Saturday, 29 April 2017

Is your business sitting on a reviews timebomb?

There are two kinds of businesses that take a passive view of reviews - the first, and most obvious, is the business that has never been reviewed. The second is, somewhat ironically,  the business that has loads of reviews.

Both are sitting on time-bombs - but for markedly different reasons. We will explain...

The business with no (or very few) reviews


  An example of a large business - 500 plus employees - in the service sector that has yet to engage with reviews. With only two positives the business is vulnerable to any dissatisfied customer who decides to post a review. Nor is it benefiting from the positive image that professional review management would engender in search.

Seven months ago this business had no reviews, then one and now look:


We are not going to show the content of these twenty-three reviews as that would be unfair to the business concerned, but rest assured they are not the kind of reviews that would encourage any potential customer to use it
 

These businesses tend to fall into one or more of the following categories:
  • small businesses
  • larger businesses in the service sector
  • B2B businesses

Why would these businesses ignore - or, more accurately, decide not to engage with reviews? The answer, again, falls into one or more of the following:
  • it has simply not occurred to them. About half the businesses we meet fall into this category - reviews have not made it onto their marketing radar
  • they have considered reviews, but were put off by the confusing array of solutions
  • they have adopted a solution in the past, but it failed to produce results
  • management cynicism. Less common now than it used to be, but we do still encounter managers who say things like 'Who pays attention to reviews?' and/or 'What kind of idiots write reviews?' or 'I'm far too busy to write a review, so why should any of my customers be any different?'


Why should they engage?
  • because reviews drive business
  • because a single negative can cause considerable - and disproportionate - harm to a business with no - or few - reviews. By its very nature it is highly visible and therefore damaging. Many of our inbound enquiries are from businesses in this situation - the phone had stopped ringing and they didn't understand why, until someone checked Google

The business with many reviews

Again - the categories:
  • hospitality - hotel, restaurant and leisure businesses
  • national businesses with a branch network
  • multi-national businesses

Why would these businesses ignore - or, more accurately, decide not to engage with - reviews? Besides the reasons mentioned above...
  • many hospitality businesses are so familiar with reviews that they have become 'review blind' they ignore them - if they didn't more than the 12% of hotels that TripAdvisor quotes would respond to their reviews
  • they are aware that they get reviews, but they are unaware of the impact those reviews are having on custom (rarely will a customer tell a business why they did not use them - customers simply don't contact businsses to say that they were put off by the business's reviews)

Why should they engage?

For all the reasons above and then one more: look at this example:



Hidden behind the headline score are the following:
  • 12 one or two star reviews - the kind that say 'don't ever use this business'
  • 14 three star reviews - the kind that say 'I used this business but there are better alternatives'
  • damaging review content about the products or services the company provides - and is trying to sell - to those reading the reviews
  • failure to pass the Google Filter* - more and more consumers are conducting the overwhelming majority of their searches on mobile and tablet - and Google has introduced their filter there, enabling users to filter
But just as importantly, the more reviews a business has the more it will need to improve its score. In the example above the business will need six or seven five star reviews - and no more 3, 2 or 1 star reviews - to claw its score back to 4.0 (and therefore pass the Google filter). 



And in this example the challenge to pass the filter (and reduce the proportion of damaging negative reviews) is greater by a factor of ten - because of the mathematical hill the business has to climb before scoring (at least) 4.0.


Whichever category your business falls into your aim...

...should be to have your business scoring 4.8. This business joined HelpHound with two Google reviews and a score of 3.2:



...and this business joined with eight Google reviews and a score of 2.6...


In addition these businesses respectively host 124 and 495 independently verified reviews on their own websites.


Our advice

Get on board - by using professional review management. Don't sign up to the first review site that calls you - or attempt a DIY solution - speak to HelpHound first. Then you will end up looking like the two businesses above.


*Read this - it explains the Google review filter. We occasionally hear people say that they don't think consumers use the filter. Our answer to that? If Google introduce something and their users don't use it they discontinue it. The Filter was introduced eighteen months ago and it remains - that means it's being used.
 

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Why are pubs empty while chain brands and independent restaurants are full?

Perhaps we should rephrase that as 'Do pubs care?' Look at the two photographs below - taken less than five minutes - and 200 yards - apart, one of a pub and one of a branded restaurant in exactly the same price bracket. One nearly full and and one echoing like a barn.

  A great pub with a good kitchen                                                           a chain restaurant


Let's look at their online presences. Do we see any marked difference between the branded chains and pubs?




No - if anything a significant number of the diners at the branded restaurant would have preferred another option - if only they had been given the confidence to choose it

So, we could draw one of two conclusions from this - either that reviews don't matter or that pubs need to work a lot harder than restaurants if they are to put bums on seats at lunchtime. Needless to say, we favour the latter - at least as part of a modern marketing strategy, especially in areas of high flows of tourists and or non-residential diners.

Action needed
 

A proactive review management strategy that only involves:
  • harvesting email addresses from diners
  • inviting reviews to the pub's own website and external sites that have influence - Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor
And what a great asset that list will be during quiet times when your marketing can tempt them back with an offer.
 



Monday, 24 April 2017

Review scores: you must strive for the perfect 10 (or 5!)

It never fails to surprise us just how tolerant of negative reviews some businesses are. There appears to be a syndrome doing the rounds that says something along the lines of "4 out of 5 is great" or "9 out of 10 is amazing".

The issue at stake here is that consumers have become more savvy than most businesses where reviews are concerned. They scan reviews very quickly, and if the business in question has any negative reviews the business will experience a fall-off - in business or traffic - through the web.

Look at this typical example of a business scoring four out of five:



Do you think that single negative review is:

a. damaging?
b. unhelpful?
c. harmless?

The answer, from years of experience and listening to client feedback on a daily basis is somewhere between a and b, depending on who happens to be reading the review. Also remember that however harmless the review itself, the one star rating has affected, and will continue to affect, the business's overall score, making the answer, strictly speaking, 'a' in every case.

The score matters?

Consumers are increasingly 'score aware'. They consciously and subconsciously look for businesses that score well. More than that, Google recognise this behaviour and give their users filters in search: 'Top Rated' and 'by Rating'. 

Top Rated 




 Only the six Top Rated agents in this area - out of over twenty - show in this window

by Rating 









Top: who would enable the filter at anything below 4? Bottom: the same effect as 'Top rated' Note: Logic would dictate that Google will eventually get round to programming their algorithm to produce these businesses ranked by score - i.e. the highest score at the top.


Again - this time a hotel scoring nearly 9 out of 10:

Here are their ratings:





And here's an example of a typical low-scoring review (of which they have over 250):




This is exactly the kind of review that deflects custom - and having hundreds of them will definitely be impacting on bookings. The hotel should be doing everything in its power to minimise the likelihood of such reviews appearing - anywhere - and that includes joining HelpHound.


So: the lessons
  1. Do everything you can to ensure your customers have the absolute minimum of reasons to post a negative review
  2. Give those 'less than happy' customers an easy way to express their dissatisfaction direct to you - don't make leaving a Google review their easiest option
  3. Aim to get so many great reviews that when - and it's almost certainly going to be a case of 'when' given that no business is perfect and there are some pretty unpredictable consumers out there - you do get a negative review it doesn't impact your score and you can respond by referencing all your great reviews
  4. Set your sights high - aim for a score of 4.8/9.5 plus 
  5. Don't say 'That is a big ask' - with HelpHound on board - and providing the businesses in question have the right attitude to customer service - we would confidently predict scores like this for both these businesses

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Future of Reviews - look into our crystal ball

Where is the world of online reviews headed? It is a question marketing professionals constantly ask themselves. Here we will bring all of our decade of experience to bear to try to give you some answers.

But first we need a starting point - today would seem logical.

Reviews in 2017

Google - virtually every consumer's gateway to every business on the planet - is completely committed to reviews. More real estate on any given search is devoted to consumer reviews - Google's own and those of the independent review sites than anything else.

So - your business needs to look great on Google. Be aware that you are always in competition in search - you should aim to dominate that competition with your reviews.

Next - understand today's consumer journey. The days of consumers lingering over search are long past - especially for those 70% that are searching on mobile devices. They click through to the most attractive option far faster than they would have done even two years ago. 

This means you need to be aware of two things: the need to attract attention in search and then the need to look irresistible when they click through to your website - and that means hosting and prominently displaying reviews there - not behind a tab, not at the bottom of your home page - right in the consumer's line of sight.


So - onto our forecasts:


Businesses that don't engage will suffer



 Two businesses - of a similar size in the same marketplace and location. Which one impresses at first glance?

For two reasons - one more obvious than the other: at the moment if your business has no reviews and your competitors have a handful your business will not suffer greatly by comparison. You will be missing a great opportunity, but that's all. But when your competitor lights up and has hundreds of reviews and you only have a handful?

The second reason is the impact of reviewers' behaviour - and this has now been subject to scientific study - if a business is passive it will eventually attract proportionately more negative reviews, simply because a negative experience is so much more motivation for writing a review.


Businesses that do engage will prosper





  Verified reviews placed front-and-centre on your website drive business. Don't take our word for it - see what these clients say.

We are already seeing this: reviews drive business. Of course there will always be a minority who decry reviews - 'they are written by fools with too much time on their hands' or 'no-one believes what they read on the web' but with the cost barrier to testing whether reviews work or not now so low, isn't it crazy not to even test this contention?


Google reviews will continue to spread

  Read the full story of the huge acceleration and penetration of Google reviews that took this multi-national business by surprise: from an average of one review per outlet just over a year ago to 10 now

We meet businesses every day who say 'But we had no Google reviews this time last year!' Of course Google reviews first began to make an impact in frequent-use and relatively low-value markets like fast food and hospitality, but increasingly they are making their presence felt in areas such as financial services and the law.


Google will continue to make changes




How about adding a 'most relevant' filter?

Now, we are hesitant about making any guesses about timings here, but we are working from a position of pure logic: in order to maintain its pre-eminent position in the search market (yes - it does operate in a competitive market) Google needs to continue to give its customers what they want, and those customers break down into two main constituencies. First the 'user' or 'searcher' then the business. Google's business model means that it derives all of its revenue from the latter - so it must keep businesses happy. We make the following predictions fully-cognisant of these self-evident financial pressures.


  • Increased moderation
For Google's reviews to maintain credibility Google must refine its appeals procedure. Placing the burden of proving that a review is malicious 100% on the business under review is manifestly unfair, and anything that is unfair on the business in this context leads to misleading content that is demonstrably not in the interest of consumers. Consumers do not want to be misled by fake, malicious or factually incorrect reviews. Google's image has already been tarnished by the recent advertising furore, it should address this issue if it is not to lose more face.

  • Deciding on the purpose of reviews 



Look at the screenshot above. All but one of the 23 reviews of this business have been written as a protest against alleged ecological harm, not necessarily proven to be the fault of the business concerned. What is sure is that they are not reviews by customers of the business of the business's products or service, and in this context they are of negligible help for prospective customers looking to see what previous customers have thought of the company's services. What is sure is that they - rightly or wrongly - will be harming the business's reputation, even if only at the margin. We are not sure of the solution, but we will make some suggestions - categorise reviews: 'product', 'service' or 'other' - or take a leaf out of Yelp's book and introduce a filter for reviews (but not in the less-than-transparent way Yelp have!). 


  • More filtering - squaring the circle





Google will introduce more and more sophisticated filters, across everything from accountancy to zoos, in order to increase the chances of its search results being more relevant for every individual search request. In the last twelve months it has introduced both its ratings filter and 'Top rated' - both in mobile search - expect this to be refined, by giving the user even more options. How about making search results relevant to the searcher's own search history?


  • A cut-off - who wants to know what a business was like five years ago?
Reviews may seem to have been around a long time - but they are relatively new in the scheme of things. Few consumers want to know what a business was like in the distant past. We predict that Google will begin to trial an archiving system soon. This will 'park' older reviews - and their impact on the business's review score - when they reach a certain age - five years perhaps.


  • Advertising will become more obviously separate from 'editorial'



 Everyone knows that the top two results are paid-for advertisements, don't they? Well, if that's so why not make it even clearer?

When is an advertisement not an advertisement? This is Google's big conundrum. We would go so far as to say it presents a conflict of interest. And that conflict must be resolved if Google is not to run foul of the US Senate or the Competitions & Markets Authority in the UK. Google will argue that web users understand the difference between paid advertising and natural listings, and many, maybe even most, do, but there is a more elegant solution: be completely up-front and make the distinction between advertising and natural search so obvious as to be uncontestable by a regulator, print press have been doing this successfully for years, so it is proven that it works. Just make ads look like ads.


The independent review sites will wither away

 This chart compares the share prices of Yelp (blue line) - the the world's largest general review site - against Google (green line) over the last three years. There are, of course, other factors at play, but we think that the out-turns: plus 40% for Google (Alphabet) and minus 65% for Yelp tell a pretty conclusive story.

They were the next big thing five years ago - the likes of Yelp and Trustpilot - but, unfortunately for them, they woke the sleeping giant: Google. A few years ago the web was all about choice, and consumers were prepared to take time over that choice. Now it's all about speed, and consumers don't want to be thinking 'I want a plumber, which review site should I use? - now I want a lawyer, which site is best for that?' They want all the answers in the same place - and that place is Google. If any more proof were needed the fact that Yelp quit the UK and Europe recently probably supplies it.


Action needed?

  
With one Google review when they joined - this business now has 123 on its own website - and showing in search (top left and centre right) and over forty on Google - delivering the great score (top right) and rich snippets (bottom right).

Get with the programme - get those reviews rolling in - to your own site and to Google. Make sure your business is as prepared as can be: get HelpHound on board and we will show you how to harness the power of your customers' opinions to show your future customers why they should choose you.



Tuesday, 18 April 2017

When will restaurants begin to enagage with their customers?

A year on from this:




This:



So we did some homework. Here are Google scores for some of their London outlets:


 Only two of these eight restaurants pass the Google filter - and some of the rich snippets of those six that fail are truly damaging.

Now the questions we are asking ourselves are:
  • Do Comptoir Libanais realise the power of reviews - to attract and to deflect custom?
  • Do they understand that a score of less than 4.7 by definition contains reviews that may put diners off?
  • Do they understand Google's Filters?
  • What action should they be taking?
With a relatively low revenue-per-customer (£14) high-turnover model and a customer base among the young new-media-savvy - a group such as this is ideally placed to maximise review flow. So let us assume that each outlet has been open for 12 months and see how many reviews a week they have attracted.



Their accounts don't specify either covers or footfall. But if we (very) conservatively assume a hundred covers a day - if we simply take their group turnover at £21.5m and divide that by the number of restaurants (22) and the average spend (£14) it gives a footfall north of 190 - and then assume just one in twenty of those smart-phone wielding customers is somehow encouraged to write a review, that gives figures of:


35 reviews a week per outlet -  or 1820 reviews a year

It gets better:

If a restaurant is passive it gets proportionately far more negative reviews - Cornell University estimate by a factor of up to fifteen times. This means that by being proactive a restaurant will improve the proportion of positive reviews it receives - so their scores will improve, hopefully to a position where none fail the filter (number 6 will have to put in extra effort!).

What does your restaurant aspire to?
  • Great customer service?
  • A high percentage of repeat custom?
  • 21st century marketing?
If this is true then this is what you should be doing:

1. Harvesting email addresses - from as many customers as possible


"And while I'm taking your card - how many of you would like to register your email?"

Don't say 'We're busy enough without...' - all it takes is a card and a pencil. The cards will cost you pence a day - and you will be pleasantly surprised how many customers complete them. The advantage of using cards is that you can save them and upload the details when the restaurant is not busy. If you like you can increase response by incentivising your staff (a reward for every hundred email addresses collected?).    

A big bonus is that you will soon have a massive mailing list for all your other marketing.              

2. Inviting those customers to write a review - to your own website and to Google

A tiny percentage response will still give you meaningful numbers. Your Google scores should climb by the day. Reviews on your website will always help drive custom, and by inviting them there you will have the added advantage of being able to address errors of fact and misleading comments pre-publication (we call this process Resolution™).

3 . Responding to those reviews

Responses have two effects: they impress potential customers and they make those thinking of writing a negative review pause for just a second before doing so.

Not only will doing the above make you stand right out in any search, it will establish a real bond between you and your customers. 

Then your restaurant will be well on the way to looking like this:




You will have noticed that we have chosen to show a Google score here. Why? Because its your establishment's Google score that every prospective diner sees first...


...not TripAdvisor or TopTable, not FourSquare or Zagat.

It's not rocket science - just plain good review management.

 
Further reading:



Thursday, 13 April 2017

Reviews and the law - detailed analysis of the CMA's letter to businesses

Here we take Jon Riley, the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) Project Director's open letter to businesses that host customer reviews on their websites and expand on it - point-by-point.

We are doing this now - nearly nine months after the letter was published and in addition to our December article on the same subject, because we continue to see solutions adopted by businesses that are - wittingly or unwittingly - flouting both the word and the spirit of these legally enforceable regulations.



Links: use of online reviews and endorsements and concluded an investigation

Note: When the CMA use the term 'retailer' they mean any business selling products or services to members of the public.



The important phrases in this section are 'content....accurately reflect reviewers' feedback on their experiences, hotly followed by 'Fair-playing'. The litmus test of any reviews system is really very simple: does it allow a dissatisfied customer to voice their opinion in exactly the same way as a satisfied customer? If your business can answer 'yes' to that simple question it is likely to be compliant with CMA regulations.



Do not think that the CMA will hesitate to take action. They have the full weight of consumer protection law behind them and there is ample recent evidence that they are prepared to use it. In 2015 three estate agents were fined a total of £775,000 for breaching CMA rules.



Compliance with these three points is crucial. The CMA has legal powers to demand evidence of compliance. Every customer of every HelpHound client is able to write a review whenever they choose. HelpHound moderators are trained to monitor communications between our clients and their reviewers to ensure compliance.



Our Resolution™ moderation system is designed to ensure compliance with both these points. Many reviews sites currently have procedures in place which favour the business. Examples of these include 'invitation only' systems where the review site only invites reviews from nominated email addresses and or only allows reviews to be written at point-of-purchase. The CMA would doubtless argue that the purchaser of, say, a pair of shoes or a dishwasher, or the tenant in the case of an estate agent, might be in a a better position to review the quality of the product (in the first two examples) or service (in the latter) months or even years post-purchase. At HelpHound we would agree.



It is made clear on our modules that all genuine reviews are published:





All our clients' reviews are displayed chronologically by default, with the reader being given the following options:


All legitimate, genuine, relevant and lawful reviews are published, positive or negative. The extent of the delay in publication of the review remains in the hands of the reviewer at all times. We advise all our clients against displaying testimonials as they have lost power in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of consumers when compared with independently verified reviews.




Resolution is designed to efficiently facilitate both these points. Some systems incorporate appeals procedures that - perhaps inadvertently - favour the business. One such allows the business to 'appeal' any review, at which point the review site will suspend the review from publication and revert to the reviewer and ask them to substantiate whatever comments the business finds contentious. On the face of it this looks fair, but in reality it allows the less scrupulous business to appeal all and any negative reviews in the near-certain knowledge that few reviewers will persist. With our system the reviewer always retains the right to have their review published - at whatever stage in the process they may find themselves. Furthermore, all reviewers are invited to publish a review at the completion of the Resolution process.

Our T&Cs do not allow threatening or abusive language, but that does not necessarily invalidate the review: we will refer back to the reviewer and ask them to rewrite their review using more temperate language.

There is an interesting reversal of this - we have seen communications from one review site to a business declining to enter into discussion about a negative review of the business and inferring that this might happen if the business in question were a paying member.

In summary

To take the well worn 'duck test' (if it look like, quacks like...it almost certainly is). If, as a business, you are offered a reviews solution that 'favours your business' it is almost certainly non compliant. And this is not confined to external review sites - we have in the last month  encountered a large national business with over two hundred branches that is selectively displaying Google reviews on each branch's web page.

Here is a link to the 60-second summary from the CMA:




As ever, if you are a HelpHound client this article is for information only. If you are not yet a client and you would like us to comment on your current procedure, just contact us.