Feedback whether you like it or not
During the past few years there has been a seismic power shift, empowered by the net. Not long ago, dissatisfied customers could phone the company that had offended them, write to complain and tell their friends. If the company had broken the law, they might complain to Trading Standards and even take legal action. However, each of these involved effort and hassle and most people didn't go beyond telling a few friends.
How things have changed. Nowadays, a disaffected customer can blog their complaints, go to one of numerous online review sites to make allegations against your company and broadcast them on Twitter. Anyone searching on your company name is likely to pick up these comments. And the people reading them could be your prospects, potential employees, suppliers or even investors. The damage that is possible from a single disgruntled customer is two orders of magnitude higher than it used to be. If you are providing a feedback service or not, consumers now have the tools to make their voices heard.
As a result of this shift in power, I would strongly advocate providing the ability for customers to feedback on product and services at your own site, and this is for both positive and negative reasons.
On-site feedback enables you to engage with your customers, engendering much more trust and actually garnering useful information for your business. Assuming you are providing great products and service, the positive feedback will make it much easier for new prospects to commit to buy. By having comments on your site, you will receive additional search engine benefits, especially since Google has introduced new tags to specifically identify and include customer feedback directly into search results.
On-site feedback can also be a lightning rod for complaints, drawing them to one place where you can see them and respond.
There are several ways that a feedback capability can be provided. Either the feedback can be independently managed by a third party so you can't edit it, or it can be under your direct control. Feedback can either be allowed just from customers or anyone can contribute.
The argument for independent feedback is slightly counter-intuitive. As a site owner, it seems crazy to open our sites up to comments from disgruntled customers that we can't change. Nothing could be worse, could it? This is a fairly old school of thinking, and it's critical to understand that the paradigm has changed. Firstly, this feedback is going to appear online anyway. If it doesn't appear on your site, then you don't have the chance to answer it, you may not even know about it, and it certainly doesn't appear in the context of lots of positive feedback. Plus you miss the opportunity to demonstrate how you thoughtfully and professionally deal with customer complaints.
I don't know about you, but when I use customer feedback I expect to see an element of dissatisfaction. Even the best stores get it wrong from time to time or have difficult customers. If the feedback is always positive, I don't necessarily trust it. In other words, negative feedback validates the veracity of the good comments. I don't think that I'm the only one with this view.
Independent feedback also has some additional search engine benefits, as the feedback is also stored on a third party site with numerous links to your site.
The argument about whether to only allow customers, or to allow anyone to feedback is simple, and in my opinion it should be customers only. Again counter-intuitively, you get more feedback if you restrict it. Remember that your customers are engaged with you, they have parted with their money. They are more interested in your products and services, whether good or bad. You can solicit them pro-actively for feedback, and make it incredibly easy. This is why you will get more feedback by targeting customers.
Only allowing customers to feedback also avoids the problems that arise from competitors providing phoney feedback, or disgruntled customers feeding back repeatedly. With a one to one relationship with orders, these problems are avoided.
If you opt for using an independent, third party to manage feedback, then one of the rising stars in this field is Feefo. However I must declare an interest here as my company has recently formed a strategic partnership with Feefo to give our site owners access to feedback on both their customer service and products. Other providers worth a look include Bazaarvoice and Reevo.
The final word
The world has changed. While in the past all really successful businesses listened to their customers, it was still possible to survive without doing this. Today, you can't hide from them. The question is simply whether you manage the feedback to your advantage, or your customers manage it for you to your loss.
Written by Chris Barling, CEO of E-Commerce software specialist, Sellerdeck. Originally published on www.is4profit.com.