Engaging with product reviews

ITIJ 213, October 2018
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Engage with a critic, or ignore online chatter? Insurers, of course, appreciate a good online review or rating, but what to do about less positive feedback? With more people than ever before relying on web-based reviews, insurers had better step up their game, warns Mandy Langfield

As the digital age advances, so too does the importance of online customer reviews. The Pew Research Centre found in December 2016 that 82 per cent of US adults ‘at least sometimes’ read online customer ratings or reviews before purchasing items for the first time, which includes 40 per cent who said they ‘always’ or ‘almost always’ do so. Pew’s findings also showed that while reading reviews online is common across all customer demographics, those under 50 are especially likely to use these reviews as a basis for making a purchasing decision.

According to Robin Ingle, Chairman and CEO of Ingle International in Canada, review websites have ‘incredible power’ over the Canadian marketplace, offering a channel for direct communication with consumers of travel insurance products.
Hannah Jones, Head of Business Development for Claims Rated, a new review site in the UK that specifically reviews customers’ claims experiences with insurers, said: “Review services already play a crucial part in the travel plans of many consumers, so it follows that these consumers will not only be used to using review services but expect them. In a recent Claims Rated survey of over 1,000 UK insurance consumers, 61 per cent of respondents said they would value understanding the claims experiences of others when making an insurance purchase. This rose to 76 per cent of 16-to-25-year-olds, showing a growing need for reviews and validation when making insurance purchases.”
As the digital age advances, so too does the importance of customer reviews
UK-based comparison site uSwitch recently undertook a trial with financial services rating company Defaqto, in which it showed its Star Ratings on the quote results page to 50 per cent of consumers. Rod Jones of uSwitch commented on the reasoning behind the move: “We wanted to see, and compare, what impact this would have on our consumers’ engagement and behaviour. The key ‘test metric’ for uSwitch was to see if the rating gave consumers greater confidence to engage with lesser known brands.” The results, he said, were interesting – some of the very well-established brands received a reduction in customer interaction, while other smaller brands saw a boost in engagement. 
 
A valid opinion?
How much can we trust the information we see online? When asked about whether or not they view customer reviews as being honest, Pew’s research found an even split – 51 per cent of respondents said they think that such sites generally give an accurate picture of a product, while 48 per cent admitted that it’s hard to know if something is truthful and unbiased. Interestingly, the tone of the review affects how much a user is influenced by it: 54 per cent of Americans in the Pew research said they paid more attention to a negative review than a positive one. 
Elliot Lane, Joint Managing Director of London-based communication strategy firm FWD Consulting, noted: “Companies and consumers alike should be more interrogative of the information they see online. In a world of ‘alternative facts’, we must all spend some time on research and kicking the mental tyres when it comes to social media criticism. Bad reviews can sting at first, but if they are genuine, can also be helpful, enabling you to improve the service consumers expect.” 
A company that shows it can learn and improve from constructive criticism will be better received and forgiven far quicker by the general public, he added. But, of course, not everything online is true: “A good example happened last year when a young man decided to put his shed on TripAdvisor, calling it a restaurant and asking all his friends and family to endorse it with five stars. He was inundated with foreign and local people desperate to book a table. Though this was a joke, it proved the point. Consumers need to take some responsibility and make sure they know what the product is and understand whether it will meet their personal expectations before purchasing.”
 
Helping customers – and the industry
Travel insurance providers can aid customers in this, by using jargon-free language to explain more about the products they sell. Ingle said: “Consumers today want clear, concise, authentic communication. This can be a challenge in the insurance industry, where legal concerns and product complexities often make it difficult to keep communications simple and straightforward.” There are two things to keep in mind, he said: “First, when establishing your presence on a consumer review site, it’s important to clearly show the consumer what your value proposition is. If you can’t communicate this, it’s a problem – having a simple message that consumers can easily digest will make it easier for them to connect with you and understand what you are offering, where a complex message is more likely to turn consumers off.”
Social media has been a game changer for companies that don’t meet their customers’ expectations. If a product or organisation fails to fulfil a customer’s needs then that customer has the power to post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and anywhere else they have an account, about their negative experience. And if this negative post goes viral, then woe betide the company that hasn’t responded in the right way. Ingle urged companies not to miss the chance to communicate with customers if they reach out via social media or review sites: “Take the opportunity to engage with your consumers. At Ingle International we monitor consumer review sites and social media channels for mentions, and we always respond to questions or messages that we receive. We also encourage consumers to share their statements when they contact us with positive experiences.”
Elliot Lane agreed: “Social media and the immediacy of the public’s reaction, not only to news, but to products and overall purchasing experience mean customer review sites have more power than ever. The importance of these reviews to the travel insurance sector has never been more prevalent but the ‘rawness’ of some responses can be damaging.”
Pew research found that 54 per cent of Americans said they paid more attention to a negative review than a positive one
Of course, there are a wide variety of platforms on which customers can give their opinions of products – the various social media sites are complemented by specific consumer review websites like Feefo, TrustPilot and Reevoo. “Consumer review sites give an excellent, snapshot view of the consumer’s ‘sentiment’ to the purchase experience and the criteria is very spontaneous,” said Lane. “However, when another traveller has bought the product (in good faith that it has a five-star rating for a solid reason), and then finds that the product is not right for their travelling needs or the claims experience has failed to live up to that rating, that raw response is often to use the site as a complaints forum and a place to vent one’s digital spleen.”
 
Face the problem head-on
So, what to do when you come across a negative review of your product or services? How you deal with it is key. Do not try to avoid the issue; the best thing you can do is promptly address the situation, said Robin Ingle. “Often, if a customer is not satisfied, we can work with them to fix the issue. For instance, even if their insurance policy doesn’t cover a particular expense, we can still do our best to work with their healthcare provider and negotiate on their behalf to bring down costs. On occasion, you may receive negative reviews from disgruntled customers that are not necessarily fair or legitimate. Often these come from customers whose claims were denied because the customer didn’t read their policy or want to understand its exclusions. In these cases, we always do our best to respond and clearly explain the reasoning behind their claim denial and compare our products and services to other similar products.”
Don’t be too perturbed by negative reviews, says Hannah Jones, as it won’t help: “We shouldn’t be frightened of poor reviews; they are a great opportunity to learn, and indeed if there were no bad reviews or minor niggles reported by customers the reviews could appear to have been curated. Public responses to negative reviews also show that you are listening, are responsive if things do occasionally go wrong and help to educate customers about insurance products.”
Fiona Macrae from Travel Insurance Explained in the UK, which aims to educate the general public about travel insurance, commented on the need for considered thought when using a customer review site, and what she would urge a user to think about: “While star rating systems and review sites can help and influence consumers when buying travel insurance, it is important for the customer to remember that any ratings or reviews should act as a guideline only and not in isolation. This is because they offer a snapshot of people’s experiences and have their limitations. A product that might work well for one consumer may not necessarily work as well for another. We always remind our subscribers that the most important thing when buying travel insurance is to look for a policy that fits your personal needs and holiday requirements.”
Given the increased influence that rating services have on customer engagement, Rod Jones is of the opinion that there needs to be greater support for customers to understand how these ratings services work. “For example,” he said, “a five-star rated product on Defaqto is very different from a five-star rating on Reviews, as one rates the product and the other rates the customer experience. This isn’t always clear to consumers, especially as companies are more likely to show you their star rating from the company that ranks them highest. The uSwitch pilot clearly shows the influence review sites have over consumer behaviour and therefore we would call on the industry to bring greater transparency and clarity to ensure customers are not mislead or misinformed when making important purchasing decisions.”
 
Using it to your advantage
Jones of Claims Rated said: “We think reviews of the claims experience play a particularly important role for travel insurance. In most cases, the friends and family of travellers will not have made a claim on their travel insurance policy so would not be in a position to recommend a particular insurance company. Rating services enable a representative view of the actual service from a wide pool of customers, are far quicker to use than taking time out to ask friends and family and are available when the customer is making the purchase.”
Companies and consumers alike should be more interrogative of the information they see online
Lane pointed out that while there are dangers in customers using review sites, they are nevertheless a force for good for travel insurers: “This amplification of content and branding is an efficient marketing tool for the sector and more travel insurance brands should be using it to their advantage and not be scared of interaction with consumers. If a consumer (and in some cases maybe even planted ‘agitator’ from a rival firm) does decide to offload online with a vicious review, then try as quickly to ascertain are they a genuine customer; does the claims team or call centre know of this case; is the complainant justified in their criticism; and can you attempt to get them offline as quickly as possible and deal with it on a more 1-2-1 basis. The majority of people, once dealing with a voice on the end of a phone line, will be very different from their online persona.” ■