Negative reviews from customers are a window into my business

Christopher Ward co-founder Mike France explains why he doesn’t look at negative reviews as something to hide from in today’s digital age.

This month we received, as any business will, a handful of negative reviews. We aren’t ashamed of this or looking to cover this up – all our customer reviews are freely available to view on Trustpilot.

In an age of fake news and paid-for media content, customer reviews, and the likes of Trustpilot, are becoming increasingly relevant as a genuine indicator of quality. There is a growing consumer cynicism around traditional press or online forums, and consumers are rightfully savvy to the fact that journalists are often enticed to write what they do. Ultimately, criticism by journalists today has somewhat less impact than genuine customers.

For brands, customer reviews are an increasingly important marketing tool especially for smaller businesses that are relatively unknown or those that are online-only.

For most SMEs, consumers wouldn’t have directly experienced that brand’s products, and are increasingly undertaking background product research – including into prior customers’ reviews – before considering a purchase. In the watch industry, even for mostly offline brands, recent research shows that 60 per cent of all purchases are made following online research.

The impact of previous reviews on consumer spending is considerable. According to research data, on average, a company with an overall four-star review will generate around nine per cent less overall sales in comparison to a company with a five-star review. Some companies believe negative reviews will do nothing more than very temporarily scratch the surface of their reputation. The reality is that negative reviews have a direct correlation to lower turnover.

We are quietly pleased that we are the highest ranked watch brand on Trustpilot, but things don’t go perfectly to plan 100 per cent of the time. There will always be scope to improve and the importance of acknowledging, and learning from customer reviews, cannot be overstated.

For Christopher Ward, Trustpilot and our score has become a KPI in itself and is something we continually monitor and measure on an ongoing basis. Following any purchase of a Christopher Ward watch, the customer is sent an automated email offering them the opportunity to write a review, which is automatically published on Trustpilot.

I, along with our head of marketing and our head of customer service, personally read every single one of these reviews (I am primarily interested in the occasional one-star and two-star reviews we receive). Every single negative review gets investigated and quickly responded to. Usually, this involves an apology and putting mistakes right.

Perhaps because there is almost an in-built arrogance associated with so-called “luxury”, the premium watch brands have traditionally been poor at customer service. Although a quick response to a disgruntled customer on a public platform such as Trustpilot demonstrates our commitment to keeping our customers happy and onboard, we have to work hard to address real issues – not just pay lip service on review sites.

The truth is that we appreciate what real customers are saying about our service – for better or worse. Yes, we may be publicly hanging the occasional piece of dirty washing. But by collating these reviews, we are better placed to understand where we may be occasionally falling short and what areas across the business may need repointing.

None of this is to say reviews of your products or business in the media should be ignored or taken with a pinch of salt. But negative reviews from customers can be much more damaging than a review in a newspaper or magazine. Any business today should be seeing a Trustpilot score and customer reviews as an indicator of performance, just as each would with footfall conversion rates or turnover.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Mike France

One of the leading retailers of his generation, Mike France operated from his early thirties at board level for several blue-chip companies (BHS, Sears, Debenhams) before becoming CEO/co-owner of the world renowned educational toy brand, Early Learning Centre together with his business partner, Peter Ellis. The pair sold the business in April 2004 and within weeks came up with the idea of launching the world’s first pure-play online luxury watch brand. He is also on the advisory board at Kurt Salmon Consulting and has previously held various non-executive roles as varied as Premier League football clubs (West Ham United) and in several private equity ventures.

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