The power of negative reviews

Zack King, community manager at independent marketing agency RPM, argues that negative reviews are an opportunity that businesses must embrace, for if they don’t, they may lose control completely

The vast and continuous expansion of social media platforms has given consumers abundant opportunity to voice their opinion; both good and bad. This freedom of speech has made the public so powerful, it has shifted the entire relationship between brand and consumer and for this very reason, businesses are weary of embracing social media. Negative feedback can be seen to damage business; couple this with a consumers’ free reign to express themselves, and brands feel out of control over preventing the complaint going public. But brands aren’t so out of control as they might think. Instead of brushing negative reviews under the carpet, brands should proactively and transparently address complaints via social media, turning these negatives into a serious positive.

The first thing brands need to remember is that there is always truth in complaints and, as such, negative feedback can actually be used to shape and improve a business model. Through using social media to deal with the problem quickly and as openly as possible, the brand demonstrates good customer service and, more importantly, confirms their customers matter to them. A willingness to address complaints shows that a business has pride and faith in its products and services, and cares about their customers’ experiences, not just their custom. This honesty and humility is instinctively picked up on by those looking to engage through social platforms and are paramount to creating a positive emotional connection. In turn, this drives customer loyalty and lays the foundations for achieving one of social media marketing’s ultimate goals – acquiring advocates and ambassadors.

Knock-on effect

A report commissioned by Conversocial, The Consequences of Ignoring your Customers, found that a massive 88 per cent of customers said that, should they have a complaint ignored on a social media site, they would be less likely to do business with that company again. And of course it’s not just the relationship with the complaining customer that’s affected; the complaint is now public and the response must be public too. Dealing with the complaint privately may appease the individual concerned, but this strategy will still damage the brand’s image. As the author of the report, Liel Liebovitz, says, “If you take an issue offline there is no resolution for your wider audience to take reassurance from it, no matter how good your level of individual service … Your public image remains one of a careless company who leaves queries neglected.”

For a consumer to champion a brand, they first connect with its products or services before considering what the brand itself means to them. If you look at basic human psychology, people rarely trust others who go out of their way to keep their defence up and hide weakness. This also stands with the relationship between brand and consumer too. Old channels may have created a disconnect that masked much of this distrust, but social media, by definition, amplifies it. People are starting to talk to brands in the same way they talk to other people and if brands don’t become the type of person to make friends, then the business will fail.

Being human

Creating a more human-like connection with consumers also has its benefits. Demonstrating transparency and honesty is crucial in a globalised world where ethical and environmental concerns have leapt up the agenda for the average customer. Not many of us would hang out with a friend who employs a child to do their housekeeping; customers do not want to hang out with a brand that thinks it’s okay either. And if brands are seen to be hiding behind something, then perhaps they have something to hide. Simply by reacting to negative feedback, brands provide closure for the complainant; ultimately all consumers want is to be heard and when they are, they are more likely to remain loyal. In fact, a study from Maritz found that 83 per cent of complainants that received a response either liked or loved the fact that the company responded.

Perhaps an even more fundamentally important factor to a business is that, simply, they should want to know what customers are saying. Problems with products, services, communication, or indeed any aspect of the business can be highlighted and addressed and negative feedback should be used to steer improvements, and so improve sales. Who better to guide this feedback loop than the customers themselves? Even if they’re wrong, their perceptions are not. Think of it as free market research.

By now, larger businesses and brands are generally au fait with social media and comfortable with their lowered guard on these platforms. However for smaller outfits perhaps lacking in socially-savvy staff, this can be a difficult step to take, and ,for some, may even require a full-blown paradigm shift. They should be brave – it will be worth it.

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