Monday, 19 December 2016

The Great Divide - between reviews of products and reviews of services

There is a yawning chasm in the world of reviews - and it's between 'product' (often online) businesses and lower-volume/higher value 'service' driven businesses. 

If you run a service business, especially a professional service business - estate agency, wealth management, legal, architectural or similar, you need to read on.

Product and online

In this category come the obvious candidates: businesses that sell physical objects, be they clothing or household goods - the likes of Boden or John Lewis. Let's take those two examples:


Sell clothes. And they incorporate reviews into every product line in their catalogue: 

What do these reviews tell the consumer? That customers liked/disliked the product. What do they tell the business? The same - and it's a very useful feedback mechanism - maybe Boden need to look at stocking that skinny belt next season?

What does a Boden online customer not care about? Service is what. OK, if the delivery is messed up or the item falls apart after one wash and is not replaced immediately that might just fall under the heading of service, but it's overwhelmingly about the product.

John Lewis

Same here - except for one important difference: John Lewis, aside from their own brands, stock other manufacturers' products:

 John Lewis - and their customers - are reassured by the 47 reviews here. John Lewis know that the product is popular, even post-sale, and the customers can mine down to find the odd niggle that prevented the toaster scoring a perfect five (in this case it's 'value for money'). Simply put: reviews drive sales.

And if those products don't score well, John Lewis can just discontinue that line.

Now let's look at services...

You may have shopped at John Lewis all your life, but if you stopped using them tomorrow they're not going to miss a single customer that badly. But service businesses are a whole different ballgame. The cost of acquisition of a client in estate agency or wealth management is of a different scale, and maintaining that relationship - landlord/investor - is critically important for the service business. Equally importantly, the relationship - being an ongoing one - will almost certainly be more nuanced - have more 'ups and downs' in plain English - than a single-event product purchase.

Before HelpHound - and more importantly, before Resolution™ - service businesses had two options:
  1.  Do nothing. Not as disengaged as it sounds: simply inviting every customer/client/patient to write a review could do the business harm, and we are speaking about well-managed customer-focused businesses here (otherwise you would not be reading this). The point is that with a service business every review counts, in both directions. One negative review of a toaster will not usually harm sales - one well-written (but maybe unintentionally inaccurate or misleading) review of a service business has the power to deflect significant business. So 'doing nothing' has served many service businesses well - until now - because few people were writing Google reviews - again: until now.
  2. Employ an independent review site: these appealed in the early days, especially when they showed well in Google search. But since Google began to dominate in search their value has dwindled. Even the biggest general review site of them all, Yelp, has retreated from the UK and Europe with its tail firmly between its legs, having unsuccessfully appealed Google's dominance to the US Senate.

Now that Google reviews have gained traction - and, as the man said: 'You ain't seen nothing yet.' - 'Do nothing' is no longer an option. It is just too high risk a strategy to continue ignoring Google reviews until your business has been give a handful of 1* ratings on Google by a tiny minority of customers you never even knew you had. Last month we met a business that had over four hundred positive reviews on an independent site, but twelve 1* reviews on Google (all written in the last 12 months) - and you probably don't need us to tell you why we found ourselves in their offices.

Add to this the CMA's continuing interest in ensuring that a business is not - wittingly or unwittingly - manipulating reviews to its advantage.

Here's a checklist of the reasons that most service businesses have not adopted a review management policy, or the right review management policy, up until now:

Fear - of the harm that unfair negative reviews could do

Uncertainty - as to the accuracy of the reviews their customers might write

Concern - over the longevity of such reviews - remaining on the web for all to read for ever

Confusion - over the right solution to adopt - independent review site or Google?

Misunderstanding - of the law surrounding reviews

HelpHound provides professional review management, which addresses each of the above as follows:
  • Fear: we moderate all our clients reviews before we publish them on their websites. If we consider that a review is in any way inaccurate or potentially misleading we send it to the business for immediate response to the reviewer
  • Uncertainty: this is removed by the same mechanism
  • Concern: reviews last forever (until Google review that policy), so you need to know that your review management system gives your business the very best chance of being reflected as it is in its reviews, HelpHound is that system
  • Confusion: it is our job - as unbiased review managers - to ensure that our clients are given the best advice at all times. We will only suggest a solution that has the best possible chance of presenting your business accurately for the foreseeable future, and, if that solution changes, or requires modification, we will advise accordingly
  • Misunderstanding: the CMA is dedicated to ensuring that a business's reviews give a full and fair picture of that business. This means that they are looking to see if a business allows all of its customers to write a review whenever they like. Those two words - all and whenever - are crucial. For example: all of your customers can write a review to Google whenever they like, so inviting only 'happy' customers to do so will rightly be seen as against the spirit of the CMA rules
So - if your business is in the service sector in 2017 it needs full-time professional review management. With that you will get credible reviews to your website and reviews to Google - safely - and you will be helping prospective customers choose your business.

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