Tuesday 9 May 2017

Your reviews solution must be credible (and legal)

Note: this article, by the very nature of its subject, makes frequent reference to the law and rules governing reviews in the UK - the Competition and Markets Authority regulations. If you would like to spend five minutes bringing yourself up-to-date with these there is a guide here.

Regular readers will know that we have issues with many of the reviews solutions currently being promoted to businesses. They usually come under one or more of the following headings:
  • They favour the business over the consumer
  • They favour the consumer over the business
  • They don't moderate their reviews
  • They allow businesses to filter reviews
  • The enable businesses to look better than they are in reality
  • They make businesses look worse than they are in reality 

None of the above are helpful - in either the short or long run, for the business or the consumer. Importantly - all but two are downright illegal (although frequently seen). Let's look at each 'category' in more detail.

  • Favouring the business
When businesses first approach the subject of reviews they ask one question more than any other: 'Can we control the reviews that are shown?' and for very good reasons. The larger review sites - and for this purpose we include Google and TripAdvisor as well as pure review sites like Yelp - are notorious, rightly or wrongly, for allowing negative (and even fake) reviews to go unchallenged. And most businesses now understand that even a single well-crafted negative can do untold harm. But sites that allow businesses to challenge any negative review are breaking the rules. Only by adopting really effective review management can a business protect its reputation and comply with the CMA rules.

  • Favouring the consumer 
Many sites favour the consumer by adopting a policy of 'the reviewer is always right unless the business can provide incontrovertible proof that what they have said is factually incorrect/libelous and or written with impure motives (they are a competitor or a disgruntled ex-member of staff, for instance). This policy at the main sites - Google and Yelp - has driven many businesses into the arms of sites that are more 'generous' to the business - they will allow the business to appeal a wide range of reviews. At first sight this looks attractive for businesses, that is: until they understand that almost all of these so-called solutions break the rules and therefore the law.

  • Un-moderated reviews
You will almost certainly be aware of the recent controversy around Google and YouTube and Facebook allowing un-moderated content - ISIS propaganda and so on - onto their sites. The same applies to reviews. Moderation - for the uninitiated - is the act of checking a review for its source and content. It is an inexact science - if someone wants to fake a review badly enough they will find a way on most sites (not with a negative through HelpHound though - and we have a two strikes rule if a client is caught writing a positive) they mostly will be able to. We see examples of this daily.If your reviews system gains a reputation for hosting irrelevant reviews of any kind - and Yelp and TripAdvsor have both admitted to doing so - that will impact on the credibility of your reviews.

  • Allowing filtering
Not a day passes when we don't see another example of a review site and a business doing this. The business has subscribed to the review site and the review site then allows the business to selectively display reviews on their site (as you can imagine, these reviews invariably score the business 5 out of 5). They are both breaking the law. Another version is the business that selectively copies reviews from another site - we have seen examples of this with Google and many others - onto their own site; again: the business is breaking the law. Another variant is the business that takes the score from a well-known site and displays it, but attributes a higher score - believe it or not, it does happen, and we have an archive of screenshots to prove it!

  • Making businesses look better than they are
We've already seen examples of this under 'Allowing filtering' above. Any mechanism that allows the business to prevent unhappy customers from writing a review is breaking the rules. We hear businesses every day saying 'But I know Mrs B will give us one out of five.' The only answer to that which will wash with the CMA is one that allows all of your customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. Mrs B has to be able to write a review, whenever she wants.

  • Making businesses look worse 
Interestingly all review sites - Google included - by definition make businesses look worse than they are in reality. That is because unhappy customers are statistically far more likely to write a review online. Studies by both Cornell University and Harvard Business School have confirmed that - and the figures they have produced indicate that this impact is around a factor of fifteen times. To put this in plain English - if you see a business with 100 reviews and ten are negative less than one per cent of that business's customers are, in reality, dissatisfied. It is just that the unhappy ones have taken the trouble to write a review. Just look up any hotel you know and love and you will see this theory in practice.

So - a quick checklist for any system you are considering:
  1. Does it in any way favour the business?
  2. Does it allow you - the business - to choose which reviews are displayed?
  3. Does it give an unfairly favourable impression of your business?
  4. Does it allow you - the business - to select who you invite to write a review?
  5. Does the reviewer have to wait to be invited to write a review?
  6. Is the reviewer prevented from writing a review except by invitation from the business?

If the answer is 'Yes' to even a single one of these questions the system is in contravention of the CMA rules - and the onus for compliance is on you - the business - not on the provider of the reviews system.

The good news is that there is another way - the HelpHound way - adopt professional review management - now.  

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