Friday, 13 September 2019

BBC Watchdog - and how this horror story could so easily have been prevented

This week's BBC Watchdog, not for the first time, featured an elderly lady who had been ruthlessly defrauded by a tradesman, in this case, a tree surgeon. The story will be familiar: she sees a flyer advertising his services, he turns up with two assistants, quotes her £550 for what Watchdog's expert has assessed as a £350 job, does a dreadful job and then ramps up the charge to over £6,000, takes every penny of cash she has in the house and then 'helps' her make a bank transfer for the balance.

What should she have done?

Googled - or asked a relation or friend to Google - and then read the business's reviews (their Google reviews - more on that later*).

But - and this is currently a big 'but' - that relies on the business engaging with Google reviews. It is the business's responsibility to give its potential customers the confidence to use them. 

Currently, tree surgeons in Essex (where the story above came from) are doing a very bad job, not at tree-lopping but at giving their potential customers the confidence to use them:

What should they be doing? Let's search for a similar 'man with a van' trade - oven cleaners, this time in Sussex:

And Sussex Oven Cleaning's underlying reviews?

*why Google reviews, why not Yelp or Yell or Trustpilot or Feefo or Trustatrader or Ratedpeople?

It's simple really:

  1. They are the most visible reviews on the web - by a mile
  2. They are the most trusted reviews - again, by a mile, thanks in part to 3. below
  3. They are free for the business
So why pay for one of the other mechanisms mentioned above, unless they are providing some advantage over and above Google (feel free to comment by clicking the button below)?

The downside of adopting a Google-centric reviews policy?

There's only one: you will need to ensure that you are seen to be inviting all your customers to post a review, for two reasons: in order to comply with the UK law as it relates to reviews and to be able to look prospective customers in the eye and be able to say 'our reviews are an accurate reflection of our business'. 

That is where HelpHound comes in: aside from advising businesses on all aspects of reviews and review management we provide software to enable our clients to gather reviews and moderation for those reviews once they have been submitted by your customer.


The process is simple but essential: the review is submitted, it is then read by one of our moderators in order to establish if it is either factually inaccurate or has the potential to mislead someone reading (and relying on) the review. If that is the case we will refer to both reviewer - your customer - and the business under review; this inevitably results in a very high proportion of factually accurate and therefore helpful reviews (helpful to your potential customer and to your business). 

Our message - to every single business...

For the sake of your prospective customers: Engage with Google reviews!

And if you are concerned as to just how to go about it without putting your business's reputation at risk - speak to us.

Friday, 6 September 2019

TripAdvisor and fake reviews - again!

When will the world - the reviews sites themselves and the regulators (the CMA in the UK) -wake up to the damage done by fake reviews?

Regular readers will have lost count of the number of times we have written on this subject, and the articles go back nearly ten years. First, let us look at the points made by Which? and the BBC and TripAdvisor's responses.

Our points:
  1. Fake reviews are written by employees or agents of the hotel in question. Surely it is not about '[going after] fake reviews "very aggressively"' but more about going after the hotels themselves? What has TripAdvisor done to warn its users that the hotels in question have been guilty of seriously misleading the public? Nothing, as far as we can make out.
  2. There is another category of fake review that neither Which? nor the BBC has touched on: the negative fake review. These are written, in significant volumes, by competitor hotels.  
  3. "We are doing more than any other platform out there" That's not saying much Mr Kay; as far as we are aware HelpHound is the only reviews mechanism in the world today that moderates reviews pre-publication (and we are not claiming that our system is 100% watertight, but at least we do everything we can to ensure that it is as close as possible to the ideal). TripAdvisor has massive financial resources (it turned over nearly $2 bn last year) and staff (over 3,000 at last count) and it is constantly investing in just about everything except ensuring the veracity of its reviews, the very aspect of its business model that reassures its users so they use its platform to book their hotel and therefore earn TripAdvisor revenue.  

Our points:

  1. Naomi Leach of which is right on both counts: TripAdvisor has consistently failed, over many years, to give any concrete examples of action it has taken, on its own initiative, to prevent fake review appearing on its site and to prevent hotels gaming their Tripadvisor reviews.
  2. "Platforms like TripAdvisor should be more responsible for the information presented to consumers". Absolutely; we would just take the word 'more' out of this sentence.
  3. Show us your 'fraud detection tools'. TripAdvisor has consistently hidden behind the weak excuse that to expose its so-called 'fraud detection tools' would lead to further and more sophisticated fraud by hotels. That, to our mind, is a bit like saying that drivers will find a way around speed cameras.

Our points:

  1. The UK CMA has the power to sanction review sites or sites such as TripAdvisor that invite and display reviews as part of their business model. It is high time that they did so.
  2. The CMA also has the power to prosecute businesses that set out to fraudulently deceive consumers. They should do so.

In summary

We look forward to seeing TripAdvisor take action - publicly visible action - against hotels that post fake reviews. Years ago they did do so, here is the 'red flag' notice they used...

Surely the hotels that Which? identified in their investigation merit something similar, if only to warn consumers? After all, what are reviews for at the end of the day?

We would also like to see a thorough investigation by the CMA - and action taken.