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Managing the Conversation: Shaping Valence and Online Engagement by Decreasing Customer Effort
Authors: Jonathan M Beck (Michigan State University, USA), Clay M Voorhees (University of Alabama), Paul W Fombelle (Northeastern University), Katherine N Lemon (Boston College), Ryan Teal (Evolve Fitness)
Digital word of mouth has taken over the online decision making process as 97% of consumers read reviews, 88% trust reviews as much as they would trust a friend, and services with excellent reviews experience 31% greater sales. Given the substantive impact of online reviews, many researchers have examined the value of reviews, but most studies treat reviews as a by-product of great service and leave managers to assume they are helpless and cannot proactively participate in generating this content.
However, some firms are testing new strategies for generating digital reviews in an effort to cash in on their benefits. For instance, the ride sharing app Lyft offers suggested comments when customers review a driver post-ride: “friendly driver,” “clean car,” “great conversation.” Following a purchase on newegg.com, a suggested tweet will be pre-generated for the customer: “I just bought: Dell Inspiron 11 via @newegg.” Customers can share their thoughts with one click, and this marketing tactic removes substantial cognitive effort on the customer’s part following a purchase. While this strategy is becoming prevalent online, no research has examined the effectiveness of suggested comments, nor has research determined if there are outcomes on customer perceptions and behavior following a suggestion from the firm. Our research answers two questions: First, will customers be more likely to share positive comments suggested by the firm (thereby reducing customer effort), and second, what are the perceptions of this marketing strategy by the customers? Specific to this research, we seek to assess the effectiveness of service firms suggesting positive comments to their customers following a service encounter, and what the consequences may be for firms attempting to put words in their customers’ mouths.
Across two separate field studies, including a gym with over 2,000 active members and an upcoming restaurant opening, as well as a series of controlled lab experiments, the authors demonstrate that suggesting positive comments to customers lowers cognitive effort and leads to increased online engagement—with no observable downside risk. Field results show that suggested positive WOM results in a 3X increase in posting frequency relative to when no comment is suggested. When examining potential backlash for suggesting only positive comments, results show that there is not a significant increase in desire for revenge or negative WOM intentions for dissatisfied customers, nor is WOM sentiment shared online for dissatisfied customers stronger if a positive comment was suggested to them. Finally, the authors find that consumer desire to self-enhance moderates the perception of suggested comments. This research has incredible implications for marketers, given that a positive tweet has been estimated to be worth $25.62 in revenue. If firms are able to increase positive WOM online even slightly by removing customer effort, revenue should increase substantially.