The dark side of customer reviews
Posted: Feb 14 2016 / Richard Bairstow / We are Underground
Customer reviews play a huge part in your customers making a decision on whether to buy your products, for many they are a must have and can be a beneficial source of information that you wouldn't have thought of. When adding your products to your online store you fill in the blanks based on your internal knowledge of a product, you take time in describing how something works, what it is used for and what the benefits are of ownership. For some that are lucky enough to have a thoughtful customer base it can be a chance for other users to share an experience that eases the initial out of the box use for your product, for others it can simply state how great or how poor a customer experience was.
We work with a lot of Shopify stores and have the benefit of oversight from a wide and varied perspective, many third party review apps give you the benefit of being able to unpublish a particular review that you didn't like or that paints you, your products or the services you offer in a bad light. so when reading a review online we tend to take anything with a 100% 5 Star glowing review with a pinch of salt, especially if the number of reviews are limited to a mere handful as we know the real truth might lie in those that are hidden from public view.
Take Shopify's reviews app for instance, from a store owner perspective it is excellent. You purchase a Shopify Theme, extend the functionality of Shopify's core platform by adding their free reviews app. With 1 simple copy and paste you suddenly have a dashboard which will collect customer reviews, show them on your store and ultimately lets you dump the bad ones that say your products fall apart after one wash or that delivery was excessive. I am sure we have all seen those on Ebay. Personally those with comments on delivery or other unavoidable third party services i would ignore as the customer was presented with a delivery cost and still elected to make the purchase so really walked into this knowing what to expect yet still complained. Those are a part of life and something that we will all have to bear at some stage as there will always be that one person.
What really makes things come to life with reviews however is their visibility on Google and for what they give you in terms of SEO and user generated content, they are golden and can even give you a platform within which to engage your audience. How many times have you looked at product reviews for a given product and see that someone has asked a question like, will this fit in the space where my old Fridge used to live or do you sell these in blue? excellent, not what comments were intended for but you have the opportunity to engage, dispel any pre-sales hang-ups and help your customers make a purchase armed with greater product knowledge.
We like reviews as much as any company, we use them to gauge how we are doing and to show off to the world how good we think we are but yes from time to time we just get it wrong from the outset. Our world revolves around email and instant messaging, a faceless, expressionless platform that allows the most simple phrase or comment to be taken out of context, there is no way around that unless you are having a real time conversation with a customer face to face which regrettably we aren't always able to provide. We have one or 2 bad ones, we could have taken steps to get those removed but it is a reminder, a simple reminder that every question asked has a right and wrong response and there is always a better way to help a customer out. A bad review signifies a failure to deliver in some way shape or form. If we were 100% right, did our best and despite our best efforts could not manage the expectation of the customer then like all others we will seek a way to reprieve ourselves based on the knowledge that we did nothing wrong and perhaps in this instance we review was an unfair reflection of the work that we offered or the manner in which we worked to solve a problem.
Reviews are in many cases simply what the retailer wants the customer to see, they are the jeans that stop our bums from looking big, the make up we wear to cover the wrinkles and the hat we wear on a bad hair day. Fantastic from the top of the hills we shout about how great we are whether true of false.
Welcome to the dark side
Reviews have a dark side however, I say this from personal experience, I have had customers approach me about potential solutions to it and also as a friend of someone who experiences them every day. These reviews are those that are out of control that we can't hide and that are simply from those people that we would like to distance ourselves from. These are posted on other sites, Ebay, Trip advisor, yelp and a whole host of others.
So many of those come from a position way beyond our control, our hands are tied as to whether they follow through with threats. For instance roughly 1 year ago i found myself in the position of supporting a Shopify theme that had been modified, not a few tweaks but pulled apart, core parts of the framework were removed, adjusted, tweaked and glued together. I like a challenge and will generally help anyone that needs it but we had a small problem. The customer asked why a few things weren't working and why several responsive elements no longer handled screen size changes as they should so naturally i jumped in to take a look to see if we had made a mistake in theme production and to find out what had gone wrong.
After a few hours we were good, the errors were cleared, the site was responsive and the framework was handling different resolutions as it should. My email to the customer was as simple as always, a quick run down of the core changes, a little schooling on making sure that when you open a <p> paragraph in your code make sure that you close it </p> followed by the line that i have used a thousand times.... give the site a try now. I waited all day to see if there was any come back.... Nothing.
OK, we must be good, I answer questions all day, a good 70% of the time i get a thanks, 25% of the time i get a thanks the next time another change needs to be made, that's customer service and it is a part of how the world turns. 5% of the time i get asked if i can make a small tweak that they were trying to make and didn't want to make another mistake or i hear nothing, either of which is fine i might add.
This time i got something unexpected, "but i want the site to look like this and now you have set me back weeks in the changes i was trying to make".... erm WTF!
OK so to establish a good point of reference here we created a palm tree which the customer purchased. In making changes with a chainsaw they trimmed off a few palms and cut through the trunk leaving our palm tree leaning ready to collapse. I made some changes and removed the problems, the palm tree was solid again. What they were trying to do was turn our beloved palm tree into an Oak tree. Trees might be a bad analogy but they serve as something for your to visualize. OK with the right amount of changes it is do-able, alter this to do that, change that to do this and we would be on our way so i proceeded to outline what might be required and offered a quote to do the work.
"What do you mean it will cost me x to do y? I thought theme support was free".
It is, we support the themes we create, on a daily basis we dig customers out of holes from code changes that didn't do what were expected, app installs gone wrong and small mods to gain a different layout or increase user experience that's what we do and that's what we are here for but for major changes or alterations that we can't simply fit into the realms of theme support we have to quote and apply some charges. If we performed every code change asked of us on a daily basis for free we wouldn't be in business, it's that simple. To be honest bigger mods cause us problems, at this point in time we don't have the resources to manage them and they take us away from being able to handle customer support to all others efficiently so we don't go out looking for them. The rationale behind that is clear, we want to support our themes quickly and efficiently and leave our customers wanting to say nice things about us in their reviews, we don't want to take more money from you... Shocker!
Give me what i want or else!
"OK I want the changes and am not paying for them, i have had nothing but problems with this theme ever since i tried to make basic changes ( the ones i just spent a few hours fixing ), if you don't I am going to trash you on the Shopify theme store and all over social media".
That's the dark side i am talking about. This person is the reason why we approach everything the way we do today... The minority f**ked the majority! Obviously armed with this in an email we had attempted blackmail in writing and the changes never happened, the trashing didn't either but this is the point. Hopefully you won't ever be in this position but in a recent conversation with other developers on the same subject i saw many heads nodding. Luckily i haven't experienced this since and won't again but i am always cautious. But without the written trace of demands here where would we be other than in a position to simply take it. It's a very ugly situation to find yourself in and something that will inevitably draw doubt over how you position yourself in future.
A friend in the vacation rentals industry sees a similar thing but on a daily basis, if i don't get the pool heating turned on for free i am going to trash you on trip advisor, yes we managed to break the dishwasher but if you make us pay for that we are going to leave a bad review on Trip advisor... and round and round it goes. In the travel and tourism industry Trip advisor can make you or break you, how would you deal with it?
The point i am trying to make here is with product reviews, be careful! Reviews are great and for the greater majority are one of the best additions you can make to your online store. If you feel you deserve it don't be too shy to ask your customers to add theirs, they wouldn't think twice in asking for something from you. In the end more strong reviews means more revenue, more revenue means more customers and more investment in staff to service a growing customer base it's win win for everyone surely?
Before you jump in feet first however ask yourself are we ready for a bad one. Wait until you are ready to handle them. Get your store policies right, perfect your logistics, make sure your product descriptions are up to date and be ready to handle those that you can not filter and that appear on third party sites. You must always make sure that you are selling to match your customers expectations and you are in a much better position working with negative comments when you are on the front foot rather than dealing with them from a defensive position. Don't add them to your store just because Neiman Marcus have them on theirs.
Bad reviews can hurt businesses, if they are unfounded and you can show a strong trend that proves that your business suffered as a result then realistically what is to stop you from legal action? We are dealing with freedom of speech and expression and It is a far fetched not to mention extreme way to deal with things but it has happened and will continue to happen. You will be in a position to get them at all times as nobody can guarantee perfection it is how you deal with them that really counts.
Take a bad review and turn it into a positive experience for the benefit of the rest of your customers who might be reading. Put your hands up publicly and show that you are human.. yes we didn't get it shipped on time, I am really sorry i forgot to do something simple with your order, I picked a small when it should have been Medium... Could you be the first person in the history of the human race to forget something or make a mistake at work? People react to people and being human will only give you a better chance of gaining trust. Sure I miss the occasional email and make very basic mistakes all the time, I beat myself up over every one of them, it's a good trait to have. I would much rather care enough to get it right and go back to correct the problem than charge through the tunnel at full speed as it collapses behind me.
Never answer a bad review with an insult or fuel the fire with unnecessary remarks or attempt to lay the blame elsewhere. take it on the chin and move on to the next. If your logistics provider lost your customers new shoes give them hell for it, don't just lay the blame on them, tell your customers that it happened but more importantly tell them what you are going to do about it. Give your customer some options and place the opportunity back in your hands, if they choose an option and you deliver on it you are well on your way to gaining back their trust. I use Ebay as an example as it is awash with good, bad, canned and argumentative feedback. On a quick search i found many sellers who replied to their customers negative feedback with arguments, which from a customer point of view is even more tasteless, I even found a corker from a seller stating that the customer was too dumb for the product. Seriously, don't be that guy... What is that telling your future customers about how you conduct your business.
A purchase is a handful of core questions. Do i want it, will it do what i need, will it be delivered on time and if something is wrong will they help me. Get those fundamentals straight and deliver on them without getting caught up in the rush to answer one in a thousand more queries. If you are in a position to exceed customer expectation then don't skimp on the goodness and watch the positives roll in.
Richard Bairstow is the founder and CEO of We are Underground and is recognised as a leading authority in the Shopify Theme marketplace with 5 of the best selling published themes within the Shopify theme store and over 20,000 active Shopify customers.