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Why this home improvements retailer is unifying how to handle customer feedback

David Buckley, chief marketing officer, Sears Hometown and Outlet StoresDavid Buckley, chief marketing officer, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores
David Buckley, chief marketing officer, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores

David Buckley, CMO of $2 billion home improvements retailer Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores (SHOS) , believes feedback is feedback. It doesn’t matter whether a customer’s comments relate to an experience in a local store or in cyberspace.

Yet many retailers still manage online reviews as an e-commerce function, leaving it up to that team to handle comments left in forums such as Facebook, Google+, and Yelp while surveys about store visits are analyzed elsewhere. A huge disconnect. Sound familiar?

Buckley believes most retailers overlook a golden opportunity to benefit from the power of their customers’ voices, regardless of whether what’s being said is positive or negative. “It’s very simple for people to leave feedback that the entire world can see,” he told me in July. “The consumer has taken controls of brands. … Marketers have irreversibly lost control over branding. We guide it, but the consumer owns it.”

As a point of reference, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores is a $2 billion company with more than 1,200 locations. It’s a separate entity from just plain Sears. Buckley’s team began unifying management for customer commentary, reviews and surveys last spring using software from Yotpo, a New York-based startup backed with $30 million from U.S. and Israeli investors.

Yotpo’s service gives marketers more control over how comments are verified, and how they are used for marketing purposes in places such as Twitter or Facebook or even alongside Google Maps when someone is searching for a store location. Buckley’s main motivation was to standardize the process of who sees feedback, and what someone should do if a customer’s experience is less than ideal. Previously, store managers weren’t always exposed to reviews, he noted.

That alone will be worth the investment, Buckley believes: “The platform itself isn’t going to the be the thing that changes our results, it will be the changes we make based on the information. It will lead to better decisions.”

Yotpo founder and CEO Tomer Tagrin, previously an Intel chip designer, said his company grew more than 400% over the past 12 months along pretty much any metric you can name: revenue, customer sign-ups, content creation, and Internet traffic. It will end the year with about 120 employees on the payroll, although Tagrin anticipates doubling that headcount by the end of 2016.

“We are trying to maximize the power of user-generated content,” he said.

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