Demystifying Customer Reviews, Part II

Well, here it is – the second installment of “Demystifying Customer Reviews.” If you missed the first one, check it out here, as it may  help make this read more valuable (and certainly make more sense).

Last time I outlined the reasons we lose our way when it comes to customer reviews – whether it’s making too many assumptions, not having a well-defined customer journey map, miscommunication and misunderstanding with internal stakeholders, reactive vs. proactive approaches, lack of creativity, unrealistic expectations, goals without substance…I could go on. 

The answer? Create a diversified review strategy. Why? Well, as a Wisconsin girl, cheesehead, and proud Green Bay Packers fan, it makes sense to let Vince Lombardi tell it like it is: “Hope is not a strategy.” 

One more time for those in the back, “hope is not a strategy.” Doing customer reviews because it’s nice to have, or even something you know you need to do, and then hoping reviews roll in, you have enough reviews to please leadership, customers give you five stars, etc. That’s a lot riding on hope. 

So, if hope isn’t going to make us a hero, what will?

A Diversified Review Strategy: The Basics

Diversifying your customer review strategy allows you to genuinely create an exceptional review experience for your customers AND deliver impressive results for internal stakeholders. To begin, you want to consider a few things. If you find yourself struggling to understand any of the points below, it’s worth taking a step back and asking questions so you can better move forward. It’s very difficult to be strategic if you don’t have the right information.

  • Different review platforms deliver different experiences: Your prospects are visiting multiple review sites to gather information before making a buying decision. So it makes sense to ensure you have a presence – nothing is worse than missing a sale simply because your name didn’t show up. But, at the same time, it is important to intimately understand these platforms (more on that later).
  • Consider your customers: If you’re relying on the “spray and pray” email approach to customer reviews, you’re never going to see the most impactful results. I say it all the time, we are people before professionals. Geography, organizational role, expertise, personality – all of this matters. 
  • Review the review experience: Real estate professionals say, “location is everything.” As a marketing professional, I say “timing is everything,” especially when it comes to customer reviews. And format. And delivery. And engagement method.
  • Rally around relationships: The person who makes the ask is as critical to the customer review process as anything else. Remember this, set egos aside, and put the customer first. 
  • Where are you on the journey: Do you have a customer journey map? Are you using it correctly? Does it reflect customer reviews? If not, it’s something to consider.

In the first blog installment, I talk a lot about what we do wrong, so let’s pivot and talk about what we can do right. Building off the points above, there are things we can implement within our organizations to encourage strategic thinking around customer reviews. And the way I think about customer reviews mimics how I approached a lot of my work in college. As an English major, it’s true, we read a lot and then we write endless pages, dissecting various texts – but one tool used consistently was the peer review process, which interestingly isn’t that different from how I build a customer review strategy. 

For example, a feedback rubric is essential when measuring and assessing a 5,000 word essay on James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Why? Because you need some checks and balances, especially when trying to measure something as subjective as an essay, which is essentially a review of the book. (For the record, I never made it through Ulysses, oof. Joyce is an acquired taste.) So the peer rubric then is now my version of a customer journey map. The  customer journey map is a consistent way of ensuring we deliver a similar and exceptional experience to our customers – and customer advocacy and customer reviews need to be reflected on that map. 

Work with internal stakeholders to ensure you have a stake in the customer journey map – make sure that soliciting reviews is an integral part of it. 

As an added bonus, if you’re integrated with the customer journey map, you can stop the annual hustle of devoting two months of your life to customer reviews, while everything else sits on the back burner. Remember, timing is everything.

A few key stops on the journey to consider for reviews:

  • NPS Survey (after a customer identifies as a promoter and fan of your brand)
  • Deployment (after a successful deployment and customer is in gratitude mode)
  • Customer events (during a customer event as they’re feeling the love)
  • Renewal (after a renewal – there’s a reason they renewed, right?)
  • Awards (after you just shouted a customer’s achievements from the rooftops)

Next up is making the process easy (and anonymous). Yes, I said it. Anonymous is not the end of the world. When we exchanged essays in my Tuesday night American Literature class, the professor handed them out to peer reviewers without the author’s name. Why? Because studies show that people leave more honest and detailed feedback when the reviewer is anonymous, whether it’s employees leaving reviews (74% of employees would be more inclined to give feedback about their company, workload and culture if the feedback channel was made truly anonymous*) or customers reviewing products and services. 

Don’t get so obsessed with logos that you give up on quality content. Focus on the quality – names and organization names will come from time to time, but giving prospects a wealth of quality review content to consume should be the priority. When you read an Amazon review, do you care about who wrote it or where they are located? Maybe, but not as often as you would think – the concern is getting authentic feedback that is verified and attributed to a real person, one that answers questions, addresses challenges, and supports the reader’s buying goals.

Another part of making the process easy is giving customers opportunities to leave reviews without having to seek them out – have links on featured web pages, use them in email signatures, promote them at industry and customer events. We’re a culture of convenience.

Circling back to finding the right review platform…this may be one of the most important factors in creating a diversified review strategy. Review platforms are as diverse as your customer base. Do your homework on review platforms and consider the user experience, the personality of your customers, geography, vertical, etc. As mentioned before, your prospects are visiting multiple review sites to gather information before making a buying decision. So it makes sense to ensure you have a presence – nothing is worse than missing a sale simply because your name didn’t show up. This is essentially the diversification part of the diversified review strategy – much like your financial portfolio, you typically don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. 

But, at the same time, just tossing reviews across multiple sites isn’t exactly strategic. It’s a part of your strategy, but can be executed rather tactically. It is important to intimately understand these platforms; do your homework, have conversations, ask questions, and determine which platform is the right fit for your customers.

I strongly encourage you to go through a customer data audit before having conversations with review platforms…having a strong grasp of your customer base allows you to ask more pointed questions and more easily assess the value a vendor will highlight. Suggestions for customer categorization include:

  • Geography: Different parts of the world treat feedback differently; after all, reviews are subjective, so understanding cultural nuances is important.
  • Vertical/industry: If you want to ensure names and faces behind your reviews, consider industries; there are always going to be industries (e.g., security, financial services) that will remain anonymous and should be directed to specific review platforms.
  • Advocate status: If you have a customer advocacy program think carefully about where your advocates can bring the most value from a reviews perspective – these are your rock stars and most likely to provide in-depth insights.
  • Communication preferences: Call in your relationship owners here to make sure that customers are asked to leave a review in a way they are most likely to respond (e.g., don’t send an email to the customer that prefers phone conversations, leverage Slack or instant messaging if you know that’s how a customer will respond).

And finally, make sure you are engaging your internal stakeholders as appropriate AND holding them accountable. Customer reviews are a team sport from start to finish. Below is just a sample of how roles and responsibilities can be shared across an organization. 

The easiest way to get all stakeholders involved is to create a feedback loop. Find the right stakeholders, bring them together to kick-off your review strategy – make sure everyone understands their role, their value, and showcase how reviews will impact their individual teams. This last point is where you’re in a unique position to shine. As the owner of the overall review strategy, you can not only moderate and respond to feedback, but also pass that feedback to internal stakeholders. Take this role very seriously and impress upon your internal stakeholders that they have the ability to facilitate the change customers want to see.

Often, feedback results in learning opportunities, not only for internal stakeholders, but customers as well. Leverage feedback, partner with business partners and offer engagement opportunities like focus groups, webinars, or in-person user sessions. Drive communication via content vehicles such as newsletters. When customers see that you’re actively listening and taking action, their confidence (and patience) increases.

Equally as important as engaging your internal stakeholders is holding them accountable. If you are able to bring everyone together, agree on the strategy, and align goals and responsibilities, make sure you run (don’t walk) towards scheduling a recurring meeting that brings everyone back together quarterly. Report on successes, areas for improvement, and come prepared with direct feedback and action items for each stakeholder.

Creating a diversified review strategy takes time and creating a meaningful experience requires dedicated resources and constant monitoring. You may not be able to tackle all of these elements at once, but they hopefully will help shape goals, guide your next discussion with leadership, or enhance an existing strategy.

And as always, connect with me on LinkedIn, and let’s keep the conversation going!

*Forbes, Five Reasons Your Organization Needs an Anonymous Employee Feedback Program