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All indications show that people are spending much more time on pre-purchase research in the 'new normal'. Why?
- because they have more time on their hands - often because they're working from home
- because they are more concerned that they make the correct purchasing decision
- because, for a lot of people, their finances are more stretched, or are under threat of becoming so
Impulse buying, for big-ticket items and especially services, is fast becoming a distant memory.
So, in practical terms, what are consumers now doing pre-purchase? They are...
- Speaking to friends, family and colleagues
- Researching on the web - often extensively
- Reading Google reviews - especially negative ones
- Comparing competitive products and services
Let's took at these in more detail.
Speaking to friends, colleagues and family
We have all always done this, haven't we? Yes, but not nearly as extensively as we do now. There are two key reasons why we ask more questions of more people these days. First: we are aware of just how fragile the economy is becoming and when this happens people are naturally more cautious. Secondly: many people have much more time on their hands - they have 'commuting time' if they are now working from home and they have 'social time' because they are not getting out nearly as much.
Researching the web and reading Google reviews
Pre-COVID consumers may have read a business's Google reviews, or even simply relied on the business's Google score. Now they have both the time and the inclination to mine down further.
Take this high profile business as an example: back in the pre-COVID environment a score of 4.4 (although marginally failing the Google filter) might have sufficed:
But now? Suppose a potential customer takes just ten more minutes on Google, what might they discover? First stop: read the negative Google reviews:
Then read the first Google 'People also ask' question:
Then read what their employees say about them on employment sites such as Indeed and Glassdoor:
And read the business's responses to negative reviews...
...to see if they address the issues raised.
Comparing equivalent services
Every Google search - even one on a specific business such as this for Pimlico Plumbers - throws up alternatives:
Making it easy for consumers to compare any business or service.
What should a business do?
To take this example: Pimlico Plumbers have over two hundred self-employed tradesmen on their books and they deal in a highly contentious area: emergency services. They are bound to have customer disputes. The problem they have - in common with just about every other service business - is that all their disputes have the potential to be aired in public, on the web, often as Google reviews.
Without what follows, consumers will resort to posting a negative and potentially damaging review, often in the heat of the moment, without any meaningful dialogue with the business, and we have a pretty good idea that's what's happened in the majority of cases where Pimlico Plumbers have received a one-star review. And those reviews will be deflecting business.
This is quite easily addressed by one straightforward mechanism - independent moderation.
Moderation: how it works, for you and your customer
Moderation involves an independent agent acting as an intermediary between the reviewer and the reviewed business - HelpHound in the following example. The moderator reads each and every review before it is then published on the business's website and the reviewer is subsequently - and automatically - invited to copy their review to Google.
Benefits for the business
All our clients' websites host a 'write a review' button that enables anyone - anyone at all - to write a review of the business in question at any time:
A review such as the one for Pimlico Plumbers above would have had a very good chance of being submitted through this system and therefore become subject to moderation (the client so obviously requires a response from the business - why wouldn't they use a mechanism that promises a response?).
Even if it were not the business would be able to respond to this Google review inviting the customer to take such a course of action. Lastly, the business would be able to respond publicly on Google saying that 'All our customers are able to take advantage of our independently moderated customer review system by simply clicking on the button on our website.' and at the very least show others that they have gone to lengths to enable both happy and unhappy customers to communicate with them.
N.B. This review was only written two weeks ago and already six Google searchers have voted it 'Helpful'. We estimate that less than one in thirty people who read a review bother to vote, meaning that at least 180 people have read the review.
Moderation ensures that the business is able to comply with the law - which requires all businesses that proactively invite reviews from their customers to ensure that every one of them is able to write a review at a time of their own choosing - without undue risk that its reputation will be harmed by inaccurate and/or misleading reviews.
Above all it gives the business the confidence to actively invite reviews - with the proven advantages such a strategy has, without the real fears inherent in adopting an unmoderated approach.
Benefits for your customer
Moderation also ensures - as far as is humanly possible - the accuracy of each and every review and as such it is welcomed by reviewer and business alike (and we're pretty sure Google is all in favour as well!).
Very few reviewers want inaccurate or misleading statements publicly published (and we have never yet met a business that was happy with such comments either). Perhaps, most important of all, is the effect moderation has on the relationship between business and customer: customers who post inaccurate or misleading reviews are most unlikely to use the reviewed business again, they are simply too embarrassed; moderation enables mediation to take place, in private, so misunderstandings are resolved before the crucial businbess/consumer relationship is irrevocably damaged. Put simply: moderation retains customers.
With moderated review management everyone wins. The business:
- is given the confidence to invite all its customers to post a review
- becomes instantly legally compliant (see below)
- retains more customers
- achieves a more impressive Google score
- has great reviews and a great score on its own website and those reviews and scores drive more clicks and calls (see below)
- is impressed by the business's Google score and the individual reviews
- is far more likely to contact the business
- is far less likely to be put off using a business by its negative reviews and lower Google score
- is given reviews they can trust
- is much more likely to remain a customer - even after a negative experience