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Online reviews shape buyer decisions

An effective strategy for responding to online reviews is vital for business and can help companies enhance their reputation and improve operations.

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Consumers are increasingly using online reviews as their primary source of recommendations for goods and services. Engaging effectively with online reviews is an important way for companies to improve relationships and customer loyalty with existing customers and to attract new business. The data and insights gained from reviews can also be used to improve operations internally.  

“Most businesses will have a good experience by opening themselves up to reviews on social media – around 80 percent of reviews are positive,” says Ashleigh Wainstein, director of Social Places.

She says that, realistically, there’s nowhere for businesses to hide online and managing and responding to reviews on social media, even if they are negative, has a positive outcome.

“Reviews are important for brands because they create credibility in the mind of consumers – 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation,” she says. “People looking for recommendations online typically won’t approach a business with fewer than four out of five stars – they’ll simply look elsewhere.

“Generally, consumers will search online for a business near them and these proximity stats have shot up 500 percent in the last two years. When those listings are displayed on search results, the one with the highest review score will get the click to call or navigate to the location.

“Businesses accept the need for reviews and understand that they should embrace them. Not having a review strategy is the equivalent of consumers calling a customer care line and having no-one answer the phone. Companies that don’t monitor reviews lose the chance to win back negative customers as well as get feedback from those who are happy.

“They also lose out on valuable business insights.  Step one is to acknowledge the customers’ complaints or compliments by taking note of feedback from reviews. Instead of using mystery shoppers, for example; decision-makers can use review data from thousands of people to identify what is working in their business –  and what isn’t. It helps them gauge how the company is performing.”

However, the numbers that large companies and brands have to deal with are substantial. In one month alone, some fast food brands in South Africa can receive up to 30 000 reviews.

“From the data we collect we can categorise review sentiment into primary and secondary, positive and negative,” says Wainstein. “We can tell a restaurant, for example, that its customers are making positive mentions about its food and that they are specifically speaking about menu variety and burgers are its most popular menu item.  We can also identify whether customers are most unhappy about service and waiting times.

“For retail chains, we can provide similar information at both a brand level and store level.  We can tell which stores got the worst reviews, what the issues were, and how many pieces of customer feedback they received. The company can then arrange for better training based on these categories, and track improvements over time.”

Wainstein says brands like Spur answer 100 percent of their reviews, as do RocoMamas, Panarottis and John Dory’s. Ocean Basket is also very proactive in answering all customer feedback – from customer reviews on social media to feedback from their website.  

“When dealing with reviews it is key that a response sounds like it’s personal and that the customer feels that they have been heard. We have dynamic response templates based on the sentiment categories of the review which we use as the basis but we then add a personal touch on top of it. Even though we’re starting to use higher levels of artificial intelligence to process and respond to consumers, there’s always a human, personal touch on top – responses go through a check process before they are published.

“Responses to good reviews should include strategic keywords that boost search rankings. With bad reviews it’s important to provide balanced responses that have strong calls to action, taking the conversation offline. All industries – from restaurants and retail to financial services and telecommunications are showing growth in online consumer interaction, so the effective monitoring and management of online reviews is crucial.”

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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