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 Better Business Bureau now letter-grading companies

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Now, in order to make the grade with the BBB companies must live up to a new ratings system that ranks their standing in the Bureau with letter grades.

 This move, close on the heels of the growing trend toward online consumer reviews and customer complaints, appears to be the BBB’s effort at bringing their system up to date with the type of feedback consumers are interested in. The old system (based on a simple ’satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ rating) is slated to be replaced with letter ‘grades’ ranging from A+ to F. The formula used to determine a company’s overall grade is comprised of 16 weighted factors, including a business’s overall complaint history.

The new Better Business Bureau ratings system was tested in Los Angeles in 2008 and has already been implemented in some parts of the U.S.

 ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE WINS MAJOR SUIT AGAINST DELL

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

http://www.oag.state.ny.us/press/2008/may/may27a_08.html
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Court Rules that Dell Engaged in Fraud, False Advertising, and Deceptive Business Practices
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Companies to Pay Restitution and Forfeit Unlawfully Earned Profits

According to the decision, Dell deprived consumers of the technical support to which they were entitled under their warranty or service contract by:

• Repeatedly failing to provide timely onsite repair to consumers who purchased service contracts promising “onsite” and expedited service;

• Pressuring consumers, including those who purchased service contracts promising “onsite” repair, to remove the external cover of their computer and remove, reinstall, and manipulate hardware components;

• Discouraging consumers from seeking technical support; those who called Dell’s toll free number were subjected to long wait times, repeated transfers, and frequent disconnections; and

• Failing to provide rebates that were promised to consumers.

(FULL TEXT AT LINK ABOVE)

 Survey: Web Generates Consumer Feedback

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Read te entire article at http://www.adweek.com/aw/content_display/news/digital/e3if57cb0c541e56ebf990efc9c9949c2af

April 24, 2008

-By Eric Newman, Brandweek

NEW YORK Forget focus groups. Consumers are giving it straight to brands, and each other, via online social media in big numbers, according to a recent study by the Society for New Communications Research, Palo Alto, Calif.

“Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media” surveyed more than 300 active Internet users during February and March.

The study found that 74 percent of respondents choose companies or brands based on customer service experiences shared by other Web users on the Internet. Eighty-one percent of those polled said they believe blogs, online rating systems and discussion forums give consumers “a greater voice” in customer service. However, only 33 percent of respondents felt that companies take customers’ opinions seriously.

“This study indicates that there is a growing group of highly desirable consumers using social media to research companies,” said Ganim Nora Barnes, a senior fellow at SNCR, in a statement. This demo includes adults 25-55 with a college education, making over $100,000 a year. “These most savvy and sought-after consumers will not support companies with poor customer care reputations, and they will talk about all of this openly with others via multiple online vehicles. This research should serve as a wake-up call to companies: listen, respond, and improve.”

The study also found what marketers might find somewhat counterintuitive. While search engines were deemed the most valuable online tools for researching customer experience with a given brand, 39 percent of respondents rated blogging services like Twitter and Pownce as being of “no value” to such research. Similarly, 27 percent found YouTube useless, and 22 percent said the same of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Of those industries judged to be doing the best job in using social media to respond to customer service issues, technology, retail and travel companies took top honors. Dell and Amazon were noted most often as those companies doing the best job handling customer care problems via social media.

Utilities, healthcare and insurance firms fared the worst.

 Leveraging The Internet In The Recession

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008


Marc E. Babej and Tim Pollak

This will be the first recession in which the Internet will play a central role for the American consumer–and for marketers.

Of course, the Internet was around during the shallow recession of 2001, and almost 50% of Americans were using it. But it was not yet embedded in our way of life, largely because broadband penetration was, at the time, only about 20%. Today, more than 70% of the population is online, with more than 80% of these Internet users having high-speed access.

The Internet has empowered consumers as never before, providing previously unknown and unimagined opportunities to make informed decisions with detailed information, product ratings, expert and user-generated reviews and price comparisons on anything from computers to coffee beans to cat food.

In good times, when consumers feel cash-rich and time-poor, they can afford to be less diligent about their spending. But as economic pressures mount, sentiment changes. People feel cash-poor and are more willing to invest time and effort in getting the best deal.

What sets the current recession apart is that, for the first time, consumers have a tool that empowers them to subject everyday buying decisions to the kind of scrutiny formerly reserved for big-ticket items and large business-to-business transactions.

Marketers should anticipate this shift. They will not be able to rely on ads to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes–or on imagery to wow them.

Maybe even more important, it won’t be as easy for companies to control the expense line to make up for the loss of top-line revenues. In past downturns, cutting corners on quality has been a virtually foolproof way to cut costs and boost margins, at least in the short-run.

Not this time. Not when consumers can set the bar higher and easily find what they want at the lowest possible price. Not when any degradation of product quality or crummy service experience is subject to being instantly “outed” by the bloggers and reviewers on the myriad user-generated consumer review sites.

“Caveat emptor” now has a companion: “seller beware.” Even the slightest marketing chicanery is liable to be instantly pilloried on a global network, especially when consumers are fearful and on edge.

A confluence of factors has increased the likelihood of more consumers turning to the Internet to manage their way through their personal household recessions.

Let’s start with the price of gas. Shopping online is just less expensive than driving to a store. Depending on how and where you shop, you can find tax savings and shipping deals online.

And the downturn is dovetailing with a plethora of new, category-specific consumer review sites. Joining broad-based veterans like Epinions, BizRate and CNET are narrowly-focused comparison shopping sites specializing in coffee, beauty products or pet supplies.

There’s also been an explosion of online retailers: from Amazon and its brethren, to the online divisions of bricks-and-mortar retailers, to the many niche stores that exist only online. And then there are the Internet’s versions of “mom and pops,” “stores” that do business within the cozy confines of eBay (nasdaq: EBAY news people ) or Craigslist. It all adds up to a bonanza of choices for cash-strapped consumers–and a new set of challenges for those who sell to them.

Virtually anyone selling anything should be online, with as much sophistication as they can afford or muster. And they should follow two cardinal rules:

–Maintain quality and don’t over-promise. When anyone who uses your product or service can readily find an audience to whom to complain, the road from credibility to ruin is very short.

–Keep a close eye on pricing. The online dynamic is totally different than having customers in your store, where they might be willing to pay a premium because they’re there. Facing a page of pricing options online, shoppers can go to another “store” in a matter of seconds.

Online shopping–and the use of price-comparison engines and consumer-generated reviews to make buying decisions–has been growing steadily throughout the decade. The recession is going to supercharge that growth as current users find new categories in which to shop online and as millions of others jump in to manage their shrinking budgets.

As shoppers become increasingly comfortable with the process during this downturn, it is likely that the combination of convenience and easy-access to comparative information could cause enduring changes in consumer behavior.

Marc E. Babej and Tim Pollak are partners at Reason Inc., a marketing-strategy consulting firm that works with clients in a range of categories, including media and entertainment, financial and professional services, packaged goods and the public sector.

 How to get to a real person when trying to reach a company

Friday, January 4th, 2008

We have all tried calling companies to complain or ask questions only to be put into endless electronic prompts or messages that lead nowhere as we get more and more frustrated.

All we want is to speak to someone and then the issue would eaily and quickly be resolved.

But how do you get a real person on the phone.

Here are the best ways to do it:

- Do not answer the prompts.  Simply wait for a person to get on the line.  Many times these electronic systems do not know what to do when no one presses any keys and then they transfer you to a person.

- Simply keep pressing the number zero while at the same time saying Customer Service over and over again.  This will often transfer you to a person.

If neither of these works then keep along with the electronic system looking for an opportunity to connect to a real person.

Once you get a real person, right away ask them their name and extension and give them your number in case you get disconnected.  This creates a dialog and makes it more accountable forcing the rep to pay attention and be professional.  They do not want to get into trouble.

One other thing you can do with companies that really try to give you the runaround and avoid putting on a real customer service person is to write a review about them on www.Measuredup.com  It is free and easy to do.

When you do this you are telling other Measuredup users and consumers about the issue and your review is indexed on Measuredup and on search engines where other people will find them when searching for a company.  Doing this forces companies to pay more attention to you, revise their customer service and do a better job of interaction with consumers. Measuredup is a great way to complain or praise a company and their customer service in a public forum where others can read about the issue and make their own comments.

 Sales ‘Driven by Reviews’

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

 

Sales ‘driven by reviews’

14 December 2007

 


Consumer reviews are driving web sales, according to new research.

A report from eMarketer claims that word-of-mouth advertising – always an important tool for marketers – is especially influential now the internet has made view-sharing so easy.

Social networking websites, blogs and videos mean that user-generated content is proliferating on the web, with recommendations from other consumers increasingly forming the basis of purchase decisions.

Research from eMarketer found that 17 per cent of adults use social networking websites in order to participate with their favourite brands – although most do so to gain a sense of community.

The Wispa campaign is said in the report to be one example of the influence that can be exerted by consumer-generated campaigns.

“From brands’ point of view, consumer word-of-mouth is extremely valuable,” the report states.

It emerged this week that Facebook is opening its development architecture to third-party developers, with Bebo the first rival website to take advantage of the new offering.

 Store Sites Gain In Customer Respect Index

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007
BRICK-AND-MORTAR RETAILERS–ONCE THE LAGGARDS IN online sales–are winning more and more respect from consumers, according to the latest ranking of the Customer Respect Group, an Ipswich, Mass.-based company that evaluates Web site performance. While Overstock.com came in with the highest score–a 7.4 out of 10 ranking–Lowe’s came in second, Kmart No. 4, and Sears No. 5, and retailers dominated the Top 25. “That’s something we wouldn’t have seen even two years ago,” says Terry Golesworthy, president of Customer Respect Group. “These companies were often at the bottom of the list.”

Overall, the index hit 6.1 on a 10-point scale, a slight improvement from 2006. The biggest change in the last year, he says, is that more and more Web sites are using real-time customer service tools such as pop-up windows and click-to-call features, “which lets sites help customers with what they’re doing right now.” Previously, many of the large Web sites offered consumers only a chance to e-mail questions–”a process that usually takes 24 hours and often results in an abandoned shopping cart,” he says.

“And features like ’store pick-up’ are great because they remove one more level of discomfort–now a consumer can be confident that a Web purchase will be here in time for Christmas because he can pick it up himself,” he says. “That’s another way to respect the customer, to say: ‘We’re tying to find as many ways as possible to make you comfortable shopping at this site’.”

But there is still a glaring gap between the way consumers experience a brand online and in-store, and consumers continue to be distrustful of the differences they see in price, benefits and services.

“On Black Friday, we saw a lot of frustrated consumers, because there were in-store deals that were better than what they could find online. And the same was true on Cyber Monday–consumers read about great prices on the Web, but then couldn’t find them in stores. And as more consumers do online research before shopping, the more of a problem that disconnect becomes,” he says.

Another shift, he says, is that while retailers tend to invest the most in making Web sites easier for consumers to use, banking and insurance companies are also making progress–but still have a way to go to win customer trust. “There is a big gap between people who will research a mortgage or insurance rates on the Web, and then actually buy it. Because these sites have found that so many customers will research rates and then disappear, they’ve become more innovative in adding click-to-call pop-ups to their sites, as well,” he says.

Finally, he says the most trusted sites are those that are going out of their way to reassure people’s privacy concerns. “Right now, people are very concerned about identity theft, and they don’t want to get tons of junk e-mails from other companies,” Golesworthy says. “The sites that are doing well in this index are those that are making a big point of explaining to customers that their privacy will be respected, and that their data won’t be sold to other companies.”

Sarah Mahoney can be reached at sarah@mediapost.com

 Measuredup.com challenges companies to take the customer service “Pledge” this holiday shopping season

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Leading website for customer service reviews invites business to demonstrate commitment to consumers and put up or shut up

New York, NY, December 4, 2007 – www.Measuredup.com a leading online customer service review site today announced the launch of “The Pledge Challenge” for companies that want to differentiate themselves this competitive and budget constrained Holiday season. The “Pledge” allows participating companies to demonstrate to online cyber shoppers and offline consumers that they care about Customer Service and satisfaction as much as the bottom line.

The Measuredup “Pledge” is a free downloadable customer service statement and logo that companies can download for free from the Measuredup.com website and post on their own websites so that consumers know that management, the company and brand are committed to trying to meet the consumers customer service needs.

The Measuredup.com site founded by Marc Karasu is designed to address the customer service void growing in the wake of technology’s fast pace forward. The rise in Internet shopping, automated voice systems, outsourced—and off shored—customer service departments and other technology-driven trends have served mainly to distance customers from companies rather than bring them closer together. And while the Internet has helped customers become more informed in their purchasing decisions, it hasn’t given consumers an avenue for holding businesses accountable for their customer service.

Measuredup.com addresses and resolves this void in a way that is both fun and empowering to consumers and valuable to companies who can use this information to improve and to create a conversation with consumers.

Through the Measuredup.com site, users can rate businesses or services on a 5-point scale in many categories from the expected to the unusual.

Measuredup gives new meaning to the phrase “The Customer is always right.”

About Measuredup.com

Measuredup.com is a leading Customer Service review networking site where consumers rate and review their customer service and brand experiences in a public forum. The site’s founder, frustrated by an increase in incompetent, rude and outright abusive treatment by businesses both large and small, sought to develop a platform where consumers could share their experiences, vent or praise as appropriate and, ultimately, effect change.

For interviews, quotes or discussion please call the founder and President of Measuredup.com, Marc Karasu. Contact info available here and on the site at www.Measuredup.com

 Spread the News: Word of Mouth Worth $1 Billion

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Arguably World’s Oldest Form of Marketing Is on the Rise as Advertisers Pour More Into Discipline

Published: November 15, 2007

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — What’s consumer word-of-mouth advocacy worth to marketers? Try $1 billion.

That’s how much marketers spent on WOM — as it’s known to its practitioners — in 2006, according to an independent research report on the field that will be unveiled during a session at the annual Word-of-Mouth conference in Las Vegas today. The analysis, believed to be first in-depth look at word of mouth, reports that spending on the emerging discipline has increased from $76 million in 2001 to $981 million in 2006 and is expected to grow to approximately $3.7 billion by 2011.

“It’s starting to be recognized as an established industry,” said Leo Kivijarv, Ph.D., VP-research of PQ Media, which performed the analysis.

Meteoric rise
It’s been a meteoric rise of late for word-of-mouth marketing, defined by PQ Media as “supported by research and technology that encourages consumers to dialogue about products and services.” Still, the discipline accounted for just 0.4% of the share in the $254 billion marketing-services category, a grouping that includes direct marketing, branded entertainment and public relations, among others. If PQ Media’s analysis is correct, however, word-of-mouth marketing won’t stay small for long: The field grew 35.9% in 2006, far more than both the overall marketing-services category (7.7%) and the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (5.7%).

Though perhaps the world’s oldest form of transferring messages, word-of-mouth marketing began in earnest in the late 1990s, when brand marketers began grappling with the fragmented media and were actively seeking ways to break through the cluttered landscape. But it has taken off of late due to the industry’s focus on proving it provides a measurable return-on-investment for marketers.

“The new media industry axiom, ‘Only what gets measured gets bought,’ has led to a discernible shift in media spending from traditional to alternative advertising and marketing strategies,” Patrick Quinn, CEO of PQ Media, said in a statement. “The word-of-mouth marketing industry is capitalizing on this trend through its ability to provide ROI to brand marketers in a highly cost-effective platform.”

Research points to effectiveness
Equally important to the success of word-of-mouth marketing may be the research suggesting it is more effective than other forms of advertising. For instance, a recent Nielsen Global Survey of over 26,000 people found that nearly 78% of respondents trusted “recommendations from consumers,” a total 15% higher than the second-most credible source, newspapers. And this trust, according to Mr. Kivijarv, leads to more sales at the cash register.

“When you compare word-of-mouth as a strategy [to other methods], trusting a friend or influential person is the most determining factor when someone decides to purchase a product,” he said.

 Shoppers Want More Customer Reviews

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

November 12, 2007
By Joan Voight

 

SAN FRANCISCO Consumers are turning to customer reviews on marketers’ Web sites regularly as they narrow their purchase choices, and they want to see those reviews for a wider range of products, particularly toys and specialty foods.

Those are among the findings of the 2007 “Social Shopping Study” of online consumers conducted in September, after a summer of toy recalls and food safety problems, and released today.

“When parents and others have concerns about the quality of the products they are buying, they are more likely to pay attention to recommendations by other shoppers like themselves,” said Jay Shaffer, vp, marketing at PowerReviews, the customer reviews agency that conducted the study in partnership with E-Tail Group. He said in many cases the content of customers’ reviews has focused more strongly on safety ratings and health issues in recent months.

The online “Social Shopping Study” found two-thirds of regular e-shoppers almost always seek out customer reviews before making a purchase decision. Most of that group of “social researchers,” as the report calls them, research products online no matter where they buy the product—whether a store, Web site, catalog or elsewhere.

In a wake-up call to brick-and-mortar stores gearing up for the holiday season, the survey also shows that 82 percent of the social researchers said they found reading reviews better than researching a product with a knowledgeable sales associate in a store.

Customer reviews on the e-commerce sites of national brands began gathering steam in mid-2007 as more brands overcame their fear of giving consumers a platform for negative comments about their products. This strategy is primarily used by electronics companies, such as Toshiba, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, and specialty clothing companies, such as Fair Indigo and Eastern Mountain Sports.

Since then, various studies, including the “Social Commerce Report” conducted by Bazaarvoice and E-consultancy in June and July, have shown that online customer product reviews increased e-commerce orders and site traffic. As a result, brands such as Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and REI have hopped on the customer review bandwagon.

The “Social Shopping Study” takes those surveys a step further by outlining which specific categories customers want to see feature more customer ratings and reviews. Almost 70 percent of the survey respondents said they would find reviews very helpful on sites selling toys and videogames, and about 55 percent said they wanted reviews on sporting goods, gifts and specialty foods sites.

The survey polled 1,200 consumers who shop online at least four times per year and spend $500 or more annually on their online purchases.

Among the specialty food and beverage brands ahead of the curve is Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which launched a review system on its e-commerce site in August 2006 and has gotten about 1,000 reviews, according to Ken Crites, director of the company’s consumer-direct division. “We find the marketing content and feedback way more valuable than the quantity of reviews. We are using some of the quotes in our print catalogs and asking some reviewers to send us pictures of themselves with the product,” he said.

“When we review what new products to launch or how to improve certain products, we look at the online reviews every time,” Crites said.

As part of its customer review form, Green Mountain asks reviewers to click on the term that describes them: “chef,” “foodie,” “frequent diner” or “simple tastes.” It also allows them to write in their own description. In a sign of shifting customer values, so many reviewers described themselves as “health conscious” in the last year that the site has added that description to the list, said Shaffer, whose agency worked on the site.

Some companies are turning one-way user feedback into a two-way dialogue by publicly responding to reviews. Eastern Mountain Sports often posts a response to complaints by reviewers right next to the negative review. “Not only can a reply to a user review improve that customer’s experience, but others will see this genuine dialogue and be more likely to stick around,” said CMO Scott Barrett. In some cases the negative reviewers are also sent another product to replace the undesirable one, he added.

In other survey findings, many people said they shop seamlessly back and forth between physical stores and Web sites, and they do not examine customer reviews until midway through the shopping process. Most of the respondents said they start their shopping process at retail stores and then seek out online reviews as they near their final choices, looking at the reviews of only a handful of possible purchases. Specifically, 81 percent use customer reviews to decide between two or three products or to confirm that their final selection is the right one and only 40 percent actually start the shopping process using reviews, according to the study.

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