While negative reviews are not necessarily something to be feared, it is essential to respond to them. The numbers reinforce this – some 85% of TripAdvisor users agree that a thoughtful response to a bad review will improve their impression of a hotel, and 80% say that seeing responses make them believe that “the hotel cares more about its guests”.
“If you get a bad review, it is often from a person who is engaged,” says digital consultant Sofie Sandell. “People who care enough to leave a comment will appreciate the very simple step of recognising that you have received the review. If you explain what you’re going to do about it and apologise if appropriate, then you’re more likely to get them back.”
Sandell favours the personal touch in responses. “I’ve been following the retailer John Lewis for years, and they are always humanising their customer support. So on Facebook they say ‘hi, this is Amy, please call this number and we will help you to resolve the problem’. I think using your name when replying makes the customer feel like a person, not just a client.”
Yet many businesses are still failing to grasp the importance of engaging with their customers. Sandell tells the story of working with a large luxury hotel that had a policy of not responding to reviews. “It’s as if someone has called you and you just remain silent on the other end. You have to acknowledge them, that’s what people want.
“Other brands make the person complaining feel stupid or as if there’s something wrong with them,” she adds, “and when you do that you definitely lose them.”
According to British social media expert Sofie Sandell, the rise of anonymous online confessions is fuelled by a human desire to connect with others. ‘For all the ways we connect through social media, we can end up more disconnected than ever,’ she says. ‘With confessional websites, we have a place for genuine honesty. Many of us simply don’t have enough people in our lives to confide in. Writing heals, and collecting your thoughts can help you make up your mind on what to do with an issue. Many people in crisis need a listener who will not judge them.’
Judy Body, 51, an administrator from Axbridge, also turned to Pencourage hoping to find compassion. She spotted an article about confessional websites while reading a magazine during chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer in 2013 and went online.
‘Anonymity can feel powerful, in that we can say things online we wouldn’t say to people’s faces,’ explains Sofie. ‘It’s important to remember that by posting online, we are inviting a response, either good or bad. If you’re feeling vulnerable and write about something that’s causing you suffering, there’s no guarantee how it will be received.
‘At the moment, sites like these may appear supportive, but trolls will undoubtedly rear their ugly heads. People need to consider how to deal with negative reactions – especially at such a fragile time.’
What makes a brand advocate?
Anyone of us has the potential to become a brand advocate, but not everyone does. So what marks a brand advocate apart from an ordinary customer? Simply put, a customer likes your brand whereas a brand advocate loves your brand and will be loyal to your brand over others, says digital consultant Sofie Sandell. Caroline Higgins, head of retail insights at communications agency Hotwire, adds that brand advocates have three qualities in particular that make them special. “They have a truly emotional connection with your brand; they have a big network and they care enough to share with their friends and followers.” In a world where ad men are permanently trying to sell a dream or ideal, advocates bridge the real world and the world of the brand and can bring much needed realism to marketing communications. “Advocates are normal people who don’t go to meetings, watch focus groups or sit in brainstorms,” says Martin Smith, chief strategy officer at Cake. “They’re real people with the unpredictable quirkiness and, with it, the believability that normal people can bring to a brand.” For the majority of consumers, a purchase ends when they click ‘pay’ at the checkout. But at this point the brand advocate’s journey is only just beginning and it’s what they do after the immediate point of purchase that makes them interesting to a brand. In the best case scenario a brand advocate acts in a way that verges on evangelical, recommending the brand to their friends and peers and telling their entire social network about their positive experience. On the flip side, a bad experience can quickly turn an advocate into a detractor, meaning their influence over their peers can be both positive and negative.
Incentivise brand advocates through exclusive perks and offers: “If you have the email addresses or contact details of your best brand advocates, one way to engage them in a campaign is through providing sneak peek information about a new product, model, series or whatever the brand is doing or inviting advocates to a launch event” Sofie Sandell, social media consultant