July 4/11, 2016; Volume 30, Number 27
This special FCNews Marketing Online series, sponsored by 3M, is designed to help retailers build their social media presence and, by extension, strengthen the connection with consumers.
Nearly 90% of consumers consider ratings and reviews before making purchase decisions, recent marketing industry estimates show. In the era of Yelp, Amazon and Google, among others, shoppers are seeking credible insight and feedback from everyday people long before they hear the retail sales associate’s product pitch.
“We all know the way customers research a product or service has changed dramatically over the last several years,” said Janice Jacobs, vice president of marketing, Carpet One Floor & Home. “Customers increasingly rely on ratings and reviews to help inform their buying decisions, especially with more difficult choices such as flooring. And it’s not just products they are researching. In the flooring industry customers are also paying attention to the reputation of service providers before they walk into their local flooring stores.”
With that, flooring manufacturers and buying groups are developing their own systems for helping retailers simultaneously garner and address online feedback that will ultimately be in the public domain even if it doesn’t initially start there.
For example, Mohawk launched BuzzLocal powered by FloorForce in 2015 to provide a new ratings and reviews system. The company believes the ability to search on Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube will connect potential customers to online feedback quickly and seamlessly. BuzzLocal includes three important steps of managing a dealer’s online reputation: review, respond and reach.
In that same vein, Shaw refers to its process of organizing and addressing ratings and reviews as “reputation management.” Its Share it Forward platform allows dealers to log in and see reviews they have received on sites like Yahoo, Google, Bing and others for complete visibility of their online reputations.
“We wanted to make it easy for retailers to manage [their reputations],” said Misty Hodge, Shaw’s director of digital platforms for residential marketing. “Through Share it Forward dealers can see what consumers share about experiences both good and bad. Consumer reviews help go beyond what dealers can say about themselves; it lets potential customers know what people who have done business with [these dealers] have to say.”
More importantly, retailers could be getting ratings and reviews and not even know it, which is why management systems come in handy, experts say. To that end, both positive and negative reviews on personal websites, review sites and social media should be recognized.
What is also paramount for independent retailers’ online reviews today is proving they are better than the big box stores in town. Flooring America statistics show an average 4.6 stars out of 5 on the 20,000-plus ratings for its stores, which are based on service, installation, etc. The average home center score is 3.3 to 3.5 stars out of 5.
Frank Chiera, senior vice president, marketing and advertising, CCA Global Partners (parent company of Flooring America/Flooring Canada, The Floor Trader, International Design Guild and BizUnite), noted many salespeople have a “mental block they need to get over” when it comes to requesting reviews from customers once a job is complete. To remedy this, Flooring America continues to enhance programs to make sure RSAs are comfortable asking for reviews and helping them understand why this feedback is important.
Mollie Surratt, senior director of public relations, content and social media, Mohawk Flooring, also mentioned the importance of encouraging positive reviews. “A lot of the time positive reviews need to be asked for,” she said. “Retailers should make an effort to ask happy consumers for positive reviews. This should happen within 30 days of a purchase. There should be an ongoing conversation with the consumer.”
Responding to reviews
Responding to customers who post about a store and its service shows a retailer cares about his reputation whether the feedback is positive or negative. Many industry groups and manufacturers offer pointers to help dealers address what is said about them on the web.
Flooring America’s internal program for members alerts them to reviews and reminds them to respond. “If a customer had a less-than-favorable experience there should be an answer/response from the store owner underneath the review,” Chiera said. Without an internal system to help with reviews, “unless someone is actively going in and monitoring those reviews [on sites like Google and Facebook] they might live out there for some time. It’s not good to [ignore] customers.”
No matter how bad a review, experts stress deleting it is out of the question. “Remove ‘delete’ and ‘ignore’ from your vocabulary—it is never good to do either,” Surratt explained. “If a consumer is abusive or slanderous that’s another conversation. But if you have a person who is reaching out for help with an issue you need to respond as soon as possible. Give a [representative’s] name and direct contact information. Apologize for the inconvenience and take the conversation offline. Get the details but make sure all the frustrations come out outside of a public forum. If you reach a resolution, ask the consumer to go back to her review and talk about her positive experience.”
Shaw’s Hodge believes remaining “authentic” means you cannot manipulate the review process, which includes deleting negative feedback. “You have to be transparent. You can take a displeased customer and make her feel good about the outcome—that’s something she will never forget.”
Jacobs reminds dealers to respond to reviews as soon as possible; something “less flattering” requires “a little more involvement to make sure we are crafting an appropriate response to the customer as well as addressing the customer concerns directly wherever possible.”
The steps for addressing a negative review as recommended by Carpet One are as follows:
- Read the review thoroughly and then conduct research to understand the issue.
- If possible, address the issue offline and personally with the customer. Offer contact information in the public response to have them contact you.
- Be sincere, positive and concise in your response. Don’t be negative or defensive.
- Post the response after ensuring it is concise, clear, positive and grammatically correct.
- Follow up: Make good on any resolution discussed with the customer.
- Once and only if resolved: Ask the reviewer to follow up her review or complaint with a positive comment or edited review so others know the issue was resolved.