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Groundswell: It Takes Customers to Make Customers

by Frank Strong

It Takes Customers to Make Customers

“The product sells itself.”

It’s a favorite line in the repertoire of many entrepreneurs. A product is so good, that customers talk it up to the extent their buzz generates more sales leads.

To this end, it surprises me just how few companies tap reviews as a marketing tactic to connect with customers. As social media gurus, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff wrote in Groundswell, “…our survey show that 76 percent of customers use online reviews to help them make purchases…even though only 25 percent of ecommerce sites have ratings and reviews…”

To be clear, reviews in this case refers to user-generated content. The restaurant industry for example, can experience success or failure based on such reviews since a customer can have an immediate impact on business by applauding the food — or criticizing the service — to an audience of other customers.

 76 percent of customers use online reviews to help them make purchases

Check out some of the user-generated reviews for Sette Bello in the Washington Post’s restaurant guide. The food critic’s review for the Post certainly bears weight, but notice the customer generated rating and comments differ slightly from the general public’s. Perhaps the food critic gets special treatment that the ordinary citizen…whose review holds more credibility in your mind?

The tech industry too has it’s own sites for user-generated reviews. For example CNET’s Downloads.com site is a popular site for researching, downloading and testing consumer-oriented software applications from anti-virus software to media players. Techies, like foodies, are passionate about their tastes and are quick to both praise and critique.

Why then, do companies leave soliciting customers comments solely to the likes of CNET and the Washington Post? Why wouldn’t Sette Bello or Ad-Aware invite and publish customers comments directly on their Web site?

One objection some executives raise concerns managing negative reviews. However, the Groundswell writers note, “…our research shows that about 80 percent of reviews tend to be positive. And in fact, negative reviews are essential to the credibility of the site — without them, the positive reviews just don’t seem believable.”

Separately Li and Bernoff note that negative reviews have an added benefit: the chance for management to learn about and correct any deficiencies directly from the customer. Indeed, in my view, a company that acknowledges a glitch or an error and moves quickly to correct the problem stands to gain a very loyal and vocal customer base. It’s a good way to ensure a product does in fact sell itself.

Photo credit:  Flickr, Lauri Väin, CC BY 2.0

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