Monday 20 July 2020

Reviews: a survival checklist for the 'New Normal'

More and more - especially now that so many have so much more time on their hands and have become so much more careful with their money (and are spending far more of it online -or, at the very least, conducting much more pre-purchase research there) - consumers are checking a business's reviews before taking the first critical step: picking up the phone or clicking through to the business's website.

Research proves time and again that following these simple - and inexpensive - steps boosts incoming calls and clicks significantly. Here's just one typical 'before and after':

This is from a client's Google My Business report - something Google sends every business on the planet every month - from the first full month after adopting HelpHound. 

So here is a checklist for every business...

  1. Have at least 50 Google reviews
  2. Have at least 100 reviews on your own website
  3. Ensure your reviews are current
  4. Make sure those reviews are independently verified
  5. Make sure those reviews are moderated
  6. Make sure that all your review processes are legally compliant
  7. Motivate your staff 
  8. Respond to all your reviews
  9. Mobilise your reviews in your marketing
  10. Keep checking your review management strategy against this checklist!

1.  50 Google reviews

It's straightforward: research has shown that this is the level at which consumer scepticism evaporates and 'I bet they're all written by friends and family' is replaced by 'this is an impressive array of positive comments'.

2.  100 reviews on your own website

As for the above. Plus a crucial element (see 'Moderated' - Point 5 below). Why double the number? Simply because we have found from long experience that it is possible to get about half of those customers who write a review to the business's website to go on and copy it to Google.

3.  Current

How many times do we see a business that worked really hard to get reviews a year ago and then let it slip? Too often. It is so obvious to consumers too. Keep the reviews coming.

4.  Independently verified

Independent verification turns a testimonial into a review. It also enables moderation (again, point 5. below).

5.  Moderated

Without moderation, every business is bound, sooner or later, to fall victim to a factually inaccurate or damagingly misleading review - often both. Many businesses have a'so what? attitude to these - until they fall victim. With moderation the likelihood is massively reduced, if not wholly eliminated. More here.

6.  Legal

So many businesses are breaking the law - mostly by hand-picking customers to write reviews -  that complacency has become widespread. But if, by adopting a professional review management strategy, a business can become fully compliant, why risk being the first in your area to be fined and sanctioned? More here.

7.  Motivate staff

Many business's first reaction is to offer rewards to customers for writing reviews. This is against Google's terms of service and risks all the business's reviews being unilaterally deleted. Reward staff instead. More here.

8.  Respond

It's so easy, but still many businesses fail to do so. More here.

9.  Mobilise

Looking great on Google and on your own website is a great first step, and you will certainly notice the increase in inbound enquiries, but it is such a waste to leave it there. Use reviews in all your marketing - online and offline and in social media.

10.  Check - and check again

Just as you do with any repetitive discipline in business: keep a running check on your reviews.

Thursday 9 July 2020

It is so important that every business obeys the law concerning reviews

We heard it again today: 

"Why can't we just invite happy customers to post reviews?"

And it's a perfectly reasonable question when asked by a perfectly reasonable business.

But we don't live in a world populated entirely - or even mostly - by perfectly reasonable businesses.

The reason the CMA rules categorically state that...
  • if a business invites any reviews at all it must enable all of its customers to write a review
  • no business should control the timing of the writing of a review - consumers should be able to write a review at a time of their own choosing precisely because of that.

So here's why the law must be enforced - and obeyed:

Unlike reasonable businesses there are businesses out there, many of them (most in some areas of business) that would - and do - manipulate reviews in their favour, against the interests of their potential customers.

To make it quite clear why the law does not allow businesses to 'just ask happy customers to post reviews' let's take an example: 

Your nearest-and-dearest is diagnosed with a severe illness and you urgently need to find a specialist. You google and you find three such specialists in your area, but one scores far higher than the other two, with far more glowing reviews, so you - quite understandably - choose them.

Six months later you see a report in your local newspaper:

'Medical specialist fined heavily by the CMA for fraudulently misleading patients with their reviews'

You read on:

'Their reviews were written by friends, a marketing agency based in the Philippines and other untraceable 'patients', as well as a tiny minority of genuinely satisfied patients who had been hand-picked and then cajoled into writing a positive review. Patients whose treatments had less positive outcomes had not been contacted at all.'

Are we thinking along the same lines now? Reviews must not be manipulated - at all. Otherwise consumers, when faced with headlines such as this, repeated constantly in the press and online:

...will simply end up ignoring reviews altogether. And that would be a bad thing, for businesses and consumers alike.

The good news

The reason many otherwise honest businesses have flouted one or both of the CMA's core rules referred to above is simple: fear. Fear of receiving reviews from customers that have not understood the product or service they have bought and then resort - in the main - to Google to air their real or imagined grievance.

Google, rightly, will not engage 'in matters of commercial dispute'; in plain English: the customer's opinion - and review - stands unless the business under review can provide proof positive that the review is either malicious or, for example: written about the wrong business. 

Note: If you think your business is the victim of an unfair, inaccurate or misleading review(s), read this or simply contact us, we will almost certainly have a solution for you.

In other words, once a review is on Google it's there for the life of the business, with few exceptions. 

The solution is there for any business that requires it: moderation. And for that, you require an independent moderator. And guess what? That's exactly what HelpHound does.


Moderation: the act of mediating between reviewer and reviewed business to ensure the veracity and accuracy of reviews pre-publication.

The regulators, quite understandably, don't like businesses moderating their own reviews, and nor, surprisingly enough do consumers. When we first introduced our moderation service we were concerned that consumers might see us 'acting in the best interests of our paying business clients'; but the reverse has been the case: reviewers are pleased - and often relieved - when we alert them to the fact that something contained in their review may possibly mislead a fellow-consumer who may well come to rely on it. We also correct spelling errors and basic grammar before publishing reviews.

There's much more on moderation here. Suffice to say, it's the key to engaging - proactively and compliantly and perhaps most important of all from a business's perspective: safely - with reviews for most, if not all, of our clients.

In conclusion:

There's now no reason to break the law. Review management is so inexpensive and has so many positive benefits - on top of the 'sleep at night' knowledge that there will be no knock at the door from the CMA - that adopting it should be a foregone conclusion for any well-managed business. 

And woe betide your competitor that keeps on ploughing the non-compliant furrow when they do get that knock!

Further reading: 

  • The CMA regulations - that apply to every business trading in the UK - explained in full.
  • Moderation - and why it is such a vital component of successful review management
  • ABC of reviews - the authoritative guide to everything review-related, for those who want to understand reviews in depth