Navigating the Negative: The power of customer feedback and how to harness it

Happy customers are at the core of a successful business. Brand-loyal customers save businesses on marketing costs, generate word-of-mouth referrals and are happy to repeat purchase. However, customers are now more informed and educated than ever before. With a breadth of competition online, brand loyalty is tricky to obtain and nearly impossible to maintain without creating positive customer experiences. Not only has the pandemic impacted traditional brand loyalties by opening up more people to greater choice through increased online shopping, brand loyalty has also declined due to supply chain issues.

Positive customer feedback is often the byproduct of a happy customer. And the reviews they leave can affect the decision-making process for your future prospects. For unhappy customers, it was previously believed that such customers would tell six people about a negative experience with a brand. Today, complaints about your product can quickly go viral online, reaching thousands and altering the perception of your brand with potentially business-critical effect.

But are positive customer reviews the only feedback to strive for? Do negative reviews destroy a business? Can negative and even fake reviews impact the purchase journey in a positive way? Let’s explore the power of customer feedback and how businesses can harness it for good.

Why is customer feedback so powerful?

First of all, it’s important to understand why customers seek out feedback and why they trust the opinions of strangers on the internet.

To learn the views, attitudes and behaviour of customers towards online reviews, we commissioned Censuswide — an independent market research company — to survey 2,003 adults across the UK. One of the key findings from our Navigating the Negative full report shows that a huge 97% of consumers now read reviews before making a purchase. This suggests that any interactions you have with customers will almost certainly affect your future performance as a business. Maybe not surprisingly, online shoppers are more likely to believe a customer’s feedback than anything a business says about itself, its products or services.

Customers seek out feedback from others to:

  • Verify whether a business is legitimate, trustworthy and/or reliable
  • Learn the worst-case scenario when ordering, including product quality and shipping issues
  • Gauge how consistent (and, therefore, likely) a positive customer experience is
  • Compare customer experiences with those from the competition to help decide who to buy from when price isn’t a factor

 

Jonny Evans, Digital User Experience & E-Commerce at Vauxhall, suggests: “Consumers are influenced by what their peers buy and say, so it’s important to create customer advocates for our brand through reviews.”

 

In terms of Vauxhall themselves, Evans continues: “As consumers, we all want to know what people like us think and feel about the car we’re interested in. [Reviews are] the best set of recommendations there is.”

We know that this is broadly applicable to all sectors — although, customer feedback is rarely limited to reviews; sources of feedback may include influencer posts, YouTube videos, viral complaints, PR crises, and/or conversations with friends or family.

Finally, as customer reviews experts, we have plenty of our own insights to showcase the powerful impact of reviews. Our data found that for eCommerce brands, website product pages that feature verified five-star reviews are up to 270% more likely to be chosen than product pages with no customer reviews. In terms of traffic generation and brand awareness, reviews from a Google-trusted independent review website can also increase your search engine optimisation (SEO). This means that your website will show higher in the organic search engine results, increasing organic traffic and conversions.

The power of negative customer feedback

With 97% of consumers from our research saying they read reviews before making a purchase, public customer feedback is a must-have for businesses.

 

Our in-house data showed that as online shopping demand surged at the beginning of lockdown (March-April 2020), businesses experienced an increase of up to 40% in feedback during this time. Over the same period, customer ratings fell by as much as 18.5%. This was reinforced by the results of our July 2021 survey, which reveal that close to half (43%) of respondents felt companies had been less effective at dealing with critical reviews over the previous 12 months. Our research also found that a third of respondents have shared negative feedback online about a company that they’d bought from.

 

Despite these challenges, this time has also presented a good opportunity for businesses to gain competitive advantage by engaging with these unhappy shoppers. In fact, there are several markers from our consumer research that suggest negative feedback can be as valuable as positive feedback — negative reviews can actually support a business in demonstrating authenticity.

 

With almost all customers seeking customer feedback before making a purchase, nearly half (44%) of those said that they go straight to the most recent company reviews to understand other customer experiences with a brand or product. Around 28% of respondents stated that they actively look for and read any negative reviews first, regardless of when they were posted.

 

But businesses shouldn’t be put off by this, as we shall see. Customers are also becoming more aware of the impact of fake positive and negative reviews. Due to this awareness, customers often seek out negative reviews on the understanding that no company gets it right 100% of the time. As many as 72% of those surveyed said they were concerned about fake feedback and a third (32%) of respondents said that being unable to find any negative reviews would make them delay making a purchase. A further 22% of those who couldn’t find poor write-ups about a company said this would leave them suspicious of all other reviews left about that company.

 

“Fake, overly positive or suspiciously gushing reviews are getting a lot of attention in the media, and it’s fascinating that people are now actively seeking out negative reviews for reassurance,” says Wendy Dignan, Psychologist.

 

Dignan continues: “People know that firms can’t get it right every time: what they’re looking for is evidence that any issues are dealt with effectively.”

So, it’s clear that authenticity and honesty is a bigger trust signal for customers than thousands of five-star reviews.

How to embrace negative customer feedback

While negative reviews can feel disastrous, there is a way to turn those who leave negative feedback into happy customers and even brand advocates.

 

Over two-thirds (69%) of consumers asked in our survey said that they’d continue to make a purchase if they could see that a company had acknowledged a poor review, apologised and offered a solution. In fact, negative reviews provide an incredible opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into a brand advocate:

 

  • 44% of consumers who left negative feedback have used a business again after receiving a satisfactory response
  • 40% of respondents posted positive comments on social media about businesses that handled their complaints well
  • 35% followed up with a positive review after encountering a problem that they felt was handled effectively

 

Stuart Rolfe, Customer Service Improvement Manager at Invopak, says: “We aren’t scared of getting negative feedback… Conversations with customers about the reason for their unhappiness often lead to re-ratings and better service.”

 

For businesses to effectively turn negative reviews into a positive customer experiences, a response is crucial. Organisations that ignore negative feedback do so at their peril. As many as 82% of the 2,000 UK adults who responded to our survey said that they expect businesses to offer a transparent explanation when issues arise. Our survey also found that:

 

  • 44% would never use a business again if it failed to respond to a critical review that they posted
  • 37% would warn others not to buy from the company
  • 24% would lambast the brand on social media
  • 15% would be willing to take their story to the media — this rises to 32% for Gen Z consumers

 

But customers don’t want a reply or an apology for the sake of it. Consumers understand that certain things are beyond a business’s control — sometimes, an explanation is enough. We asked our survey participants when they believed a firm should apologise. Over two-thirds said that brands should apologise due to a faulty product or service (74%) and poor customer service (71%). More than 50% of respondents (56%) believed that brands should apologise for a failure to deliver on time, whereas less than 50% expected a firm to apologise in the instance of a product recall (39%) or company scandal (30%).

 

“Answering a complaint with authenticity and honesty is becoming the perfect way to embody the values that conscious consumerism is driving. Quite possibly, we’re embarking on a world where negative feedback becomes the ideal opportunity for businesses to showcase that they are who they say they are,” says Psychologist Wendy Dignan.

Getting ahead of negative feedback

As a business that collects reviews publicly, it’s important to understand why customers are unhappy and to get ahead of issues as they arise. Using an analysis tool such as Feefo’s Sentiment Analysis will give a good indication of frequent topics that reviewers have negative (and positive!) experiences with. Ultimately, customer feedback is crucial for successful businesses to learn from, helping them to prioritise changes and create a better customer journey and experience.

Kia’s Customer Experience Manager, David Hart, says: “All reviews, both good and bad, give us the insights we need to be able to do that. They offer us a true understanding of what our customers want and need which influence all aspects of manufacturing from comfort, running costs, design and style, in-car technology, and safety.”

Rachel Lewis, Customer Response Co-Ordinator at Iceland, adds: “All feedback Iceland receives helps us continue to improve our customer service and delivery experience. This insight is fed back in real-time to the relevant decision-makers who are able to take swift action.”

Transparency and honesty are also key for gaining and maintaining consumer trust. Instead of waiting for the negative reviews to roll in, get ahead of the curve by communicating with your customers as issues occur.

Nisbets Customer Engagement Centre Manager, Caroline Shears, commented: “Customers value transparency when faced with an issue. As a team, we now strive to ensure that we communicate any problems we’re experiencing with our customers and keep them updated on any developments until the problem is resolved.”

Turning a negative into a positive

It’s clear that responding to negative reviews is a critical element of turning things around. But what exactly do consumers expect to hear from brands? What specific actions do they expect to see from businesses following a negative experience?

Based on previous situations, the consumers mentioned that the following elements of a response were impressive:

  • The company provided a solution to the problem (45%)
  • The company offered financial compensation (38%)
  • The company gave an explanation as to why it happened (35%)
  • The company made a long-term change to prevent it from reoccurring (35%)
  • The company apologised on a public platform (27%)
  • The company apologised via a private message (22%)
  • The company called to apologise (12%)

Invopak’s Customer Service Improvement Manager noted: “Ensuring each response is genuinely personalised is very much in line with our values… It would never be good enough for us to send out standard responses…”

In order to stay away from standard copy and pasted responses, it’s important to put a process in place for review responses. This should be standardised and should apply not only to your review platform but also social media or Google My Business reviews. This keeps everything nice and consistent. An inconsistent response service across platforms will also encumber your efforts to be transparent and honest. We suggest following the six-step plan below to make customers feel positive about your brand after leaving a negative review.

1.    Stick to the process

Define your process for replying to negative feedback and educate all team members on this. It will not only ensure a consistent experience but will reduce the likelihood of snappy or ill-judged reactions.

2.    Respond, don’t remove

Don’t remove negative reviews and always try to respond.

3.    Be professional

Be professional in your response by treating a negative review as an opportunity to connect and engage. Act fast, be respectful, apologise if necessary and offer a solution.

4.    Learn and improve

Identify in each case what went wrong, why and implement changes to prevent it from happening again.

5.    Make it a dialogue

Turn negative reviews into a two-way exchange of information. Let customers know what you’ve learnt from their feedback and of any actions taken in response.

6.    Accentuate the positive

Don’t forget the positive reviews! Take as much time to draft an appropriate response as you would with a negative review. Thank them for their time and use their comments in your own marketing materials and on your website — with permission, of course!

Harness the power of customer reviews

In order to effectively harness customer reviews, you need to gather in-depth insights into the feedback that your business, brand and products are receiving.

1.    Verify your feedback

Use a robust and independent third-party tool such as Feefo to automate the collection and receipt of reviews. Deter fake reviews by only inviting verified purchasers to leave accurate feedback and using a closed review platform.

2.    Improve your customer experience

Collecting feedback throughout the customer journey will give great insights into your customer’s behaviour, general satisfaction and loyalty. Use this data to make changes, prioritise and even tweak operations, as Caroline Shears, Customer Engagement Centre Manager a Nisbets, explains.

 

“We read every review we receive (good and bad) and have made significant changes to the way we run our business based on them. These include treating Saturday as a normal working day, extending our next day delivery cut off by three hours to 8pm and we now always offer a next day collection service. We value the time our customers take to leave feedback and want to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.”

3.    Personalise your customer outreach

Hyper-personalisation and an individual approach to consumer communications is key. What’s more, customers expect it. Ask the right customers at the right time to leave feedback on their experience with you in order to significantly increase response rates.

4.    Get more from search

Finally, get more from search. As well as the benefits of reviews impacting your search engine ranking, those running PPC campaigns using Google Ads and reviews will experience a reduction in cost-per-click and cost-per-acquisition — giving the competitive edge in digital marketing efforts.

Conclusion

It’s clear from our survey and its findings that the power of customer feedback is only set to grow. Businesses can no longer get away with ignoring or deleting negative reviews — and there are plenty of benefits to replying to negative feedback publicly. Use reviews to create a robust strategy for all subsequent review responses, analyse the feedback to make the customer journey better and take the opportunity to generate a two-way dialogue that will help you truly harness the power of customer feedback.

 

For the full survey, breakdown and results, download Feefo’s Navigating the Negative report.


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