In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid” to keep the campaign focused on what mattered. Over 25 years later, it’s time that companies start using “It’s the customer connection, stupid” for their own internal inspiration to focus on what matters. Why? There’s a seismic shift that happened: Customer expectations around “service” and a connection are being reset across categories by customer experiences in a few categories. Those brands that have acted on shaping connections are winning, and here’s why and how.
Historically, customer service was a very private matter. Before the 1960s and the introduction of 1-800 numbers and call centers, customers gave direct face-to-face feedback to companies or maybe wrote companies a letter. This was a very passive and reactive experience for companies handled by their customer service department, a cost center.
That started becoming very public in 1995 when Amazon offered their customers the opportunity to post reviews on their site. Then in 2004, Facebook and TripAdvisor launched. The private customer service experience became public. Reviews and social media comments were now out there for friends and unanimous people alike to read on sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Amazon and Facebook. In these early days, while some companies in more service-oriented fields engaged with customers, most companies ignored them. That was until 2011.
In 2011, a few companies launched that made engaging with their customer base (publicly and privately) a core part of their value proposition: Dollar Shave Club, Chewy and the Honest Company. In the subsequent seven years, millions of people experienced companies that engaged with their public comments in a way that was unexpected: they responded and established a connection. Customers had questions, and brands answered them; customers had positive comments, and brands encouraged them; customers vented frustrations, and brands acknowledged them, even if they were not able to resolve them. In that way, they helped reset the customer expectation. Now 52 percent of consumers expect a response to a review within seven days, and one in four expect a response in three days. Sixty-eight percent of millennials also say that they have a higher expectation of response time than a year ago.
What to do to with the “reset”
Brands don’t have to devote one-third of their organization, as many DTC brands do, to shape this connection, but there are three things that brands need to do.
First, from a strategy standpoint, be one of the 35 percent of brands that respond to reviews—and not just to the negative, but the neutral and positive comments as well. With a positive review, customers took one to five minutes to praise your brand. Acknowledging their comment is no different than any business would do if the comment was made face-to-face. A simple “Thanks for taking the time to share your experience” type of acknowledgment makes that customer a brand ambassador. Ignoring it is a lost opportunity and missed expectation.
Second, for budget purposes, think about shaping a connection with customers’ reviews as part of your marketing budgets rather than a customer service cost center. Multiple studies demonstrate sales lift from responding to reviews, ranging from a 2.5 percent increase in purchase intent or 21 percent increase in hotel booking translating to an ROI in the 7:1 range. So make sure your social response budget includes responding to not just monitoring reviews.
Finally, within your organization, reframe the reason to engage with reviews. Review sites are the world’s largest unacknowledged social network. Think about it. You can post, comment and like other comments just like on other social networks. That is reason enough to engage. What makes it more compelling is the buy button on many review sites and that review comments are evergreen since they remain on sites for years for thousands of potential customers to see. And your response is evergreen, too.
So take back control of that customer connection and shape it. Customers are now expecting it.