Should Businesses Review Customers?
Other industries and businesses are experimenting with bilateral reviews as well, with loyalty programs laying much of the groundwork. Loyalty programs provide customers with an incentive to log their activities and purchases to earn rewards points, discounts, and freebies, while letting businesses track customers' behaviors. That can serve as the foundation of a review or rating system.
"It all comes back to personalization," Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research, says. "Loyalty programs are a win-win for customers and businesses because, as customers strive to earn that VIP status, businesses get a look at how those customers behave. That way, businesses can start to pick up on patterns—does a customer call to complain all the time? Do they change their reservations frequently? Do they constantly make returns? By answering these questions, companies can not only prepare front-end employees for interactions with these types of customers, but also develop strategies to better serve them in the future," he explains.
Most likely to first gain traction in the travel, hospitality, and high-end service industries, where frequent flier or VIP programs are well-established, the trend could eventually trickle down to other areas, such as retail. "The challenge here is scalability," Wang says.
Still, with iBeacons and similar tools making it possible for businesses to connect with consumers' mobile devices, reviewing customers even as they browse in a brick-and-mortar location could become a reality.
As companies begin to incorporate bilateral review systems into their business models, they have to determine how transparent they want to be about their process." On one hand, analysts say that by keeping the ratings a secret, companies aren't giving customers an opportunity to change their ways. On the other, reviewers might not be completely honest if they know their feedback could eventually reach the customer, others argue. "Transparency has made a tremendous difference when you think about Yelp," Wang says, "so businesses are going to have to determine a way to be transparent that works for them."
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