higher average incomes, overall, the Money Talks report found. Reviewers who identified themselves as Asian, Caucasian or Hispanic tend to read and post reviews at rating sites more than those who identified themselves as African American or an undefined ethnic category.
Younger, white respondents tend to be the most active on review sites and are also some of the most skeptical about the information presented on those sites. Many of them seem to have inflated opinions of their own ability to weed out "fake" reviews from real ones, Ensing said.
Dedicated review sites are clearly less than ideal for most companies, so any internal reviews that companies have on file should be put out there for all to see, Ensing said. "It’s not hard to do technically. It’s just a culture change."
Companies like to have control over what is said about them, especially on their own websites. But allowing customer reviews to be seen, even the less flattering ones, would help build trust, Ensing said. Failing that, companies should at least have a dedicated person monitoring what people are posting on external review sites.
"Organizations are afraid of negative reviews and they shouldn’t be. It’s a major culture change, but the Internet is causing more transparency."
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