Customer reviews: Gleaning insight from the ‘inbetweeners’

20th May 2015

Over a century ago, marketing pioneer John Wanamaker famously said, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half”.

Wind the clock forward to 2015, and even with the level of sophistication brands are able to draw on to deliver marketing campaigns, you could argue that Wanamaker’s words are more à la mode than ever.

Research states the average American is subjected to over 5,000 advertising and marketing messages every day. While this number varies from country to country, in most Western societies it rarely drops below 3,000, highlighting the noise that restricts a company in trying to engage people with the communications it delivers.  

As a result, most marketers are searching for alternative approaches to gaining followers, buyers and advocates without having to cast 50% of their budget aside as waste. One method widely acknowledged as helping towards this goal, while also building greater trust among prospects and followers, is the strategic use of online customer reviews.

Justifying purchases  

Statistics from Trustpilot show that 77% of UK consumers using the internet will look to online reviews before making a purchase. 62% claim they’re more likely to do business with a company after reading a positive review, while one in five consumers will go on to spend at least 10% more with that company after seeing a positive review.

Such is the exponential rise in importance of online reviews, that they are now seen as the bridge between an initial marketing communication and the quantification for a customer parting with their money on a product or service.  

“People consume so much marketing on a daily basis that they are becoming immune to marketing promises – you go on the web and everyone claims they are the best, the fastest, the cheapest,” says Charlo Carabott, managing director of Mazuma Mobile, a company that recently received its 100,000th customer review online.  

“Customer reviews are a way of breaking this cycle. A large set of positive customer reviews can really help sway purchasing decisions.”

Size matters

If you’ve sold a smartphone online in the last eight years, the chances are you’ll have come into contact with Mazuma Mobile. A service for recycling old phones, the company was founded by Carabott in 2007 and takes thousands of transactions every day, offering instant and competitive prices to sellers after they’ve input a phone’s ID or sort code into the Mazuma website.  

While this makes for a service that runs to a high volume, low margin business model,  it means that Mazuma is able to position its online review process at different points along the customer journey, and glean substantial and credible insights about the way it can improve its business processes, as a result.

Part of this is built around garnering a large quantity of review to act as a dataset, and this is something that Carabott believes is central to being able to use customer reviews for more than just a reactionary service and support function.

“The quantity of review definitely helps. We use reviews as a dynamic barometer of our performance. We’re constantly looking at trends, common areas of discussion.

“If you don’t ask a large quantity of customers for reviews then you get quite spurious extremes. For example, if you go into a restaurant and have a terrible meal, you’re probably likely to warn your friends not to visit, and if you go to a restaurant and have an amazing experience, again, you’re likely to tell people. However, if you go and have a mediocre experience, you’re unlikely to tell anyone at all. This is where an independent review site helps, because it brings those ‘in between’ users to the fore and allows you to look at them all on their merits.”

The inbetweeners

A delve into the statistics proves that quite often, as Carabott says, it is the two ends of the scale – the distinctly positive and negative reviews – that should be reserved for customer support functions. Trustpilot stats states that 89% of UK consumers are influenced by negative reviews and 78% claim negative reviews could deter them from making a purchase, while, as stated earlier, 62% claim they’re more likely to do business with a company after reading a positive. However, it’s the average reviews – the ones that tend to require less of an immediate response from a business – that should arguably be used for more data insight and discovery.

At present, 58% of businesses say reviews help them identify opportunities for business improvements. The reference to drawing insight from ‘the inbetweeners’ – the ordinary scores and comments that run through a review platform – can often be overlooked by many businesses, but  is something that Mazuma has made a deliberate habit of trying to understand, since the company first switched from using its own reviewing system to using Trustpilot’s, in 2009.

In some instances, the company has been able to draw on insights such as their payment process, their speed of delivery and return times through analysis of these average reviews, something they may have missed if they had focused solely on reacting to the best and worst reviews.    

As Carabott explains: “What does change in the mobile industry is behaviour, expectation, seasonality. What becomes important to customers? Upgrades, returns time. A great example is – we understood very early on that the payment was the most important aspect for customers. Our competitors paid within a week, however we realised that almost every second review mentioned how important speed of payment was, so we managed to cut this to 48 hour payment and have since got this down to same-day payment.

“Our recurring positive feedback is still predominantly around payment, however other things have popped up in amongst these mid-range reviews. We issue an Argos e-card/ voucher and Argos were running an 0845 number for activation, for instance. We had a lot of customers commenting about this number being expensive so we quickly switched that to a free phone number.”

Building quantity

While Mazuma is able to drive its business processes forwards through the sheer scale of its reviews, not all businesses are fortunate enough to be able to lean on a product or service that generates the same level of transaction. However, statistics state that 1 in 10 (14%) businesses don’t collect customer reviews at all, at present, while 2 in 10 collect online reviews but don’t display them.

According to Carabott, this type of visibility is a necessary requirement if a business has aspirations of hitting milestones like Mazuma’s 100,000; and requires a seemingly obvious but not always adhered action:    

“You’ve just got to ask. Ask at the right time. Taking someone through the process quickly is fundamental. We tend to ask feedback at the point of a transaction completion, and we’ve received thousands of reviews as a result of this.

“Yes, building size is important but to do that you mustn’t ignore reviews, regardless of the level of intel. Just because you don’t believe reviews are integral to your business doesn’t mean they are going to go away. Your customer’s voice will still make its way out into the public domain, whether through social, review sites, blogs etc. If you don’t ask customers to review you’re always going to get the extremes – the people that are hacked off and those that are really happy, but you won’t get the inbetweeners. It’s this middle-ground where the real credibility of reviews boils to the surface.”

Ultimately, using the data generated from a larger quantity of reviews is a vital component in improving authenticity, and authenticity goes some way towards helping build trust with customers through reviews. And if you can do that successfully, it could be argued that you’ve gone a long way towards starting to build advocacy in your customers too; and solving the riddle of the 50% waste that Wanamaker alluded to all those years ago.  

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