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Navigating the negative: UK firms struggling to manage customer feedback as online interactions soar

Brands who value, engage and act upon customer feedback after proactively requesting the opinions of their customers are gaining a significant advantage over their competitors.

Many people in Britain feel firms are less likely to acknowledge and apologise online for negative experiences, compared to a year ago.

That’s according to new data from Feefo, the insights and reviews platform, which surveyed 2,000 British consumers.

Increase in online interactions means reviews are more vital than ever

Feefo found that the influence of online reviews continues to grow, with 97% of all adults saying they now read them before buying, and almost a third (32%) saying they had actively shared negative feedback online after using a service or purchasing a product.

As customer interactions have shifted online across the pandemic, this appears to have put pressure on businesses to respond effectively: on average, consumers expect a response within two days and 43% of Brits feel companies have got worse at dealing with negative feedback over the past 12 months.


Negative reviews: a golden opportunity for brands 

As businesses grapple with soaring levels of online interactions, it may be tempting for some businesses to ignore or hide negative feedback, but the research reveals that these reviews represent a huge opportunity for companies.

When people encounter a product or service with few or no negative online reviews, 32% delay their purchase, and a further 22% say they’re suspicious about whether they can trust any of the reviews.

In fact, more than a quarter (26%) of people say they actively seek out negative reviews first and 69% of all consumers say they continue their purchase if the review has been acknowledged and responded to effectively.

Turning detractors into advocates

The power of an effective response is underscored by the fact that nearly half (44%) of those happy with how a brand had responded to their negative review say they went on to use the business again; 40% recommended the brand on social media; and a quarter raved about it to friends and family.

In contrast, 58% of those unhappy with a response to their review refused to buy from the firm again, or criticised the brand publicly on social media (26%) or even across the wider news media (15%).

Transparency and authenticity hold the key for future growth

Conscious consumerism is on the rise and businesses are now under increased pressure to be transparent and authentic with their customers, especially when dealing with problems.

More than four fifths (82%) of those asked expect businesses to offer a transparent explanation when issues arise. Significantly, over a third (35%) reported that they’d become advocates for brands who they felt were open with them about why a problem came about.

The fuel for transparency sits hand in hand with the need for authenticity. Whilst customers appreciate transparency and recognise that an issue can be out of a company’s control, over a third (36%) are left disappointed if a brand does not apologise.

Feefo’s CEO and chairman, Tony Wheble said “The pandemic has seen millions of businesses shift to a digital-first model of customer interaction. This has been transformative for many, but it’s clear some have struggled to cope with the volume of feedback they’re getting. Customers spend their time leaving valuable feedback; having a clear strategy for managing reviews and responding to criticism is critical and can help make your business become even stronger so you can stand out from your competitors. ‘Don’t ignore, engage’, would be the mantra I would follow.”

Dr and Psychologist Wendy Dignan says, “Fake, overly-positive or suspiciously gushing reviews are getting a lot of attention in the media and it’s fascinating that people are now actively seeking out negative reviews for reassurance. People know that firms can’t get it right every time: what they’re looking for is evidence that any issues are dealt with effectively.”

The Feefo team also analysed which actions from brands left negative reviewers impressed and eager to recommend them, or angry and more likely to shout louder about their experience:


Actions creating advocates:

  • 50% said the brand had provided a solution
  • 47% said speed of response was critical
  • 41% said a monetary solution / compensation
  • 41% said a clear explanation of how the issue arose
  • 29% said the brand publicly replied with an apology
  • 26% said the brand sent a private apology
  • 24% said it was the brand’s commitment to making a long-term change to address issue

Actions creating detractors:

  • 31% said a brand didn’t provide a resolution
  • 24% said they received no response at all
  • 20% unimpressed with the brand’s explanation
  • 17% said a brand didn’t provide an apology
  • 15% said it took too long for a brand to reply to them
  • 14% said the brand didn’t offer a monetary solution
  • 13% felt the brand came across as too aggressive
  • 12% said the response wasn’t persona