The 4 Phases of Online Reviews

By Jonathan Hinz, Trustpilot 

It doesn't matter what your organization is selling or which demographics it's targeting; there's a common denominator behind the success of every online and in-store retailer: your customers, and the strength of your relationships with them.

If your customers trust your brand, they're more likely to recommend it to their peers, which is powerful considering that, according to Nielsen, 84 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.

As a prospect moves through stages of the customer lifecycle with your brand, you can nurture a relationship rooted in loyalty and trust by showing that you recognize each customer as an individual, and demonstrate that your organization is deserving of her loyalty. While your company grows and adds new marketing tools, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and data analysis technologies, this need for solid customer relationships will only become more critical to the overall success of your business. Throughout every stage of the customer experience, online reviews can help grow and strengthen those relationships. 

Phase 1: Discovery

When a prospective customer visits your website, he may find a reason to trust your organization enough to make a transaction - or, he may join the ranks of up to 75 percent of consumers who abandon their online carts, as reported by Baymard Institute. Obviously, the former is ideal, so consider establishing trust quickly by inviting existing customers to leave reviews on your site about their experiences and your level of service. Soliciting and showcasing reviews will give your brand the third-party validation it needs to make that prospect's first experience a positive one. 

Phase 2: Acquisition

As more prospects convert and make purchases with your brand, reviews will begin to accumulate. You can display the cumulative score of those ratings on your site to quickly highlight your customer satisfaction history, particularly on highly trafficked areas of your website like shopping cart pages. After all, Econsultancy reports that 63 percent of customers are more likely to make purchases from sites that display user reviews, while consumer reviews are regarded as nearly 12 times more trustworthy than descriptions from product vendors. Your customers are tired of the marketing and advertising they're subjected to on a daily basis. By introducing third-party perspectives, you're giving them a reason to trust your brand without forcing it upon them.

Once you're displaying reviews on your site, their content feeds into search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. This helps customers quickly connect your brand's name with its reputation for service and personalized efforts, which can reduce the cost of online marketing and increase your click-through rates by up to 17 percent

Phase 3: Retention

Customer reviews should serve as an open channel of communication between your brand and its end users. If you receive a negative review, respond quickly and directly. If you can remedy the problem in the public sphere, the interaction will help increase customer loyalty among buyers and show that your organization is committed to giving users a positive experience. 

Review data can also feed into social platforms like Facebook, informing targeted advertisements and allowing your brand to better understand its customers' habits. Treat customer reviews just as you'd approach any other social engagement, and you'll learn how to work with your customers using the media and schedules they prefer. 

Phase 4: Advocacy

Social platforms like Facebook are also an ideal way for customers to share positive experiences and reviews with their networks. Make this process easy for them by integrating social networks with your review platform, and encourage the behavior by sharing reviews and feedback on your own social pages. When your customers can easily share their experiences with your brand with their networks, you can tap into the power of word-of-mouth marketing and third-party validation to increase your organization's credibility

The process of leaving a review should be as straightforward as possible for your customers, as well. Linking your ecommerce platform with a review service can automatically send requests to customers every time they make a purchase, freeing up your staff to analyze feedback and put it to work. Adding pop-up or embedded review forms to your website is another strategy to make feedback collection a quick and simple endeavor for customers. The easier the process is, the more likely customers will complete it. 

When you treat customers as individuals, actively listen to their feedback and tailor your business to reflect the changes they suggest, you'll improve loyalty rates and form open, trusting relationships with the people that matter most to the success of your business. As a result, you can decrease marketing and advertising costs, and lay the groundwork for future sales. There are opportunities to add personal interactions to every phase of the customer lifecycle, and every level of customer relationship management. All you need to do is recognize these opportunities and incorporate them into your habits.

Jonathan Hinz is Trustpilot's director of strategic partnerships and business development. He is a veteran in the customer service industry, joining Trustpilot after more than 13 years leading customer relation and business development teams at Verizon.