Why do customer reviews and engagement matter?

20 November 2010

Let’s look at feedback first. If you work in the travel industry and have previously not bothered to collect any customer feedback then you are in for a shock. These are the companies struggling to manage their Facebook pages. Their customers are finding that if they do not have another outlet this is a place to voice their views about any gripes they have with their customer service if they have not been listened to in the past.
Social media makes all things transparent and Google has started to make moves indicating that they also consider reviews to be very important to customer search. We are now finding that customer reviews shared on third party websites such as Trip Advisor and the Review Centre are now featuring in natural search. This means that if you have poor scores on these sites they are going to be all too visible when customers are doing online searches under your brand name. This is where reviews are going to affect your search engine rankings.
The implication of all this is that you need to make sure that you are encouraging your customers to complete a review on a third party review site.
OK, so why is engagement also important? For all those companies chasing numbers of fans the metric to really monitor is the level of engagement with fans. This is tracked easily on sites such as Facebook with their “Insights” analytics package. Anyone achieving anything close to a 5% active fan base is doing very well. Polls, and discussion boards will help but fans often want to be recognised for their contribution to the community. Ranking and signposting of customer posts is key to helping other fans to know what may be of interest and help engagement. This percentage is the most important one in terms of an early indicator as to the future success of your Facebook page.  What we are all waiting for is the holy grail which proves how positive reviews and high engagement levels ultimately influence brand advocacy and lead to higher customer revenues.
I have been reading an interesting research paper just published by Comblu[1] which is tracking best practice on the development of branded customer communities in the US. It shows that there are plenty of examples of “ghost communities” which started out with good intentions but quickly die as the company has not continued to engage with the customer. Travel is definitely not a lead industry with regard to community building but players like Virgin, Marriott, JetBlue and South West are starting to show some best practice. I recommend that anyone planning to start a customer community thinks carefully about the type of content that will engage their customers and ensure that they have a “Community Manager” or “Chief Listening Officer” as they are also known.
The key thing is to do some listening first to the conversations happening across the web. Only after you have spent a few months listening and making a content plan, would I recommend that you launch a community. It’s also advisable not to treat your fans and followers any differently from those who write or email you. There is an interesting case study[2] about TMobile and a disgruntled customer who only got a response to his complaint when tweeting all his followers. He then objected to the fact that he should not have received very different treatment just because he used a public channel. Social media will quickly show up any glaring discrepancies you have in your customer complaints policy. It’s best to get that in shape first so you are not one of those companies I alluded to initially who are suffering the wrath of their customers in the full glare of a Facebook page…..ooops … now that could be embarrassing.

[1] Comblu The State of Online Branded Communities November 2010
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