Breaking the law?
The CMA is a government body and its rules have the force of law.
What are those rules?
There's a full analysis here, but in a nutshell, they say two things...
1. If you invite any of your customers to write a review - anywhere - you must enable them all to do so
2. Your customer - not the business - must control the timing of the review
The rationale behind these rules is clear: the reviews of the business should be able to provide an accurate and unvarnished guide for prospective customers - otherwise why have reviews in the first place?
What provoked this article?
Two meetings and one chance encounter.
In both meetings, the potential clients both claimed to be compliant but were not. In the 'chance encounter' we met two full-time employees of a well-known London multi-branch estate agency who were spending the morning 'door-dropping'.
When challenged on the subject of compliance all three said the same things (in different ways):
- anyone can write a Google review, so it must be OK for us to selectively invite clients that we know will write a positive [Google] review to do so
- we have a link inviting reviews on our signature block, surely that makes us compliant?
- our head office controls the timing of the review invitation
- you - and by implication, the CMA - cannot possibly expect us to invite [insert name of unhappy customer] to write a review?
The answer to all of these points? Each is either an illustration of non-compliant - illegal - behaviour or illustrates insufficient compliance (the email signature block).
The point is - and this was highlighted by the two staff we met in the street - is that compliance is not expensive (and has massive attendant benefits*), certainly far less expensive than sending staff out to door-drop (and we're not suggesting the business concerned stops doing that).
It can be free - simply install a Google reviews widget on your website. That, for a complex transactional or professional business - legal, financial, estate agency, medical for example - might be high risk (customers might accidentally - or even wilfully - write inaccurate reviews).
The other option is to employ a moderated review management system - like HelpHound - that costs less than three figures a month (and certainly a lot less than sending two members of staff door-dropping for a morning!) and rest assured that a) inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews are very unlikely to see the light of day and b) be compliant from day one.
*How can compliance either save or earn a business money?
It's simple when you think about it: non-compliance, where reviews are concerned, is so obvious - if a business has more than ten Google reviews it is definitely proactively inviting them, and if it has no mechanism visible on its website that allows customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing it is almost certainly in breach of one or both of the CMA regulations mentioned above.
That information is dynamite in the hands of a competitor: all they have to say is 'Did you know that [Brown & Co] only invite their happy customers to write reviews' and all those months and years of work building up a glowing reputation go straight down the drain (we have even seen reviews of businesses that say 'don't use this business, I was unhappy and they didn't invite me to write a review' - the CMA would love those.
On the plus side, having great reviews - on your own website and on Google - has been proven to earn money. See how many more calls an clicks to expect here.
The key to compliance - and an awful lot more besides...
This image is taken from a HelpHound client's website; that 'Write a review' button at top right makes our client compliant because anyone can click on it and submit a review. The review will be moderated by HelpHound - read for obvious factual inaccuracies or comments likely to mislead a potential customer (as well as establishing, as far as possible, the bona fides of the reviewer - no one benefits from fake or malicious reviews)
The customer retains the right to have their review published at a time of their own choosing and will be invited - automatically - to copy their review to Google. That results in this...
Looking great - on the business's own website, on Google - compliantly, and for less than £100 a month.