There's an art to giving and receiving comments that few take time to learn. An article published in the most recent edition of Harvard Business Review could have easily been titled "The Art of Giving and Receiving Online Comments," but the authors or editor chose to title it "The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice." One thing is certain: when the exchange goes well, both sides benefit. The person commenting provides an opinion, and the receiver gets valuable feedback. As the headline suggests, there's an art to giving and receiving. Flawed logic, limited information, background and culture can sway a comment one way or another.
Comments are a gift. They provide an inside glimpse into a person's thought process, acceptance and anger. Those open to guidance, and not just looking for validation, develop better solutions to problems than they would on their own, per the authors. While Harvard Professors David Garvin and Josh Margolis discuss the art of advice, the alternative perspective in comments provides a very important point of view not only for authors, but for brands and retailers, too.
The authors provide guidelines for each stage of advising that could very easily apply to online commenting, from thinking you already have the answer to defining the problem poorly because you read the article or misjudged the product. Discounting opinions in comments without offering a viable solution presents lost opportunities to educate readers. Since our experiences define us, sometimes people fail to interpret or treat responses as valuable input in an ongoing conversation where both parties learn to improve a situation. Instead they criticize. They criticize. And they criticize without offering positive feedback or alternative solutions. It happens all across the Web.
It's important to develop a shared understanding and not offer self-centered guidance. Provide enough information for readers seeking knowledge to grasp the issue. Consider all the options.
Sometimes it takes technology to monitor comments and recommendations. At the MediaPost Search Insider Summit earlier this month, Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores CMO David Buckley told attendees the company uses a platform from Yext that captures comments verbatim and star ratings identifying specific stores when the review occurred. The information helps the retailer learn from its customers. Nordstrom, now willing to pay for reviews, asks its customers to write a comment for a chance to win a gift card.
Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores follows a protocol to deal with constructive feedback. If the customer had a subpar experience with the retailer, "we'll move mountains to fix it," Buckley said. Rather than funneling off the issues to a customer service desk, the comments go directly to the retailer's management team that is responsible for the specific store and who have the ability to solve issues. "We wanted to follow the exact same approach for online reviews," he said, explaining how the reviews and comments become part of the company's culture, rather than a "social media thing that lives in its own silo."
The reviews are communicated, measured and tracked for resolution the same way the company responds to survey feedback, quickly and efficiently. It meant training the staff and adding in-depth response guides that address the technical nuances of different platforms the company monitors. There are technical differences between the channels for contacting a customer on sites like City Search, Yelp or Facebook, he said.
Look for the positive. As the New Year rolls in, perhaps we can all do a better job at offering comments and advice.