By now you know that user-generated content drives sales and uncovers ways to improve your offering. But the customer voice can affect your entire organization in many ways - some you may not expect. I've been surprised myself at some of the ways user-generated content has impacted businesses.
1. Customer input can decrease customer service costs. We've all been there - we have a question about a product that surely someone else has. So we use online chat, call the manufacturer, or - more likely - just give up or buy a product we may have to return. Reviews and customer-generated Q&A let shoppers get answers to common product questions, by letting the real voice of the customer come through. For example, my wife ordered a quilt a few weeks ago and was looking for a specific shade of red. The picture of the quilt looked fine, but we all know that different computer monitors show colors differently. One of the customer reviews of the quilt said that the red quilt was a bit darker than the color shown on the website. This gave her the confidence to buy the quilt, because a darker red was fine with her.
One retailer, Canadian Tire, found that, once it added customer Q&A to its site, its call center got much fewer incoming calls about products. This means that the company's operators are now more available to take orders and field other customers' requests.
2. Improved product copy and usage instructions. Rubbermaid has a great story about how it tested a product, found it to work well, released it to the marketplace - then, unexpectedly, got negative reviews from unhappy customers. A little investigating found that people who were unhappy with Rubbermaid's Produce Saver product were actually using the product incorrectly. Rubbermaid replied to the unhappy consumers, wrote a blog about the proper way to use the products, and then improved the instructions on the package. Today, Produce Saver storage has an average rating of 4.6 stars, and 92 percent of customers would recommend it to a friend.
3. Reduced product return rates. Nobody likes having to return products to a store - and manufacturers and retailers hate it even more than consumers do. Returns cost retailers and manufacturers a lot of money, and analysis has shown that only about 5 percent of returns are due to product defects, leaving me to assume that many product returns are due to the unmet expectations of the consumer. As I mentioned before, reviews and online Q&A help shoppers make decisions - and their decisions are more likely to "stick." For example, PETCO found that products with reviews tend to have about 20 percent fewer returns than those without reviews.
4. Better products. Consumers still get really excited when brands actually respond to their reviews - especially negative reviews - and I think it surprises some people how some of the world's best-known brands actually read customer reviews, then use that input to improve products, negotiate with vendors, and solve major product flaws. One retailer had a top-selling home décor item that suddenly began getting negative reviews. They investigated the latest batch of the product and found it to be faulty, so they replaced consumers' purchases and removed all the less-than-stellar products from the shelves, which staved off future consumers' disappointment.
So how do you get the maximum value from user-generated content? Take all the ways it can impact your brand into account. Gather a variety of departments together to look for hidden ways this content can be used, regularly share the content across your organization, and make it easy for different teams to access the information that's most relevant to them.
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Sam Decker is founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, the leading enterprise social curation company. He speaks and consults on digital growth strategy, based on years of experience in technology and social markets. He has written two books on word-of-mouth marketing and is an award-winning blogger (www.deckermarketing.com). As former chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, the market leader in hosted social commerce applications that drive sales, Sam worked to help brands present the right user-generated content at the right time in the purchase path, bringing real value to the consumer and the business. Prior to Bazaarvoice he drove Dell's customer segmentation, their customer-centricity strategy, and led Dell's consumer website, building Dell.com into the largest consumer e-commerce site at $3.5 billion in annual sales.