(From CreditUnions.com) – A member walks into a branch. They tell everyone in the credit union — everyone who will pay attention, in any case — the service is no good and loan decisions are made for no reason. Does branch staff stick up for themselves and the credit union? Or do they stay quiet?
The answer might be obvious — they speak up. But what if this interaction doesn’t occur in person? What if it happens online?
“You want those members to understand this is not a one-sided conversation,” says Brad Blue, the online marketing and social media manager at Logix Federal Credit Union ($6.1B, Burbank, CA). “You have to address the criticisms because potential members want to know how you would treat them if they were the ones with a similar issue.”
Increasingly, those criticisms are appearing online. Ratings and reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google, Facebook, and Nextdoor, among others, are easy to access. But their availability doesn’t dampen their significance. A recent study showed that 90% of customers consult online reviews before transacting with a business; what’s more, each one-star increase in overall business rating can result in a 5%-10% increase in revenue, and customers will spend up to 30% more at businesses with excellent reviews.
There’s value in good reviews, sure, but there’s also value in responding and addressing negative feedback on these sites. Search algorithms reward businesses that reply to consumer comments, and responses that can flip a member’s negative rating into a positive one are even more valuable.
Blue brought that knowledge with him when he joined Logix in 2012. He noticed that the credit union’s reviews weren’t of the same quality as its high NPS scores and, as the credit union was set to rebrand from Lockheed FCU later that year, it was critical that changed.
“We had this brand that had been around since 1937, which everyone in our market knew and trusted,” he says. “We were going to change to Logix, which nobody knew, and a great way to establish credibility was to build out and maintain quality reviews online.”
In the years since, Logix has indeed built a strong reputation on Yelp, Google, Facebook, and other platforms, learning as it goes. It still receives negative comments, though it’s now better equipped to respond to those. Today, Blue and content marketing specialist Kayleen Kavanagh reply to negative comments, and in 2015, Blue created a 10-step best practice guide for replies, which is known by the acronym “OH NO HE DI-N’T.”
In this Q&A, Blue discusses reviews, OH NO HE DI-N’T, and why free exposure on review sites can be better than paid advertising.
When building out better reviews you started with Yelp. Why?
BB: Seeing that our Yelp page generated thousands of views each month. At the time it became obvious that this was a site we needed to focus on.
In addition to Yelp, what channels are you tracking ratings and reviews on currently?
BB: Google is the largest driver of non-member traffic today. When you do a Google search, our entire branch listing and all of our reviews come up. Even if no one is clicking on those reviews, the first experience anyone will have with us is seeing our star rating. Unlike with Yelp, we can’t tell if people are coming to our site from Google because of our reviews. But as we move away from a website-centric world to a voice-centric or local search-centric world, those reviews become more critical. Most people are going to ask Alexa about your brand or simply visit Google or Yelp to see your star rating; they don’t need to come to your website to learn what they need to about your brand.
Then Nextdoor is up and coming. We’re still learning about it, but as we started to claim our branch locations on Nextdoor we found that we already had 13 reviews written about us that we didn’t know about.
What is the value of responding to reviews?
BB: If someone ran into your branch and started shouting criticisms about your brand to all the people who were in there, whether they currently do business with you or were considering it, it would be unthinkable to allow that to occur without attempting to reconcile their concerns. In my mind, failing to respond to online reviews is the same as pretending that person is not there.
Do you reply to every review?
BB: We don’t respond to 100% of reviews. I would guess we reply to 80-90% of negative reviews.
If someone is particularly acerbic or aggressive, we won’t respond. If it seems like, no matter what, they’re going to have a long back and forth with us, a reply is not going to benefit us.
Is there a downside to not responding?
BB: We don’t typically see one. Some people just want to vent, whether or not it’s something factual.
That’s one of the lessons we’ve learned: if we can reply and get reviewers to talk about the actual incident, we are better equipped to address their overall concern. But because of privacy, even if we know the person and the incident, we can’t come out and post that on a public platform. We need to ask them questions and have them provide the narrative themselves.
For instance, we’ll say, “It’s our policy to explain why you weren’t approved for that loan, can you tell us more about what we said?” And if they do answer that, it provides us with a chance to be even more transparent about our reasons for the decisions we make, add helpful context, or even take things as far as having the loan reviewed again. If they don’t reply, the “People in the Room” are left with the idea that this person can’t respond because by doing so they’d expose the real reason we weren’t able to do business with them. If we can have a more transparent conversation about this service experience — as long as it’s not drawn out or combative — I think it’s good for the brand.
How many people on your team reply to reviews?
BB: At first, it was just me. But we found the amount of reviews coming in increased exponentially as the number of touch points have increased. So, two years ago we hired a content marketing specialist whose job was to post on social media, write blogs, and respond to reviews. Within nine months, more than half of her job was related to the upkeep and maintenance of the online brand reputation on consumer review sites.
It’s not the process of typing out responses that’s most time consuming, either. Let’s say we get a review from someone who went to our Pasadena branch and had a poor experience; well, step one is to find out why this experience wasn’t positive, so we have to reach out to the branch, the Contact Center, whoever gave that experience, and have them recount the interaction. For every review that comes in, I’d say it takes 15-20 minutes to write the response, but an hour or two of work in the background learning what happened so we can customize our reply to the reviewer.
Are reviews or learnings from these reviews escalated?
BB: If we do get a bad review that’s legitimate, part of our specialist’s job is to work with our senior leadership team to say, “We’ve had several negative reviews this month about one particular topic. Is there an opportunity to review our policy/practice in an effort to remove friction or make this a less stressful experience for our members?
On the employee side, you introduced your OH NO HE DI-N’T acronym to help staff understand the “how” and “why” of online replies. How did you come up with this?
BB: We have 16 branches and from time to time we’ll get negative reviews. Sometimes our salespeople and tellers are mentioned by name in them. For a while, every time we got a review I would type this long email to staff explaining why we respond the way we do: I’d say we can’t do anything about the fact that your name was mentioned, but what we can do is come to a greater understanding with members about why this encounter wasn’t up to their expectations. Why was their perceived experience different from our staff’s perceived experience? I’d explain that, in replying to reviews, we’re not trying to defend anything but attempting to make members and staff partners in resolving the issue. It can be a gut response to rush to a defensive posture when criticism comes in and we’re trying to avoid that.
But people get hundreds of emails per day, and they didn’t want to read my long explanatory email — they just wanted to know what to do. I was writing for CUInsight at the time and created the acronym for an article I was writing on the topic. Once it was posted, I’d send the article to staff in lieu of the long email which made life easier: “Here’s what the review says. If you would like to learn more about why we respond the way we do, read this article.”
The acronym itself came about by accident. I realized the different points nearly spelled it out — there were a few points I had to finagle — but I made the connection and thought it was fun.
How has the acronym been received internally?
BB: There’s less back and forth between stakeholders. It’s easy to understand, so it saves me time and helps with the initial shock for people who are mentioned negatively in a review.
It’s not all encompassing, since there are things we do that are not written in there, but it is a helpful reminder to our team to remember the basics when a review comes in. That was especially critical in the beginning of this program when every new review was an adventure and you didn’t want to start from scratch. It’s a good step-by-step resource to check off as you go.
Can you give me an example how you’d apply one of these steps?
BB: If someone complains about a fee, for instance, we can invoke motive by reminding the reviewer that we are a not-for-profit financial institution. Logix doesn’t benefit from charging exorbitant fees because profit is returned to the membership in one way or another. By establishing motive, we can have a real conversation with people about why we do certain things. We charge fees because it costs money to offer a service. It’s not funding someone’s yacht.
Invoking this motive in particular has been helpful in our responses. People finding us on Yelp often don’t know our brand or even what a credit union is. By communicating that we are a not-for-profit financial institution in a review response we’re already telling readers one of the most compelling reasons to do business with us. It’s an organic way of showing the credit union difference.
Can you identify any other best practices or lessons learned from responding to reviews?
BB: It’s free and it’s working for you all the time, even when you’re not open. We don’t apply any of our marketing budget to this, and it drives real business to the credit union. There are brands that do pay to occupy the first few search results on Yelp or Google, and if you do search Yelp for financial institutions in any Logix market area you’ll see banks that have paid for the top spots. For us, this means a competitor is paying money to have their reviews directly above our higher rating. So, overall it has been beneficial for us. It is free and all we have to do is continue providing excellent service to get that advertising.