In today’s digital landscape almost all brands have a digital presence, whether they have planned it or not. Requesting online reviews from customers is proving to give brands access to a host of opportunities. These include sharing positive experiences and the mining of data to create greater consumer understanding.

“Brands should be taking control of their online presence, and a highly effective way to do this is to ask customers for live online feedback,” says Ashleigh Wainstein, director of marketing technology firm Social Places, which assists multilocation and franchised shops with their local marketing strategies at store level. “Seven out of 10 consumers will leave feedback if they are asked to do so, and 80% of online reviews are positive, our research has shown,” she says.

Consumers typically complain about or give compliments for the same things, she points out: service, staff attitude, waiting periods and the product itself. Customers expect quality from the brands they engage with, and when a brand has gone the extra mile, they often feel compelled to leave a good review.

However, managing an online media presence is a time-consuming task and the review landscape is an extensive one. Media monitoring can be done by establishing a dedicated team for the task, or implementing software which monitors reviews and generates data that can be utilised to identify service gaps or trends.

Wainstein advises brands to provide swift responses to both positive and negative reviews.  “Not only can you create a positive brand response online, but brands are able to incorporate key words into the response, which helps with search engine optimisation. Moreover, online responses are an excellent way to create brand loyalty,” she says.

The big take-out

Most customers are happy to provide brands with online reviews when asked.

There are a number of do’s and don’ts when creating online responses, she advises. “The important thing to remember is that it is not the review itself that should be the focus, but rather how it is handled by the brand. We recommend a time frame for responses of between 12 and 24 hours, during which time the conversation should be taken offline. The response should include a call to action such as a customer relationship management link where customers can leave their details, or a contact number or e-mail where the issue can be dealt with privately,” says Wainstein, adding that consistency in terms of brand tone is key.

While it’s important to be both sympathetic and diplomatic, she says brands should never admit fault to a serious allegation before a proper investigation has been done.

Brands ignore online reviews at their own peril, says Wainstein. “Not only can this be damaging to the brand’s reputation, it also means losing out on opportunities for actively implementing strategies and using online sentiment. It also risks not winning back disgruntled customers.”

She believes brands that don’t optimise their online presence are not able to reach the right people. “Customers want to interact with brands. Not responding to them can be compared with a call centre that doesn’t answer its calls,” she says.