Friday 23 March 2018

There is a better way - seriously!

Here are two examples of businesses that presumably think they have reviews taped - but don't. They differ in the detail, but the results end up being very similar - they put customers off the business that's paying for the opposite.

The cruise line

In today's Times there is a double page advertisement - and prominently displayed in the bottom right corner, where advertisers know their readers are most likely to look, an invitation to check out the business's reviews on a reviews website...

  With a page at the Times costing well north of £20,000, this is serious spend in anyone's book

Before we look at that site, let's take a look where the overwhelming majority of consumers look these days - Google...

Now the reviews site...

 And a simple scroll down...

You can see from the time stamp on these two reviews that we have not 'cherry-picked' them - they were the two most recent reviews when we visited the site today

With one in five of their reviewers - 22% to be precise - rating them one, two or three stars (and a three star customer is hardly going to be writing a glowing review - or returning) then the business is effectively paying to promote the opinions of its dissatisfied customers. Laudable you might say - offering their prospective customers a range of opinions - except for one thing: some of those opinions are either misleading, inaccurate or factually incorrect. This helps no-one, not their prospective customers nor the business itself. There is - as all our clients know - a better way.

The other very simple questions we are asking ourselves - given that P&O could very easily invite its customers to write a review to Google is 'Why pay to have the same result on a site with less visibility than Google?' and 'Why does the bottom right of your advertisement not say 'Customers rate P&O cruises **** on Google'? Would your prospective customers not be just as happy reading Google reviews - that anyone can write, whenever they choose?

The estate agent

This one is a little more complicated, but bear with us, it may well result in you choosing the right reviews system for your business. 

Since we have no evidence to say that anything the business has done was willfully non-compliant we have redacted the business's name, but rest assured we have a file containing all the relevant screenshots.

The facts of the case...

Here is a screenshot of the business's Google score today...

What is so interesting - or unusual about that? The first thing is the pattern of reviews written to Google. here it is...

  All posted on 3 September - along with dozens more

The second thing is the date they contracted a reviews site? You guessed it - around the end of 2016 - how do we know? Because they issued a press release (Oh! And 342 reviews - nearly 10% of all the reviews they have - almost all 5 stars, were written in a week between 3 and 10 September)...

 Note the date of submission - alongside dozens more

The pattern on Google is interesting as well...

Another interesting set of statistics - before they joined the site the breakdown of their reviews was as follows...

And now?

Now we can say for sure that joining the independent site improved their image there - but on Google? We have said it before, and we will continue to say it as long as it applies...

"Adopting an independent reviews site drives unhappy customers to write their reviews to Google"

Further Reading...

  • Everything a business does that is reviews-related must be complaint with the CMA rules - here's a summary of them.
  • More thoughts on the impact an independent reviews site has on Google scores and reviews

Getting reviews - the Rule of 50%

 Attitudes to being asked to write a review are changing all the time - for the better: consumers now mostly understand that reviews are part-and-parcel of the modern business landscape - and that they need them as much as we do!

Low customer turnover businesses need to really work at getting reviews

If you are a high value/low customer turnover business - legal, financial services, estate agency etc. - you should read on (hotels and restaurants need read no further).

Take estate agents: it is not unusual for a single branch, especially in pure sales, to have transactions in single figures per month. For that kind of business it is essential that every opportunity is taken to maximise the chances of a review being written, both to their own website and to Google.

The rule of 50%

This 'rule' means getting:

  1. Half of all your customers/clients to write a review to your website, and then...
  2. Half of them - those who write a review to your website -  to copy their review to Google
It is as simple as that. And it is being consistently achieved by clients who follow these guidelines.

But it does mean adopting a positive attitude:
  • So what if my client has never written a review in their life? I have worked/am working hard for them - it's the least they can do
  • So what if they don't have a G+ account? It takes a minute to open one (and Karen at HelpHound will do it for them if necessary)
  • Remember that clients are flattered to be asked to write a review
  • Bear in mind that if they really don't want to/or physically or mentally cannot bring themselves to - then they simply fall into the 50% who we expect not to anyway - don't harass them!
Points to remember:
  • Warn your customer that you will be asking them to write a review, to your own website and to Google, when the transaction is complete, make it clear that just as they expect you to work hard and be professional for them, you need them to write these reviews, it's part of an unwritten contract between you
  • Don't rely on the email alone, it won't work unless it is followed up with a phone call - that's how the results below were achieved - for a single branch of an estate agency...

Notes for management

We have already said that this won't work without staff engagement, and the same goes for management. Our success stories all stem from businesses where management has understood everything in this article and then provided support and guidance (and sometimes incentives*) for staff.

Also remember that HelpHound are always on hand with advice and ideas.

For more on the customer journey, from initial search to enquiry, read this.

And for those of you who like graphics: here's a really helpful infographic from ReviewInc.

 This chart usefully backs up our rule of 50%. It shows that most people - certainly more than 50% - are happy to write a review is they are a) asked in the right way and b) that request is reinforced personally, face-to-face or by phone.

So: aim high and you will achieve the results you need.

*Staff incentives. There is nothing wrong with providing incentives for staff as long as you remain complaint with CMA regulations, so the incentive must not be for positive reviews alone, as those regulations specifically - and quite rightly - prohibit cherry-picking (we have seen more than one example of a business where a negative review specifically refers to incentives 'for a positive review').

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Are your Google reviews undermining your marketing?

We see so many examples of this. But first let's look at what a customer journey should look like...

First, the business markets itself...

Next, the potential customer, responds to that marketing - often as not by searching for the business online...

Then they either...
  • feel confident enough to make contact or
  • visit the business's website, where they will find...


 Reassurance that the reviews are independently verified alongside evidence - equally reassuring - that anyone at all can write a review

But this is what so many look like (marketing email received this morning)...

 Followed by this in search...

It has been proven that click-throughs drop for every 0.1 a business's score drops below 5.0 - for every 0.1!

Now, before you leap to the conclusion that so many potential customers are bound to - that the business is as bad as its Google score/negative reviewers say - pause and remind yourself of that central tenet of review management...

"If the business is not proactive then the way is clear for its minority of dissatisfied customers to dominate its image"

...but what is beyond doubt is that it is each business's responsibility to find a solution to this crucial aspect of their marketing. And, as HelpHound clients - like Greene & Co - know, that solution is just a call away. Phone Fiona Christie or Karen Hutchings on 0207 100-2233 and they will set you on the road to impressing your potential customers.

Monday 12 March 2018

HelpHound for SMEs - how astonishing are these results?

 LDC joined HelpHound at the back end of 2017, and they began inviting their customers to post reviews at the turn of the year - they now have eight reviews on their own website and five reviews on Google; but - more to the point - look what impact this modest beginning has had on their views and visits!*

Here's their HelpHound module on their website, ready to reinforce the great impression already created by Google...

... and LDC are, quite rightly, responding to all their reviews, creating a caring and professional image from the outset.

*for anyone thinking that this upswing was caused by the recent cold snap - the Google my Business report predates that, relating as it does to January 2018.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Unfair and damaging reviews? Appeal them!

Unfair, inaccurate or misleading reviews harm your business - any business that has been subject to one knows that. They also harm your potential customers, who, but for reading one of these reviews ('killer' reviews, we call them) might have been far better off doing business with you.

What to do?

In a word: Appeal. 

How? By following - and following, precisely - the appeals mechanism laid down by the site that you are appealing to. The most common mistake made by businesses that come to us with failed appeals is that they ignored the relevant terms and conditions and appealed the review on the basis that it was factually incorrect. Few reviews sites will allow an appeal on the basis of the business's word against the reviewers, partly because most sites are US-based and have an inbuilt bias in favour of 'freedom of speech' and partly because, understandably (if frustratingly for the business) they don't want to become embroiled in a trade dispute.

One thing we have learned from hard experience is to relate every aspect of the appeal to those terms and conditions and to eliminate any trace of emotion (often difficult for the person under review).

HelpHound and appeals

We routinely conduct appeals on behalf of our clients, with a success rate of roughly 50% (it would be higher, but experience has taught us that some of the appeals where we would rate our clients' chances of success at virtually nil can succeed, and - given how damaging such reviews can be, sometimes literally causing a business's telephone to stop ringing (there's an example of that here that made the national press) we continue to advise that certain appeals with an outside chance of success are pursued.

What sites?

Google is, by far and away, number one. A harmful Google review has more power than any other, no matter what business it relates to, and should be treated as such. But most responsible reviews sites have appeal procedures (TripAdvisor's is a model others could do well to emulate). Here is the text of two reviews that we have recently appealed - successfully:

 We're sure you can imagine the harm this review was doing, being served when anyone googled the business in question

And another...

If this was your business, how would you, and your management and staff, feel waking up to this every day? Unfair negative reviews sap morale - and they are read - and believed - by consumers.

Indicators of potential for a successful appeal

The following should not be taken as a definitive list, we have seen appeals that we would assume have a ninety per cent chance of success (no appeal has 100%) fail, and those with a twenty per cent chance succeed...
  • marked factual inaccuracy - "there was no sea view" - there was, "the property was on the third floor" (it was on the ground floor)
  • accusations of financial impropriety - "they stole..."
  • accusations of illegal activity - "they [did something which broke the law]" 
  • no record - written or otherwise - of the reviewer having contact with the business
  • any proof that the business (or indeed HelpHound) has found to indicate that the review (or the reviewer) is somehow questionable

Google's attitude

Google needs to be trusted by its users - and delivering them reviews that they can trust is key to this, so a successful appeal is a win/win - for the business and for Google.


Simple: HelpHound members £150, non-members £250. 

In summary

Speak to us, it won't cost you a penny - and it is most certainly not in our interest to encourage you to pursue appeals with little prospect of success. We will advise you if that is the case straight away, but if we consider the review(s) appealable we will tell you exactly how the procedure works, and we will write the appeal for you - the decision is then yours.

Monday 5 March 2018

Thousands could lose their life savings - why reviews matter

Estimates vary, but the Telegraph is saying that up to 20,000 investors are affected, many with their life savings at risk.

But why? With this a search away...

And these...

The point? That a number of people - the exact number will never be known - were saved from investing with this business, not by the City regulator, the FCA, but by Google - in fact, by just sixteen people writing a review on Google (one is positive!).

Duty of Care

Businesses surely have a duty of care to their investors, and especially businesses in the world of finance. And for reputable firms we would sincerely suggest that that duty of care includes ensuring that they engage with reviews, if only out of pure self-interest.

Just how many people would have avoided using Beaufort Securities if responsible and reliable competitors had looked good in search. Like this...

The most reviewed investment advisers in London - probably. But, from the look of it, they only engaged when they were the subject of a damning 1* review first. We suggest that many FS businesses can learn from Holder & Combes, and engage before they have to.

But just how many investment advisers or wealth managers have paid attention to reviews? The answer is: pitiably few. See this random search on 'investment advisers' in London...

  One business in seven has just one review - astonishing in 2018

Helpful for potential investors? We don't think so.

What about the industry leaders? 




Brewin Dolphin...

Suprised? So were we. So we began by asking ourselves the obvious question - and soon the answer became apparent...

Why so few reviews?

The answer is summed up with one word: 'fear'. Fear - by the business - of inviting negative reviews. After all, as the label on the tin says: 'the price of investments can go down as well as up' and what investment adviser is going to expose themselves to reviews that say 'mine went down'? 
Our answer to the investment community: all of you. Because of the aforementioned 'duty of care', but also for the following reason...

 This Google review is damaging enough in itself - the fact that it is served by Google as the first review seen by anyone referencing this business (as 'most helpful' and 'most recent') makes it doubly so. In addition the business has failed to respond and it has been voted 'Helpful' by two readers in the last two months (we estimate that 'Helpful' votes represent less than one percent of those that have read a Google review - so this review's reach is likely to stretch into the hundreds).
  • if you don't engage you risk leaving the field clear for your minority of unhappy clients, and they will find their way to Google eventually, and then you will find your reputation unfairly tarnished

Managing the 'fear'

That's simple: just take estate agency; estate agents - especially lettings agents - are hardly at the top of the list of 'most admired' occupations, so we don't think those in financial services have anything to worry about if we can produce results for them like these we have produced for good estate agents...

And focusing on the positives...

Back to Holder & Combes - for anyone doubting that having great reviews drives new business, read the first line

Great review management is like great investment management: it produces great results. Not just great reviews and great scores on Google (which it will), but it will actively encourage people to use your business, and since September last year, you will be able to measure that like this...

   This is a screenshot of a client's Google My Business report - if you don't recognise it as being just like the one your business receives every month you will need to find out who in your office is receiving it (if you draw a blank, just ring Karen Hutchings here and she will walk you through the procedure for having it readdressed) 

So: over to you in the world of investment management; recognise that your potential clients/investors will welcome reviews from your existing clients, and that reviews can provide that crucial differentiation between the kind of business with which they will be happy to entrust their life savings and those that perhaps they should be wary of.


Friday 2 March 2018

Such a big story behind such a little button

Our 'Leave a review' button is the key to so many benefits - for business and consumer alike - we decided to devote this post to them all. First, let's look at the way this client has described its function...

...we especially like this because it makes clear that leaving a review is so much more than just that. We have calculated that in over 5% of 'reviews' posted through HelpHound the 'reviewer' is consciously choosing to use it in preference to more conventional ways of communicating with the business (phone/email and so on). They are not 'complaining', in the strict sense of that word; often they are using their review as a way of establishing whether or not they in fact have cause for complaint, or (as is so often the case) there has been a misunderstanding which can now be resolved.

Examples (we'll use estate agency here, but the principles are the same for almost every business):
  • tenants writing a review to query the return of their deposit
  • landlords expressing disappointment with voids/rental returns
  • purchasers/vendors expressing concerns over complex transactional issues

The process:

From the moment a customer clicks on the 'Leave a review' button HelpHound is involved...
  1. The reviewer is shown a tailored review template
  2. The reviewer completes their review
  3. They hit the 'submit' button
  4. The review is sent straight to HelpHound
  5. HelpHound moderate the review
  6. Reviews containing no contentious issues are published on the business's website (the business and the reviewer are both notified, simultaneously)
  7. Reviews that contain potentially misleading or inaccurate content are referred to the business (again, the business and the the reviewer are notified)
  8. The business engages with their customer - either via HelpHound or direct, the choice is theirs
  9. HelpHound invite the reviewer to post their final review
  10. The business responds to the published review

At which point HelpHound automatically asks the reviewer, on the business's behalf, to copy their review to Google.*


For the overwhelming majority of businesses, who have an embedded culture of customer care, the results are reassuringly positive. They rarely score 100% (or 5 out of 5 in the world of reviews), but they also rarely score less than 90% (or 4.5 out of 5). The resulting scores and reviews themselves (which are read by prospective customers) present an accurate picture of the business and can be relied on as an accurate indicator by potential customers.

An analysis of an individual business's results*:

This demonstrates the effectiveness of HelpHound's moderation in enabling the business to welcome potentially damaging reviews whilst remaining as secure as they can be that those contain potentially misleading or inaccurate statements will at least be challenged pre-publication.

*Some readers will be wondering why the numbers of positive reviews drop post-moderation, albeit marginally. That is because some positive reviews contain errors too, and while our moderators will always ask a reviewer to post a final review, we cannot force them to!

So, to sum up, the 'Write a review button' is...
  • Your business's key to getting great reviews; on your own website and on Google
  • A great channel to further enhance your business's customer communications
  • The key to eliminating 'fear' as a factor in review management
And on top of those three, there is much anecdotal evidence from our clients that their potential customers are seriously impressed when they point out that anyone can write a review of their business at any time.

Further reading:
  • See a case history that embodies the benefits of this strategy here
  • And another showing the measurable uplift in calls and website visits through Google

Compliance matters: Don't play 'games' with Google reviews

This article has been prompted by our ever burgeoning file of the tricks some businesses resort to when trying to game their images in Google reviews. We have anonymised the screenshots that follow to protect the guilty, but please bear in mind that if we have such a file of wrongdoers you can be sure that the regulators do as well.



Apart from contravening Google's own T&Cs and the UK Competition & Markets Authority's regulations, what was the business thinking? Did they really believe that no-one would ever reference their Amazon vouchers? And did no-one think "This could really damage our credibility when our competitors understand what we have done to get our reviews"?


Again: in contravention of the CMAs regulations, which clearly and unequivocally state that any business that invites reviews must allow all its customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. Why do some businesses persist in telegraphing the fact that they only invite 'happy' customers to post reviews by scoring 5.0 out of five, but with low absolute numbers of reviews, usually written over a protracted period, but sometimes all at once (see the example under 'Advanced cherry-picking' below)?

Advanced cherry-picking

A good (not great) score. And a significant number of reviews. But mine down into the pattern of the reviews themselves and what do we see? Eight out of only nine reviews written in the last twelve months score 1* and two years ago the business had less than thirty Google reviews, acquired over the previous five years, averaging just over 3.0. Over 140 reviews were written in a six week period in 2016. Questionable? surely. Obvious? Definitely.

This is a 'clever' one; it involves inviting customers to write a review to an independent reviews site that, by definition, will have far less visibility in search than Google and then inviting only those customers that have posted a five star review to that site to copy it across to Google. It can be done all at once (as we have strong suspicions in the case of the example above) or as a matter of ongoing policy.

Contracted-out cherry-picking

This one involves contracting someone else to do your dirty work; it sounds so plausible: 'We'll conduct a customer survey for you, then, when the customer has told us they think you are great (or words to that effect) we will invite them to post a review to Google (or any other reviews site of your choice). Another dark side of a pretty dark art: reputation management. This article was written five years ago, it is surprising just how current its main themes still are. And the central one? If you need reputation management your business needs to look at itself and make some pretty fundamental changes to its CRM before adopting review management.

Why do businesses do this?

Often it's out of sheer laziness, or management ignorance of the CMA regulations, but whatever the reasoning that leads to using such a broken strategy (we repeat: do the businesses involved think their competitors will never notice?) it leaves a highly visible paper trail for the regulators to follow (how much more visible than a pattern of Google reviews could a paper trail be?).

But most of all we think it's about fear. The reason online retailers have adopted reviews with such alacrity but their fellows in service businesses have done the opposite is the recognition that whereas we all expect to see shoes and shirts scoring 4 out of 5 on a shopping site (and will then go on to buy those shoes and shirts) a single well-written negative Google review of a service business has the capacity to deflect significant business, even to stop the phone ringing altogether (if you have any doubts about this, please read this story, which made the national press).

There's no need!

This is the crazy thing: if you are actually run a customer focused-business you can adopt a proper professional review management strategy that will get you the results you deserve whist addressing the 'fear factor'.

And that strategy has a name? HelpHound, of course. 

Further reading: