Dealing with brand detractors – how online reviews analysis delivers quick wins

Tuesday, 31st January 2023

By Karen Williams – Client Director, Tribe Communications

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that customers might be unhappy with rail services in the UK at present. The inconvenience of strikes and cancellations, the ever-rising cost of tickets, overcrowding – the list of gripes goes on. Using Avanti as an example, high levels of customer exasperation translate into 73% of Tripadvisor reviews being net negative and 64% of travellers who commented classifying the experience as ‘terrible’. By contrast, only 20% of reviewers had a net positive brand experience. Ouch.

A quick glance at Tripadvisor reveals that disgruntlement with the West Coast main line operator has probably increased as a consequence of recent industrial action. In truth, however, the service has long been a disappointment to those who post on the review site. To echo the observation of one customer, the experience of travelling with Avanti in the real world is nothing like the slick TV advert.

It is a myth that customers are more inclined to use online reviews to moan about poor service. At Tribe, we see plenty of glowing feedback for services well-delivered and appreciated. Customers are happy to be brand advocates, as well as detractors. So, it follows that brands garnering a significant proportion of negative reviews are definitely doing some things wrong. One of those things is probably paying insufficient attention to the specific content of online reviews. Or perhaps not knowing how to use reviews data effectively as a hard business metric on the brand balance sheet.

Online reviews are a wonderful source of insight that goes far beyond the star ratings assigned by reviewers. Yet most brands don’t know how to extract the nuggets in anything other than a superficial way. Reviews are classed mainly as ‘qualitative’ insight, so their relative importance to perceptions of the brand is not being analysed using a scientific, quantitative approach. There might be a lot of reviews, so it’s difficult for anyone in the customer services team to properly appraise the learnings from this volume of unstructured data.

That means missed opportunities to spot early warning signals and turn detractors into quick wins for the business. Using text mining and semantic analysis to evaluate the reasons why people are unhappy allows us to quantify the problems, so they can be tackled systematically. For Avanti, one of these problems is First Class, where many travellers complain it is a waste of money. Quantitative analysis is able to rank the issues associated with First Class – so, for example, we might learn that the percentage of travellers who think First Class catering is not worth the premium price is significantly higher than the percentage of travellers who complain about rude staff, lack of luggage space or facilities in the lounge at Euston.

Once the business has granular data about what is motivating customers to leave negative reviews, it can plan how to respond. Picking off the issues that most irritate customers is usually a good place to start. For supermarkets, this might be ‘late deliveries’, for a courier firm it might be ‘parcel left in the rain’, for a car hire company it might be ‘hidden fees’ and for a visitor attraction it might be ‘overflowing rubbish bins’. The point is that any of these things might be comparatively easy to fix, once somebody has calculated their importance within overall online review content.

Analysing customer comments around one-off events, such as a bank’s ATM network being unavailable, has taught us that customers react angrily but are prepared to forgive poor service if there’s a good explanation and the problem gets fixed. If customers experience repeated poor performance and perceive that brands are doing nothing to improve, brand loyalty is quickly eroded and those shouty ‘Never again!’ review titles increase over time.

In the case of the West Coast main line, ‘never again’ is unfortunately not an option for many travellers, but in highly competitive industries customers will be quick to defect to the competition. This has never been truer than at a time when all of us need to feel we are getting value for money. It will be interesting to see whether there’s a relationship between online review content and brands which fail as the country battles its cost of living crisis.

To end on a positive note, though, we’ve worked with brands that genuinely want to understand how they can turn detractors into brand advocates. By proactive tracking of the gap between net positive and net negative reviews, as well as detailed analysis of the underlying reasons for any shifts in customer satisfaction, those clients have managed to zero in on adjustments they could make to enhance performance and swing the pendulum back in the opposite direction.

We have worked with train operating companies and other transport providers too, to help them properly quantify customer perceptions and raise their game. Just saying, Avanti.

Karen Williams,
Client Director, Tribe Communications
[email protected]