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January isn’t just for holiday clearance anymore, it can also be a make or break customer service moment for your online business. Once the gifts have been opened, holiday shoppers will start to write product reviews to share thanks and praise, or complain (sometimes fiercely) about your products or service. As product reviews are a built-in feature of all Bigcommerce stores, you should be prepared for those to start rolling in. Here are 10 tips from a former Amazon Customer Service Elf to help you offer world-class customer service.

What’s a Customer Service Elf?

I joined Amazon.com in November of 2000. Back then, nearly everyone in the corporate offices pitched in during the holiday rush to help ship products or answer customer service emails. I was assigned to the customer service team. We received intensive training and after passing the course, I was certified as an Amazon CS Elf. What I learned about handling customer feedback before the holidays can also be used as best practices for managing product reviews, especially negative ones, after the holidays.

Why Reviews Are Important for Your Business

A 2013 research study from ZenDesk found that 90% of customers claimed positive reviews influenced their purchase decisions. However, it also found that negative product reviews influenced purchase decisions of 86% of customers.

Left unattended, those negative reviews can impact the future of your sales. Fortunately, the White House Office of Consumer Affairs found that up to 70% of customers who left negative feedback would end up buying from a company again if their problem was resolved; and that percentage jumps to 96% if the problem was resolved quickly.

Finally, a 2013 Wakefield Research consumer survey found that shopper intent to purchase doubles when seeing a response to a negative review versus a negative review by itself.

Before You Get Started

How you respond should be geared to both the original customer who wrote the review as well as to your future customers. While you might not be able to change the mind of an unhappy customer, your response will determine if the situation builds your company’s reputation or makes other shoppers think twice before placing an order.

Another key point to remember is to be authentic. If your response seems canned or anything less than genuine, you might as well not respond at all. Customers appreciate honesty – even when there’s nothing you can do to fix a problem.

response

Now for the Tips:

  1. Respond only if you can own the issue: Customers expect you to take responsibility when something goes wrong. Your response needs to convey that you’re paying attention to your customers, that their issues are important to your business, and that you stand by your products. If you can’t fully own the issue, consider other ways you might be able to help – see No. 5 below.
  2. Don’t take it personally, and don’t overreact: Julie Zhou wrote in her New York Times article “Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt” about how the anonymous nature of the internet can result in bad public behavior. Some negative feedback can cross the line into downright nastiness. Though you might be tempted to lash back, be sure to respond professionally and avoid defensiveness. Don’t get into an argument either (even if you’re right) since you and your company could be viewed as being combative.
  3. Don’t be a faceless robot: Add a personal touch. If a customer is already unhappy, receiving an excerpt from your company policy will only make matters worse. Simply including your first name in a reply lets the reviewer know that a ‘real person’ is listening to them and trying to resolve the issue, instead of just a canned blurb from an auto-responder.
  4. Just be nice: It may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember that written language often comes across as being more direct (blunt) than the same thing said face to face. Make sure to write in a sincere, friendly or conversational tone.
  5. Make your response actionable: If possible, fix the issue – either by letting the customer know how to fix the problem on his or her own or by providing other ways for them to get help, such as the manufacturer’s toll-free customer service number.
  6. Assure other customers: Since your response can be seen by potential future shoppers, assure them that the issue has been or can be resolved. If the product has changed, be sure to call that out in both your reply and the product description.
  7. Think twice, respond once: Strive to resolve the issue with your first response. As product reviews aren’t designed for a conversation, anticipate additional questions and provide as much actionable information as you can in your initial reply.
  8. Honesty really is the best policy: If you cannot make the situation right, simply offer a strong, direct apology. Your customers will appreciate it more than an excuse-laden reply.
  9. Don’t wait for an issue to go away: As the White House study found, responding quickly can turn an unhappy reviewer into a loyal customer. Prompt action can also help avoid a situation in which a negative review gets additional “me too” detractors.
  10. Crazy is as crazy does: Since deleting a completely off-base review may cause an author backlash, just leave it. You can safely assume that if a reviewer is acting crazy, others will realize it too and may ‘vote down’ the review or offer their own rebuttal.

Bonus Tips for Positive Reviews

Now that you know how to manage negative reviews, here’s some advice for your positive reviews.

  1. Don’t go overboard: Whether or not you reply to positive reviews is up to you, but should be done sparingly for the most useful reviews, such as ones that list helpful pros/cons or provide additional product information. Let them know their feedback is appreciated.
  2. Don’t try to upsell other products: Unless the review contains questions about accessories, avoid the urge to cross-merchandise other products. All your customer may expect is a simple thank you for taking the time to write the review.

Have any other suggestions for how to handle positive or negative reviews? Leave them in the comments below.

Photo: Flickr, Christopher Bowley

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