Online is the New Word of Mouth

Ken Greenberg Austin & Williams
For many of today’s consumers, their online experience with a bank brand — and reading the opinions of other consumers—have become paramount as they select financial institutions or choose products.

In a recent survey by Bright Local, 92% of consumers said they read online reviews to determine the quality of a local business.

Evidence suggests that online is the new “word of mouth,” with consumers overwhelmingly trusting the opinions that strangers post online as much as those of their family and friends.

Turn negative reviews into positive expressions of your brand

Negative online reviews people can read from here to China are an unfortunate reality. How your organization responds is important in shaping not just the views of the negative poster, but also everyone who views or participates in the online exchange.

Of respondents in a Sprout survey who indicated they posted a negative review that was appropriately answered, 70% say they’re more likely to use the brand’s product or service, and 65% say they have more brand loyalty.

This is no surprise. Consumer packaged goods companies have responded to customer complaints with an apology and free product coupons for decades.

Respond quickly: offer genuine replies to negative comments

In our “always on” world, consumers expect to receive a rapid reply. That means four hours or less, according to the Sprout study. Corporate-speak or boilerplate responses that don’t sound genuine, and don’t add value, send the wrong message. Be empathetic and human — offer a solution to the situation and an opportunity for additional follow-up. Do it well and often the reviewer will update their negative comment to a positive one. More importantly, you’ll strengthen your relationship with that customer.

Ask customers for positive reviews/comments

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging happy customers to share their positive experiences on review sites.

This can happen at all touch points — at the branch, on the phone and online. It might take bank staff a little while to find a comfortable way to work it into a conversation, but knowing when and how to ask is not that hard.

Always personally thank customers for their posts, both with online replies and in person.

Of course, consumers want to see authentic and authoritative reviews that appear regularly and across a range of review sites. It’s imperative your information on these sites is correct and current. Create and populate profiles for the sites your bank is not on, and seize opportunities to remove or respond to negative reviews.

Social media platforms have become major influencers of brand reputations. But, they are also redefining customer service, while making the issues that once were shared one-to-one on a phone call accessible to billions of people.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, energized by the far-reaching popularity of smartphones, customers can easily express their opinions about your bank to virtually any prospect, anywhere. And, research shows, those prospects are probably going to listen.

(A version of this article originally appeared on ABA Bank Marketing.)