OPINION Why online reviews matter in financial services

Paul O'Donoghue

Paul O’Donoghue, VP Solution Engineering, Uberall

In today’s increasingly digitalised world, online reviews have become an intrinsic part of the customer journey. In fact, roughly 90% of consumers say they would read reviews before purchasing anything online or offline.

And while online reviews may be most noticeable in the hospitality and retail sectors, they’re also critical to customers looking for financial services. According to Trustpilot, 61% of consumers rate reviews as the top influencer and more trusted than aggregators and search engines when it comes to making decisions about their financial services provider.

Indeed, online reviews are taking the place of word-of-mouth recommendations, and have been made even more influential by lockdowns and restrictions that resulted in customers turning to online spaces and communities to share thoughts on experiences on brands. As the world continues to digitise, the borders between online and offline channels have disappeared creating a hybrid customer journey. So financial services organisations should make sure their digital strategies are resonating with these new tech-savvy, online-based customers in order to attract and retain them. This is where online review management plays a key role.


The benefits of online review management

What is online review management? In basic terms, it consists of the monitoring, analysing and responding to online reviews from across different platforms, from Trip Advisor to Google reviews to social media. If done properly, online review management can provide valuable insights for financial brands and businesses, directly from customers, that can enable them to improve all aspects of the customer journey as well as drive business value.

This includes tapping into the very first step of the majority of customer journeys: the online search. Here, reviews can have a huge impact. Whether via a search engine, an aggregator site or on social media, most potential customers looking for new services will search using terms like “best” or “highest rated”. What appears in the top results, and subsequently what results customers are more likely to click on, has a lot to do with reviews. Indeed, Google uses ratings and reviews to determine what brands provide the best customer experience (CX), putting brands and businesses with the highest average ratings at the top of the page. Considering that over a quarter of Google searchers click on the first result, and that a top spot on the first page of Google’s search results is key to growth and brand reputation, it’s vital that financial services look to improve their Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) rankings – and online review management is an essential tool here.

Achieving the benefits of maximised local SEO – which targets visibility in local search results – isn’t limited to written reviews either. A recent report on the impact of star ratings on both online and offline consumer footfall, shows that in the all-important conversion rate of online clicks to in-branch footfall is higher for businesses with a 4.9 star-rating or higher. Results also showed that a star-rating increase as incremental as 0.1 can increase conversion rates by 25% and that just 3.7 stars will actually deliver the greatest conversion boost of 120%.

So, in order to boost these star ratings and gain those all-important top spots in the search results, finance firms have to deliver an optimal hybrid customer experience that fully and seamlessly integrates their interactions with customers across the digital and real world channels. This means continuing offering the physical services customers expect, but also to be seen to be proactive in delivering an equally exceptional online journey – and this starts with reviews.

Indeed, when brands effectively and efficiently manage reviews, they will see a positive impact on customer loyalty, trust and engagement. Recent research, for example, found that when enterprises reply to just three in ten reviews, they see 80% higher online customer engagement and conversions, than if they responded to one in ten reviews.


How to master the art of effective online review management

The first step to fully harnessing the power of online reviews in order to build engagement and grow brand trust, is to take both negative and positive reviews into account. For customers who have a complaint or need an issue resolved, knowing that the brand will reply quickly and with helpful answers to resolving any problems, can be a huge driver in ameliorating their opinion of that brand. Often, they give the company a second chance – when ignored instead, most reviewers choose not to visit them again. And for customers who have had a good experience with a brand and leave a positive review, a personal response and direct engagement can make customers feel noticed and appreciated, and subsequently boost their trust and loyalty.

In short, the more a customer sees financial brands and services interacting with other customers online via reviews, the more likely they are to choose that brand the next time they are looking for a service.

Another key tactic is to ensure reviews are managed and monitored at each of a business’ locations, creating a consistent customer experience on a global, regional and local level. For example, banks and financial services often have local physical branches, providing a familiar name for customers in different cities. A customer from York, for instance, would expect to receive the same quality of service from a bank in London as they do at their local branch at home – and the same should be true of their online customer experience, including reviews.

The first step to streamlining this online local CX and ensuring that customers feel a sense of familiarity and trust with a brand is to get local teams familiar and confident with the brand’s core messaging. This means that when they are responding to reviews online, the tone is reflective of the brand and sets the right customer expectations. Adopting easy-to-follow protocols that provide all staff, not just the management team with a guide of correct tone and sentiment when responding to reviews, will make the process personable and impactful. The local teams are, after all, the best employees to respond to issues relating to local CX.

Many financial services are already excelling at localising CX through online review management. For example, Reed Rains has achieved success by facilitating review management for local staff. By appointing “local ambassadors” to oversee local review operations, it can guarantee relevance and improve the speed of responses.

Regardless of size, finance firms will find that employees who are confident in brand identity and guidelines become invaluable assets to building and maintaining brand reputation. The more online presence a brand garners, the easier they will be found by potential customers when researching services online.


Keeping up-to-date with digital technology

In today’s digital-first world, technology plays an invaluable role in the customer journey – but that doesn’t always have to mean introducing the likes of AI or biometric identification. Harnessing the power of online reviews is a straightforward and effective way to keep pace with today’s tech-savvy customer, and online review management should be seen as a cornerstone of any hybrid customer strategy.

Whether banks, hedge funds, or insurance providers, proactive engagement with online reviews will always bring the type of trust and loyalty that keeps customers coming back – and bringing others – to their preferred financial service.

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