Wednesday 31 January 2018

Results - and how to measure them

Until recently you, and we, were reliant on anecdotal evidence - like this...

...and this...

...from the 'front line' to gauge just how well your review management strategy was performing. Now there has been a significant move by Google that helps us both.

They have introduced Google My Business reports. Here's ours (so you can see what their email looks like in your inbox)...

...and here's one for a client of ours that they have kindly agreed for us to publish...

The single most important thing about this report for Curchods is that it has shown - in hard numbers - the uplift in calls and visits since they implemented HelpHound (that's why their marketing director sent us this screenshot).

It will be the same for every business that joins from now on. Measurable results.


If you are uncertain as to who in your office is in receipt of this report (as so many businesses often are) just speak to Karen Hutchings here at HelpHound and she will explain how to establish exactly whose inbox it is in.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Trump's gold toilet - come on Facebook...

...if Yelp can do it, so can you.

When President Trump asked the Guggenheim Museum for a Van Gogh, they offered him a Gold Toilet; but that's not the reason the story made the jump from mainstream media to the HelpHound blog. We are interested in reviews (surprise!) and, more importantly, reliable reviews that accurately reflect the business or institution under review. 

So how does this story fit in? Well, the keyboard warriors from both sides of the American political divide weighed in, on social media of all kinds and on reviews sites

We were interested to see how the sites reacted. Here's Yelp:

And the one review that slipped through their net...

They have not always been consistent in applying such good judgement - read this. But in this case - we say 'good for Yelp'.

How about Facebook?

Not so good...

30k 1* reviews from pro-Trumpers, and goodness knows how many of the 16k 5* reviews are anti-Trumpers kicking back ? Are these useful to anyone? We tend to side with Emma Puente (see her review above) on this one. Reviews sites should be for reviews, if they become vehicles for political views, of any colour or stripe, then their core value is diminished.

Interestingly there is only one 'pro-Trumper' on TripAdvisor (perhaps reflecting that site's decreasing reach) and none on Google (almost certainly reflecting that fact that people are reluctant to have their 'private' rants exposed through such a visible channel).

Wednesday 24 January 2018

London's No. 1 Restaurant - does not exist!

Many of you will have read about the 'Shed' at Dulwich, some of you will even be among the half million who have seen this video in the last two days...

 Oobah Butler now works for, the online magazine, but before that "My first job was writing fake reviews for restaurants, I would do that and they would give me a tenner, The business's fortunes would genuinely be transformed." is an engaging story about a young man who set out to see just how far he could go trying to get a restaurant that did not exist up the rankings on TripAdvisor, with nothing but a laptop and a mobile phone (oh! - and a Shed).

But there is a very serious side to this story for businesses, and that is: 'Just how can we - and just as important, our customers - trust reviews?'.

Reviews - a short history

Reviews sites - from TripAdvisor to Angie's List to Yelp to Google (now the dominant player in reviews) - were all born out of Web 2.0, when the web transitioned from a 'place where businesses told you about themselves' to a 'place where consumers could tell each other what they thought of businesses'.

Along with that development came the bad boys - people who were intent on manipulating this new technology for their own dubious ends. It started with some businesses writing their own reviews and quickly morphed into a cottage industry: people being paid to write reviews, positive (about the businesses paying them) and negative (about those business's competitors). 

But we are now seventeen years downstream from the launch of TripAdvisor. What are the government and the reviews industry doing to ensure that the world of reviews, which billions of consumers rely on every day for choosing everything from a pizza to a cancer specialist, is reliable?

The government?

The CMA - the responsible UK regulator - has introduced a code of practice which governs what businesses can and cannot do. It is tough and we expect to see it being enforced through the courts any day now. Woe betide the business that is caught manipulating reviews.

The reviews sites?

As with so many things 'web', so many reviews sites originate in the USA, the home of the free and, importantly for reviews and those relying on them to be accurate: 'the home of freedom of speech'.

The problem we currently face is that dedication to absolute freedom of speech extends to reviews. Far too far, in our humble opinion. 

 This may be funny (for some) - but is this kind of thing helpful to consumers (we're guessing potential guests were already aware of the ownership!)?

Do you think any the following are helpful?
  • a reviews site that allows reviews of the business based on its owners' assumed or perceived political opinions, irrespective of whether or not the reviewer has been a customer of that business? 
  • a reviews site that allows reviewers to post reviews of businesses they have never actually used?
  • a reviews site that allows the friends of people who have used a business to post reviews supporting that person's standpoint, when they themselves have no first-hand experience of the business?
  • a reviews site that places 100% of the onus on the reviewed business to prove that a critical reviewer has never used the business under review?
The answer is probably 'sometimes' to some of them. Now we move on to a far more sinister area: reviews sites actively conniving - wittingly or not - in 'helping' businesses deflect negative content.

Are we OK with... 
  • reviews sites allowing businesses to choose just which customers they invite to write a review?
  • reviews sites promoting the reviews of paying businesses over those of those businesses that don't pay them?
  • reviews sites refusing to publish a review unless the reviewer provides documentary evidence to support their review?
The third of these may sound perfectly reasonable, until you realise that the business concerned cynically challenges every negative review - forcing customers to dig out that evidence, knowing that few will bother, so their - perfectly legitimate - review will never see the light of day.

Reviews - the future

The first CMA disciplinary action cannot happen soon enough for us - whether that is directed at an individual business or a reviews site (one US site has already ceased trading in the UK - we suspect because of some of the issues mentioned above).

Reviews must be seen to be credible, not 'quite credible' or 'nearly credible', and that goes for the headline scores themselves as well; these are increasingly used as an 'at a glance' guide by consumers who will choose a business scoring 4.5 over one scoring 3.5 every time.

Our current solution

We advise almost all our clients to focus on Google - first and foremost. Why? Because Google reviews are always the first reviews seen in search and, importantly, are - these days, thank goodness - attached to a real person, someone with a traceable G+ account.

Any review that is invited through HelpHound has been moderated and can be challenged by anyone at any time - so if they are posted to the business's website and Google they can be believed by the person relying on them with almost 100% confidence (no system is, or ever will be, perfect. We are dealing with people's opinions, after all).

We also advise our clients to take Facebook and Facebook reviews seriously for the same reasons (does your business have the Facebook 'Reviews' tab enabled?).

We hope this helps you understand just some of the serious issues surrounding reviews in 2018, if you would like to discuss any of them in the context of your own reviews strategy do please speak to us. 

Further reading:

Did you realise it is illegal to select customers to review your business? - read page three of our latest presentation

Monday 15 January 2018

Google introduce product reviews - free

Just as businesses are waking up to the fact that Google reviews are what they need, Google go and introduce their own product reviews - for free. In online retail and paying for an independent reviews system? Then you need to read on...

The full Google article is here.

And it looks like this...

And this...

And this...

And that's all there is to it. 

It's early days for Google product reviews in the UK - but you can be sure you will be seeing more of them by the day.

Implications for businesses

Great news for online retailers - not only is the service free, but it is guaranteed to be more visible than the independent reviews sites. Here is Snugg on two of those (note we have had to include the word 'reviews' in search to bring them to the top)... you can see why Snugg have opted to adopt Google Customer Reviews.

Implications for HelpHound and our clients

All good - our core marketplace is service businesses, not products; especially high-value service businesses - financial services, legal, estate agency, medical and so on - where the transaction is often so much more complex - think house purchase/sale - and where our Resolution™ service is valued by all stakeholders in the transaction. An inaccurate or potentially misleading product review is seldom that damaging for either party, but a single error-strewn review of a service business has the potential to do severe damage, with the service business losing countless new customers and the consumer being put off using a service that might just have been the perfect one for their needs.


Wednesday 10 January 2018

2018 - a New Presentation for a New Year

The presentation that follows contains all the key elements of what we will achieve for your business. There is more - from designing the right implementation for you and your website to staff and management training, both initial and ongoing, but we will cover all of this when we meet. We hope that what follows will impress you enough to do just that - contact us and arrange that initial meeting.

Now read on...

The reviews solution you choose for your business must, above all else, be compliant with the Competition and Markets Authority's regulations (and you would be surprised just how many are not). For more read this.

If the solution you choose does not result in your business looking great in search - on Google - then all the benefits of great review management: a great Google score, looking great against the competition - and all with maximum credibility, will be lost.

There is one other crucially important reason for hosting reviews on your own site first, and only then getting as many as possible of them across to Google, and that is Resolution™ - HelpHound's moderation mechanism, which minimises the chances of factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews being published, on your own site, on Google or anywhere else.

At HelpHound we are acutely aware that credibility is all; if consumers are to be able to trust your reviews they must know that your reviews are a) genuine and b) unfiltered. Our Resolution™ process allows businesses to interact with the reviewer if we, or the business, suspect that the review contains potentially misleading or factually inaccurate statements, but the reviewer always retains the right to have their review published (as the business always retains the right to respond to that review).

Independent review sites dominated the market until Google entered the reviews arena. Now Google is, as in so many other spheres, supremely dominant - just pick up your mobile  phone - over 70% of searches happen there nowadays - and see whose reviews are shown for any given search. Google's - every time. And one of the unintended consequences of using an independent site if your are a business? Leaving the door open for your less-than-happy customers to write their review to Google.

At the end of the day there is little point in going to all this effort if it does not result in a measurably positive impact in pure business terms. Until September of 2017 both HelpHound and our client businesses were reliant on anecdotal feedback from staff and customers to prove that HelpHound was achieving this - and there was plenty of that - but now Google reports to your business on a monthly basis, with hard figures for both visits to your website and calls you will have concrete proof within months of joining.

So: We hope that is enough to whet your appetite, and for you to invite HelpHound to show you more of how we can have a positive impact on your business in 2018. Just speak to Fiona Christie or Karen Hutchings and they will be happy to answer any questions you have and to arrange for a full presentation for your business.

Further reading:

Monday 8 January 2018

Reviews and the Law - an important update

One of our most important roles as review managers is to make sure our clients comply with the law as it relates to reviews - in letter and in spirit.

The law?

Most businesses, when we first meet them, are unaware that reviews are governed by legislation. But, just as with almost every aspect of business life these days, they are. On 1 April 2014 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) took over many of the functions of the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading.

This is an extract of a letter from the CMA to businesses - the full letter, and our notes on it, is available here

Under CMA rules - which are enforceable in law -  it is illegal for a business (or their agents) to:
  • post fake reviews of their own business
  • post fake reviews of another business
  • not publish negative reviews
  • offer inducement - money or gifts - in exchange for reviews
In addition, it is illegal to do anything to intentionally mislead the public (consumers). This may include:
  • describing testimonials (selectively invited customer opinions) as reviews
  • selectively inviting customers to write reviews (what regular readers of this blog know we describe as 'cherry-picking')

Common practices that flout the letter or the spirit of the CMA rules

We see examples like the ones below nearly every day. They are mostly innocent, resulting from ignorance of the rules. Just as important, they do the business no favours in the eyes of the sophisticated consumer (or competitor).

This is a screenshot from an estate agent's website. We cannot be absolutely sure that they are contravening the CMA code, but the fact that the 'reviews' themselves are not independently verified and that all twenty-one of the reviews displayed were written on the same day over six months ago might lead to understandable suspicion
  • inviting testimonials from customers and displaying them as reviews
  • selecting 'happy' customers to write reviews, and, by definition, positively excluding 'unhappy' ones - whether to the business's own website or to an external site

HelpHound's standpoint

Our systems are expressly designed to comply with the CMA rules, in word and spirit. This is why Resolution incorporates the 'promise to publish' and why our clients incorporate a 'Write a Review' button into their websites, offering anyone the opportunity to write a review, whenever they choose to do so (and as often as they wish)

It is also why the invitation to copy the review to Google (or the nominated external site) is automatic - not at HelpHound's or our client business's discretion.

Your questions answered

Can you expand on HelpHound's 'promise to publish'?

Anyone - and we mean absolutely anyone - has the ability to write a review to a HelpHound client's website. They don't have to wait to be invited - and they will always be invited to publish their review. 

While this may seem a little nerve-wracking for the business - potentially opening it up to unfair criticism (and even 'fake' reviews) please read on - there are very good reasons why our clients have succeeded with reviews. Perhaps most important of all, it means the business does not make the common mistake of inadvertently driving its unhappy customers to write potentially inaccurate or misleading reviews elsewhere - commonly on Google.

How does that work in the context of Resolution™?

Here's a detailed overview of Resolution. Resolution is designed to fulfill two purposes:
  • to make sure our clients' reviews portray as accurate a picture of their business as possible, for the benefit of future customers
  • to show to potential customers of the business in question that they will be able to write a review - and have that review published - at any time during (or after) their relationship with that business
So a customer can write an intentionally misleading review of our business and have that review published?

In theory - yes. It's the price paid for complete transparency (and the credibility that flows from that transparency). In practice it very seldom happens - and if it does happen the business always has the right-of-reply. 

Resolution is designed to minimise the chances of an inaccurate or misleading review being published by allowing the business and the reviewer to engage pre-publication. But the reviewer will always be invited to post their review. In the many years of experience we have of operating Resolution (and the many thousands of reviews that we process on behalf of reviews and our client businesses) we can count the instances of a reviewer persisting in publishing a review containing an error of fact on the fingers of one hand. Inaccurate or misleading reviews benefit no-one - and that's the reason for having Resolution in the first place.

Are there any more safeguards?

We will do our best to establish that the reviewer has (or has had) a relationship with the business. If we can establish that the reviewer has purely malicious intent we will revert to the reviewer and ask them for more particulars of their relationship with the business. No-one - not HelpHound, nor our clients, nor - most important of all - the consumer benefits from the kind of reviews that have got sites like Yelp a name for publishing false and malicious reviews. 

In summary

This as much about compliance with the law as about being - and being seen to be - open and honest. Our advice can be summed up with two 'Don'ts' and two 'Do's':
  • Don't confuse testimonials with reviews - a business cannot, by definition, publish its own reviews without verification by an outside agency
  • Don't select - 'cherry-pick' - those customers who you invite to write reviews
  • Do allow all your customers to write a review
  • Do allow them to write that review at any time they wish
This client got to look like this on Google...  

 ...and this on their own website... doing everything we describe above - in compliance with the regulations.

If you follow these simple guidelines you will find that your business is rewarded by those consumers who appreciate openness and honesty.

If you have any more questions - about what we do here at HelpHound or what you are currently doing with regard to reviews - please do not hesitate to speak to us.