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For many years, customer reviews have been viewed by brands and business owners as a liability, an uncontrollable medium in which not only customers but competitors and fraudsters could bad-mouth them online. In such a scenario, Hall founded his firm, Grade.us to automate organizations’ efforts to acquire, monitor, and amplify genuine customer reviews, reimagining the medium as an untapped asset for businesses. As customer reviews are becoming an integral part of purchase decisions, even local, small, and niche businesses are looking for ways to channelize customer reviews in a manner that helps satisfy potential customers, and thereby grow their businesses.
“We are fighting the good fight on behalf of brands, large and small, who feel powerless and whipsawed by the voice of the customer. We help them harness that power to improve and market their businesses and leverage a single command center to manage online customer reviews for all of their locations and products, and across all of the major, minor, and industry-specific websites and apps that matter,” says Hall.
Hall already founded and sold a company called Healthkick in 2013, and refers to himself as “a certified hack.” He is now hacking on behalf of businesses in areas that are relatively unknown. According to him, the concepts of brand visibility in the online space have evolved. There is an entire world of visibility that exists for a brand beyond searches. The small golden stars on Yelp, Trip Advisor or Zillow have an unexpectedly high influence on customer trust in what is now termed as ‘social proof’. Grade.us helps businesses become ‘visible’ by bringing in more people to review them and thereby create adequate influence to drive sales. It also keeps businesses aware of customer opinions and helps take preventive action before random negative reviews about them go viral, in a world where word travels fast and wide.
“Advertising, traditional word of mouth, referrals, and even social media simply don’t pack the punch of online reviews. They have a limited audience and not necessarily at the time when that audience is receptive, and hence are forgotten or buried quickly,” says Hall.
We are fighting the good fight on behalf of brands, large and small, who feel powerless and whipsawed by the voice of the customer
Grade.us provides a dashboard for brands to manage multi-channel review campaigns to acquire, monitor and amplify great customer reviews. Core to their service is the “review funnel” with a clean and easy layout to guide customers through completing reviews where they’re needed. The platform facilitates getting customers into the funnel at scale with “top-of-the-funnel” tools like automated e-mail, SMS, MMS, and print “invites”, as well as widgets for web and email. Their “bottom-of-the-funnel” tools then take over, monitoring over 100 minor and major industry-specific review sites and track review data across thousands of brand locations and “amplifying” the best reviews, helping the organization get more mileage out of every review. One way of “amplifying” reviews is automatic streaming of this compelling user-generated content to a business’s web properties and social media profiles via custom criteria and workflows.
These services also help businesses tackle negative reviews for an offline service recovery before unhappy customers exercise the much feared ‘nuclear option’ to leave a scathing review. Its configurable workflows route interactions to the appropriate team or individuals within an organization or outside the organization for evaluation and response. This includes tagging, statusing, and annotating the event. Further, the dashboard views and custom reporting options allow executives to see high-level performance stats or drill down into particular tags, locations or interactions to have thorough visibility into trends and outcomes of customers’ opinions on brands.
To attain large-scale visibility into the reviews of brands, the company integrates with hundreds of major and minor industry-specific review sites for review acquisition and monitoring. Apart from major sites like Google, Facebook, and Amazon which form the core of reputational footprint of a brand, the company also integrates reviews on industry-specific sites such as Zillow for real estate. These sites are deemed important because they help brands reach highly-qualified, high-intent customers who are researching a purchase. They also help businesses manage presence across small sites and local sites from Yellow Pages to Better Business Bureau to account for the fact that all reviews online are searchable.
Apart from reach, the New Jersey-based company helps brands proactively manage customer expectations in a rapidly evolving market of customer reviews. The outlets through which customers discover, learn, and form expectations about products, services, and brands are proliferating with new niche and local review sites cropping up frequently. Customer reviews have also become a high-stakes digital currency, which responds only to ‘soft control’. Voice of the Customer (VoC) is now heard loud and clear and has changed the way brands are perceived. However, the internal feedback systems of many companies ignore what’s happening “in the wild” and thus, Grade.us provides the desired support to these companies and helps beneficially manage good and bad reviews where they have the most impact.
Grade.us works with a large number of agencies and brands to offer extensive flexibility to satisfy complicated needs of enterprises. The company’s offerings aid private-labeling, fine-grained user permissions, and oversight with an extensive and ever-growing API. The company also brings in enterprise features such as single sign-on and bulk account provisioning and setup for both aggregate and location-specific analytics reporting.
In addition to aiding marketing, branding, and sales, Grade.us also provides large enterprises with a bigger picture of their services and products allowing them to discover the aspect of their own business, with the help of customers. Large and geographically diverse businesses with franchise systems find it tough to understand the customers’ needs. A large flooring retailer which operates as a co-operative with hundreds of member locations across North America faced a similar problem. The company had been using an internal review solution which gave them central control on customer feedback. The solution was hard to implement and provided no visibility of review activity outside their closed loop. The retailer wanted Grade.us to help them get their arms around the full breadth of online customer feedback across locations and sites.
"We are perhaps the only review management solution to do the laborious, research-intensive, and messy work of wrangling the sprawling reviews ecosystem into a single, addressable marketing channel"
Grade.us created a location dashboard for the retailer’s members, and integrated customer reviews into their existing intranet system via a single sign-on. It also incentivized members to participate in the review process and allowed the headquarters generate aggregate and regional reports, surface high and low performers, and evaluate trends. A year later, review volume went up by up to 84 percent and overall ratings too witnessed a boost. More importantly, the retailer was able to identify centers of excellence amongst locations and take up requisite marketing efforts.In spite of its proven capabilities to aid marketing, Grade. us believes that the industry is in its infancy. Businesses are still on their way to discover the power of reviews and yet to recognize their strategic importance. They also foresee market disruption in the way reviews are captured and disseminated and intend to continue guiding businesses and brands in getting the maximum value out of VoC, fight fraud in the processes, and improve the trustworthiness of the medium.
The company intends to launch more products to replace previous-generation Enterprise Feedback Management systems, by combining them with reputation marketing engines. “We expect to announce more campaign and conversion-optimization tools, publisher partnerships, and new intelligence-gathering and reporting tools,” concludes Hall.