Tuesday 31 July 2018

Clamping down on corporate reviews manipulation - Australia leads the way

Hardly a month passes when we don't write about compliance. Why? Because hardly a day passes when we don't see a business flouting the law. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission wanted the fine to be A$20m, but we think A$3m probably got the message across.

The point is: do we have to wait for a similar fine in the UK before businesses take our Competition & Markets Authority seriously?

What did Meriton do?

Exactly what most businesses we meet and see every day do: choose which customers to invite to post a review and control the timing of those invitations. All across the UK businesses, some one might describe as 'blue chip' in every other way, are doing the same thing, systematically.

How can we tell? Experience mostly - and when we meet you might be surprised how many people say 'What - we have to invite everyone?' Scoring at or near a 'perfect 5' is one clue, odd patterns of review writing another (we know of one business that has roughly a hundred reviews on Google - twenty in the five years running up to 2016 and ten following, with seventy in a three-month period in between - it doesn't take a genius, here at HelpHound or at the CMA to see what happened).

So - again - the CMA regulations explicitly state that if you invite reviews at all...

  • you must invite everyone - no ifs, not buts, no 'but they will be certain to write an unfair and inaccurate review'
  • you - or the external mechanism you use - must allow them to write their review at a time of their own choosing - businesses that either invite immediately post-purchase but have no mechanism for their customer to return at a later date and either write or alter a review are non-compliant

There's a full analysis of the CMA regulations here. Please call us if you have any questions or doubts. Regulatory fines are very bad for PR (see above).

Why do businesses do it - and what should they be doing?

They do it because of three things...
  • they recognise the power of reviews, especially on Google - and sites like TripAdvisor for those in hospitality
  • they also recognise just how damaging a single negative review can be - both stand alone and the impact it has on their all-important score (they have to score 4.5 or more on Google to avoid the filter since June this year)
  • they don't know of a compliant way to protect their reputations
They should - and we make no apology for this sounding like an advertisement for HelpHound - be using professional review management.

Professional review management enables businesses to invite reviews in the knowledge that there is an inbuilt safety mechanism - moderation (we call ours Resolution™) - that stands a very good chance indeed of ensuring that inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews will not see the light of day.

How? Read this - but here's the short answer: every review that is written about a HelpHound client is read - before publication - by our moderators. If there are any anomalies in the review we alert the business and their customer and allow them to address them. It is, as you can imagine, popular with our clients, but is also, you may be surprised to hear, equally popular with the reviewers, most of whom don't want to publish nonsense - especially when the business has the ability to correct their errors if they are published.

Result? Compliance - yes. Great reviews on the business's own website? Yes (providing the business is good at what it does). Great reviews on Google? Yes.

So - and this is aimed directly at our readers who have yet to join - you will fall into one of two categories...
  • a great business that gets the occasional dissatisfied customer
  • a good business that needs to up its CRM game a tad 
...the former should join straight away - you will be compliant from day one. The latter should suspend all review gathering until its CRM has been addressed, then join. 

What you cannot do is continue 'selecting' those customers you invite to write a review - or use a mechanism that gives your business control over who writes a review and when.

Further reading...

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