October 30, 2007

The Case for Customer Reviews on Your Site There is nothing more credible than a word-of-mouth review from a trusted source. The issue underlying the debate about customer reviews on manufacturer's and retailer's web sites turns on the question of credibility and trust. Independent review sites like Zagat.com and Judy's Book are flourishing. In these cases site visitors know they are getting a pig-in-a-poke and read the reviews with a grain of salt. They also understand that the reviews are monitored and edited to insure some kind of balance and to screen out obvious wackos and shills. On websites of firms making and selling things the expectations seem to subtlety shift. Visitors expect that the reviews are from real customers even if they aren't sure if the worst ones are edited out or if the nastiest ones are quickly responded to by the company flacks. These days it takes a fairly secure organization to air dirty laundry on the official site. Most firms are thinking about it but haven't fully committed. And you can assume that behind-the-scenes battles range between those arguing for the a pure party line (e.g. "Everything we do is great and so are we.") and the user-generated content digerati who argue, "We are real. We sometimes screw up. Our customers love us because we are real so if we show our flaws, we confirm and validate their expectations and extend their brand loyalty." There is evidence both ways. A Deloitte & Touche study found that for CPG products virtually all shoppers trust online reviews. In contrast a survey among Burson Marsteller's e-fluential panel found that 30 percent had problems with fake reviews or positive comments planted by corporations touting themselves. The squirrelly element is fake reviews posing as customers touting products. There have been enough examples of this and enough outing of this practice, which already has a name, "astroturfing", to give site visitors reasons to be skeptical about the reviews posted. It seems to me that if you make or sell anything of value, you need to stand behind your products and services. You need to give your customers the opportunity to respond to your sales process and your products by posting reviews. And while you can screen them for civility or legality and impose language standards you ought to let the public speak and let the public assess the validity or credibility of what they read on your site. Reviews are a great source of intelligence as well as a brand barometer. And frankly, the truth is going to come out anyway, better within your site than splashed across the net and out of your reach.
E*Trade Sucks E*Trade gives with one hand and takes back with the other. Poor web design, bad interfaces and maddening customer service leads me to defect, complain publicly and encourage others to escape from these clowns. They come on with relatively high interest rates on savings accounts to get you in the door. Then you're trapped in their evil clutches. I had a small windfall in January and parked it with them. Now a need for quick cash arose so I go to the site to transfer money quickly to my checking account. They present a "Quick Transfer" feature so I click. I so fell for this. I start the process, the site crashes. I enter the data nothing happens. I do it several times. Then I figure out I need to create and verify an external account to receive the transfer. I enter the data -- zap. On the third try it verifies my external account. I'm annoyed but still hopeful. Then I try to transfer the cash and --- nada. I hit the same page again and again in a weird loop. I keep ending up in the same place. Nowhere does it explain I need to get a passcode, wait a while and then hop on one foot. I dial the 800 number and work my way through the phone tree and --zap. I'm hung up on. Swearing a blue streak, veins pulsing in my neck, I try again and connect to Mary Lyn Pena in Manila. She takes my information, bit by bit thanking me and apologizing, thanking and apologizing. This might be even more maddening than the technical glitches. I feel my blood pressure rising. At first she doesn't have the web site up. Then she does but doesn't really know how to direct me. I'm reading her the screen and we're like two blind people in a blizzard. Then she lets on that since my external account is verified in the computer, I can wire in money instantly but I can't wire my money out for 24 hours. Now I know things have been tough for online banks, but if they need another day's interest on my little boodle, they are really in trouble. Mary Lin asks to put me on hold. She apologizes and thanks one more time for good measure. Meantime the passcode finally shows up in my e-mail. By now I have a full head of steam. But wait there's more -- I missed the daily wire transfer deadline. They'll send me my money 24 hours from now. Maybe they do need my cash for the overnight sweep to keep the doors open. Bottom line -- rather than transfer a small amount to cover my immediate need I clean out the account and digitally flea from my relationship with E*Trade. Who are these guys kidding? We live in a 24/7/365 digital world where billions are transfered electronically every minute. There's no excuse to screw around with customer's funds. And if you can't keep a website up and give customers a quick, painless, clear, intuitive process flow, don't be an Internet bank.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

The Typepad Team

Recent Comments