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It wasn’t long ago that bank marketers viewed online reviews and comments from consumers as having limited impact on their brand reputation and customer relationships. Many businesses believed that the web was not especially influential in shaping customer opinions or behavior, and pioneering review sites were less than credible. Posts weren’t actual “customer interactions” like calls to customer service or branch visits.

Times have changed.

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 say 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. A recent study by Outbound Engine found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, with most reading up to six reviews on third-party sites such as Google, Yelp, CreditKarma or WalletHub before making a purchase decision.

Banks that don’t prioritize effective engagement with negative posters, or don’t make an effort to encourage positive posts, are shortsighted. Similarly, banks must recognize that widely followed social media channels are consumers’ top choice for customer care communications, surpassing both the telephone and email for reaching out when there’s a problem or issue.

Turn negative reviews into positive expressions of your brand.

Negative online reviews that can be 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.

Respond quickly, and 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 you’ll often find the reviewer will update their negative comment to a positive one—and more importantly, you’ll strengthen your relationship with that customer.

Don’t confuse social with promotional.

Your social media strategy should focus on consumer needs and avoid weighting toward product and promotion, which can cause consumers to tune out, or worse, not tune in. Social channels are powerful portals for two-way dialogue with potential customers and influencers, so treat them as such. Too often, financial institutions use social media channels as additional vehicles to pump out promotional content and miss valuable opportunities to engage their targets.

View search results through the eyes of the consumer.

Though monitoring your own social media channels, review websites, blogs, Twitter accounts and other channels is a tactical requirement for bank marketers, it’s important go back to square one and review search results too. First impressions are vitally important as consumers jump from search to search. See if your evaluation suggests that searchers are getting a positive first impression, negative impression or an overall weak impression. Worst of all, if you’re not showing up, it’s time to revisit your SEO strategy.

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.

(This article originally appeared on ABA Bank Marketing.)




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