Demystifying Customer Reviews, Part I

One of the reasons I joined PeerSpot is that I am 100% committed to promoting the customer voice (not shocking), and a big part of that is the customer review process. And customer reviews are tough – there are a lot of barriers that we face, some old and some new, but they present challenges when we try to satisfy our internal stakeholders while managing customer relationships.
At the risk of becoming wildly unpopular with my peers, I decided to capture where we tend to go wrong…and unfortunately, much of it rests squarely on our shoulders as CMA professionals. But, if you’re willing to stay with me and read further, let’s break this down further so that we can correct the course and find a path to success.
So, where do we go wrong when it comes to customer reviews?
In order to solve a problem, we first have to define it, understand it, and then learn from it. Understanding why something isn’t working is as important, if not more so, then the actual solution…so here it goes, a breakdown of the missteps. (Which means, yes, there will be a second installment of this blog topic dedicated to expanded solutions.)

We lost our way AND our why

It’s easy to do. We start working on something only to realize we completely forgot why we started in the first place. I encourage you to keep a simple checklist or slide that highlights the benefits of online customer reviews–it seems simple, but there are plenty of times when I’m so busy or bogged down in other projects that I miss an opportunity to showcase the “why” or the value of a particular initiative. Here’s a non-exhaustive list that will resonate with different internal stakeholders. Use the most impactful ones at the right time:

  1. Increased sales: 90% of business buyers do their research online before making a purchasing decision*, and half of them rely on peer experiences and product reviews (a number that is projected to increase YOY)
  2. Brand reputation: The greater your positive presence across review sites and online communities, the more “sticky” your brand becomes, and the more trusted you become in the eyes of prospective buyers
  3. Word of mouth marketing: Don’t think word of mouth matters? Check out the recent research and information on NPS 3.0. Go ahead, I’ll wait. It matters.
  4. Company validation: See bullet #2 – what customers have to say not only helps sell, but they position your company as a legitimate player in your industry
  5. Content creation: Part of building a diversified review strategy involves leveraging customer reviews as an engine for content creation – they are a gold mine that feeds demand generation campaigns, blog entries, customer stories, and presentation slides
  6. Investor confidence: See points #2 and #4 – having a presence and generating positive buzz around your organization’s name and products boosts investor confidence, knowing they are doing business with a reputable and well-respected company
  7. Promotional materials: See #5 – get in touch with your PR team and share customer reviews; there is no need to reinvent the wheel when you have the most genuine form of customer voice at your fingertips; it’s the age-old, let customers sell
  8. Competitive intelligence: This could be another blog entry, walking through all of the competitive insights generated by a single customer review. Harness the product feedback (positive and constructive), along with mentions of competitors and pass it on to your product organization – and then get ready to soak up their gratitude

And if this isn’t enough, remember there’s a symbiotic relationship amongst all of these benefits to a strategic customer review program. Reviews deliver content. Content creates stronger campaigns, marketing output, and sales enablement materials. Content drives prospect engagement. Prospects become customers.

So many assumptions (and you know what they say about the word “assume”)

We assume reviews are an easy ask of customers, that they understand the value. When in reality, customers are often confused, required to jump through hoops, and spend way too much time navigating review sites. As soon as a customer hits a snag in submitting a review, they are unlikely to complete the review. This is just one reason why a “blast away” approach doesn’t work – sending emails to hundreds of contacts and hoping they will read the email, click on the link for the review, and then actually follow all the steps and complete the review…remember, our attention spans just aren’t that long.

However, if we take time to build a review strategy that incorporates regular checkpoints, sending requests at applicable times during the customer journey (more on that in the next installment), and also get selective about which customers we want to engage with specific review platforms…now that’s a concierge-like experience. We have long built advocacy programs with a personal, high-touch approach – why do we not offer that same consideration when requesting reviews?

I talk with a lot of CMA professionals. And I ask them what their review follow-up strategy is and how it’s executed. The silence speaks volumes. Just because a customer leaves a positive review does not mean they’re happy and will stay happy – no action required. It’s the opposite. If you are able, take the time to demonstrate your appreciation for their time and feedback, and tell them SPECIFIC ways that you will leverage that feedback – make them feel appreciated and let them know how beneficial that feedback will be to your entire organization. Oh, and if you receive a critical review, hold yourself to a higher standard and follow-up on it, not only with the reviewer, but with the right people in your organization that can address the feedback.

And equally as important, make sure your leadership team understands not only the value of customer reviews, but that there is a proper way to execute them, and they are indeed a strategic initiative. We can’t assume that senior leaders understand how reviews need to be handled – after all, they tend to dictate unreasonable quotas created in a vacuum. Here’s where you need to be a gentle bulldozer and come prepared with your review strategy (more on that in a second installment).

Our Customer Journey isn’t Complete

One of the reasons efforts to solicit reviews fail is because we aren’t meeting customers where they are, finding the right time to engage with them. Either organizations do not have a customer journey map, or customer advocacy doesn’t have a spot on that map. As they say, timing is everything.

Some questions to consider: Does your organization have a customer journey map? Who owns the journey map? Do you have visibility to that map? Even more important, do you have a place on that map and a seat at the table to discuss it? A critical part of building a diversified review strategy is soliciting reviews at the right time and place on the customer journey (e.g., after a successful deployment, after a promoter score on NPS survey, post-renewal, etc.).

What we have here…is a failure to communicate (and get creative)

I said it before; we get in our own way. We communicate via “downpour” or “drought,” when we really need a balanced forecast. Use whatever idiom, metaphor, or analogy you like, but the whole “spray and pray” or “let ‘er rip and hope for the best” approach to soliciting customer reviews will never drive meaningful results. Sure, you’ll send an email to hundreds of contacts and just by the rule of sheer numbers, you’ll see results – some reviews will show up and that will look good in the short-term. But, remember how you react to an email that pops into your inbox with no real context, no previous outreach from the sender, etc. You’re likely to glance and hit “delete.” This is where a bit of thoughtfulness in creating customer lists, customizing messages, and sending at the right time (see above) will exponentially increase the number of completed reviews.

And lest we forget, emails are not the only way to collect reviews – it’s the method with the lowest amount of effort required, but with a little creativity, we can do better. Many of us got into marketing because we are right-brained; we like to create, ideate, and bring a bit of dazzle to our work. So when did we become such boring, template-producing drones? Look for other ways to solicit reviews: QR codes on advertisements or promotional materials, capture them at customer conferences, leverage opportunities for gratitude to solicit feedback, promote within online communities, include as part of your CAB.

Ready? Fire! Aim?

It’s pretty difficult to create a review strategy when days are filled fighting fires and being stuck in reactionary mode. The shift to proactive and strategic can be a difficult one, especially when goals for customer reviews come from senior leaders that don’t have the context or understand the value of having a strategy. We need to move away from the annual frenzy, forcing customers to feel the burnout as much as we do. This is reason enough alone to create a strategy that pays mind to reviews throughout the year – if nothing else we owe it to our customers.

Another mistake we make while we’re busy being reactive is placing all of our reviews in one review basket. Not all review sites are created equal – they are not one-size fits all, and neither are your customers. Take the time to do your research, understand the value of various sites, and then make decisions based on your organizational and professional goals. In the next installment, we’ll talk about how we analyze customer data to diversify our approach, messaging, and communications calendar.

It’s hard to succeed after setting unrealistic expectations

And finally, everyone in an organization needs to understand the value of customer reviews. Not just marketing, not just sales, but everyone from the top down. In addition, customer reviews are a team sport. You get the idea.

So how do you create a diversified review strategy? As Sun Tzu said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.” Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of Demystifying Customer Reviews!
And as always, connect with me on LinkedIn, and let’s keep the conversation going!

*Using Social Media and Online Communities to Engage with B2B Tech Customers, Forrester Research