Customer feedback is essential for retailers – but how can they ensure the loudest voices are not the only ones potential new customers hear?

It’s a scenario we’ve all seen play out.

You meet with a friend and they arrive red cheeked, heart palpitating and seething with rage. You wonder how the well-balanced person you arranged to see came to be replaced by a bubbling volcano.

“Aggrieved customers now get their revenge on the internet, addressing their new nemesis through social media”

The answer? Poor customer service: an unintentional snub by a supermarket worker; a too-curt ‘no’ when enquiring about a refund; or a static queue that has your friend abandoning a coffee order.

Often the incident in question is a mere blip, a transgression too small to even calculate. But as time passes, it builds to subsequent ‘volcanic eruptions’.

As a customer exits, with an unreturned item still in hand and the ‘no’ still ringing in their ears, the incident builds in their mind. On the journey home, the minutiae of the in-store exchange become incredibly poignant. ‘Why didn’t I say that?’, they think. ‘How dare they not have offered this!’

By the time they reach home, the incident is worthy of a theatrical stage play – with the store assistant as a villain to rival any Hollywood baddie.

The usual reaction, prior to the digital age, was to vent to those closest to you. But why do that when you can as easily put thumb to touchscreen and transmit to a vastly wider network? Aggrieved customers now get their revenge on the internet: addressing their new nemesis’ employers through social media, or exclaiming to millions of readers on review sites such as Google or Yelp.

A customer care incident reported online has become a common dramatised story for public consumption, complete with “worst service ever” exclamations and declarations that they will “not be shopping there again”.

Never the whole story

The issue is not just one angry customer but how that online review is now forever associated with a brand and in its digital footprint. A 2017 consumer survey by digital marketers BrightLocal suggests 90% of potential customers read online reviews before visiting a business, taking these outbursts as a reflection of an outlet’s service.

While the fury of the reviewer may be very real, as they bash away in all caps, the retail outlet learns almost nothing from this experience. Bad reviews can never tell the complete story when, according to research by PowerReviews, a consumer engagement technology firm, even review-writing consumers will only write one once every 4-14 purchases.

“What gets lost in the shrill outrage are the interactions that are efficient, friendly and happen 99 times out of 100”

Here lies the problem: online reviews follow the same rules as every other social media platform. They are fuelled by dramatic content, meaning the loudest voices are rewarded despite being unreflective of the wider population.

Retail staff are human beings and an unintentional snub or unfortunate delivery of a refund policy is just one interaction across an eight-hour day, seven days a week.

What gets lost in the shrill outrage (or even in elated reviews of staff going above and beyond) are those middle tones; the interactions that pass without comment, which are efficient, friendly and happen 99 times out of 100.

Shades of experience

For retailers, the future of constructive feedback needs to be a real-time, anonymous assessment – with systems that allow customers to pass judgement on their experience before they have even left the door, letting off those miniature volcanic eruptions instantly, instead of letting the stories develop on journeys home.

Systems must be passive and simple enough to attract the various shades of experience between elation and rage – the 99 other transactions that are perfectly executed, even if they are unremarkable.

When retail outlets begin to focus and harness the power of real-time customer experience insights, the one-star reviews will no longer burn the brightest.