Wednesday 30 September 2020

Can consumers trust review sites (2)?

This story was run by most of the media last weekend:

So we looked up the review providers for both companies - which happened to be the same (Trustpilot) - and what did we see?


And this:

On the face of it, at least from the headline scores, not so bad: most consumers check the overall score, in this case: 4.0 out of 5 for both. The key here is just that: that consumers have been proven to trust businesses that score 4 out of 5 (see 'How misleading are review scores?'). But is that a true reflection of the reality of customers' experience with these two companies? The press headlines would suggest there's more, so let's mine down further:


Seriously, Trustpilot? Both companies leave twenty percent of their customers, who are buying seriously big-ticket items - replacement windows and doors - so unhappy that they rate them 'poor' or 'bad'? That makes a business 'great' in Trustpilot's eyes?

Now we do what we advise all consumers to do (and where we advise all our clients to focus their efforts): look at the business's Google reviews (and scores!).

Only two example locations, but trust us, we looked at plenty and these are representative

So we have one simple question for Trustpilot and all their fellow review sites:

How do you add value for the consumer when compared to Google reviews?

Because if you cannot come up with a meaningful answer, and we surely cannot, you shouldn't be in the business of providing a service that would, on the face of all the evidence (see articles passim on the blog) benefit the business to the detriment of the consumer.

Here is a review site that claims to add value for consumers: Feefo.

But here is the same business on Google:

And Feefo's 'added value'? They only publish reviews where the reviewer has been emailed by the business and specifically invited to post a review. The added value is intended to be in the reassurance that the person writing the review is identifiably a customer of the business. But there are major flaws in this system.

1.  The business has control of the invitation, and it is just too easy for the business to 'forget' to email its identifiably unhappy customers.

2.  The business has control over the timing of the invitation. 

3.  Besides offering the business an opportunity to invite the review when the customer is at their happiest (usually just after delivery of the service or product) this method is illegal in the UK (see more here).

Google's added value?

  1. It is seen by every single prospective customer, every time they search
  2. It's trusted by consumers (by comparison with most review sites it's difficult to game)
  3. It's free!

So: our question for all three parties: the businesses, the review sites and the regulators (the CMA in the UK): 

When are you going to stop using mechanisms that are open to abuse and self-evidently benefit the business and not the consumer?

If any of these parties, or indeed any of our readers, have answers, comments or suggestions please comment below.


Tuesday 15 September 2020

How misleading are review scores?

Courier services are ubiquitous these days, and we all - as consumers - have our own horror stories, but what about the businesses that rely on these services for their lifeblood? How do they choose which to use? There are myriad ways, just as there are for any business service, from personal recommendation to responding to marketing. But these days people would be well advised to include reviews in the mix.

This courier company has a Trustpilot score of 4.2. And we're guessing most readers are already thinking 'that's OK'. Even Trustpilot calls it 'Great'. Well, here we explain why it's not. Not OK. And definitely not great. First, let's look at the numbers.

They have 785,645 reviews. Of those reviews, 15 percent (117,941) rate the business at the lowest possible - one star. Those ratings invariably mean a parcel or other shipment lost or damaged beyond repair, helpfully summed up by this, their most recent one-star review:

In addition, many reviews refer to the difficulty customers have with Hermes 'customer services':

So what Trustpilot actually reveals is a business...

  • that loses or damages nearly one in six of all deliveries
  • that is very bad at customer communications
And this, in turn, often leads to a potential customer doing even more research, and maybe coming across videos such as this...


For Hermes:
  1. If you are happy with a business model that fails for one in six of your customers, carry on
  2. If not, address the systemic issues raised in these reviews
  3. Respond to your reviews - after all, it's Hermes that's inviting them in the first place
  4. At this rate (assuming 29,000 self-employed couriers delivering 80 parcels a day each = over 2 million deliveries a day, with 15% going wrong = over a quarter of a million botched deliveries) soon no-one will be using your service unless they have no alternative!
For the consumer:
  1. Don't rely on headline scores alone when choosing a business
  2. Read reviews, both positive and negative
  3. Read the business's response to those reviews
  4. When you decide which business to use challenge them on the points raised in their negative reviews (and their responses)

You don't need to leave reviews out of your marketing mix

Stockbroker and wealth manager Charles Stanley has invested heavily in a multi-media marketing and advertising campaign it is calling 'Conversation Starters'.

Anyone who has been out and about in London over the past months will have seen:


They also have a Google PPC campaign running, so appearing - and looking good - in Google searches is important for them:

They conduct customer surveys, and the results are great, and those findings are harnessed  for use in social media campaigns:

So what? Now let's look at the consumer journey - potential investor, in this instance - once their appetite has been well and truly whetted by everything your see above:

The initial search...

...shows the business scoring 4.0 out of 5 with one review. Maybe that review will be helpful?

...not really! And the story is the same for their twenty-two locations across the UK.

Now, we are guessing that Charles Stanley would address this 'Google reviews deficit' if it found the right mechanism, given that achieving critical mass with Google reviews is proven to drive so many clicks and calls. It certainly has a fertile field to plough with over 800 staff and many thousands of clients, so what do we suppose is stopping it currently?

Professional businesses, whether they be in the medical, legal or financial world (or any other service - as opposed to product - arena; estate agency, architecture and so on) need a mechanism that levels the playing field between their customer (client/patient etc.) and their business, otherwise they will be putting their hard-won reputations on the line.

And Charles Stanley is certainly not alone; here are screenshots of the Google review panels of five significant wealth management businesses, all Google PPC advertisers, that are seen by everyone who searches:

The solution

As ever - with apologies to our regular readers - the solution revolves around moderation (for a definition see here). Let's look first at the aspects of reviews - especially Google reviews - that give businesses like Charles Stanley warranted cause for concern:
  1. that consumers - clients or IFAs in this instance - will write factually inaccurate reviews
  2. that they may write misleading reviews - reviews where the facts are not in dispute but the general thrust of the review is open to misinterpretation
  3. that dissatisfied clients will write disproportionately more reviews than happy clients
  4. that the business will have no chance to correspond with the reviewer and correct errors of fact pre-publication
  5. that the critical business/client personal relationship will be undermined
One by one...

1.  This does happen, and is always picked up in moderation of the review is written through HelpHound. We act as a mediator between the reviewer and the reviewed business. Reviewers welcome this part of our service as much as businesses - unsurprisingly, when you think about it: few reviewers actively want to publish inaccurate or misleading statements about a business.

2.  Ditto point 1. above. And that includes ensuring that the English is comprehensible.

3.  Only the case if either a) the business is inept at customer relationship management (CRM) or b) the business is not proactive in inviting reviews from its clients. Part of HelpHound's role is to ensure that the business and its staff are confident in inviting reviews from their customers.

4.  This is part of HelpHound's core offering: the ability to do just this. The quality - in terms of helpfulness to subsequent readers of the individual reviews - is paramount. 

5.  Extensive experience has shown that professional review management reinforces a business's CRM, not the other way around. It acts as a great marketing tool on the one hand and a valuable early warning of customer dissatisfaction on the other.

Just compare the search results above with those from any HelpHound client, and we're sure you will see what we mean. Looking good on Google - in terms of reviews - is massively reassuring for those making one of the biggest financial decisions of their life, whether that be investing capital or buying property.

The reviews themselves...

And the not inconsiderable contribution to the business leading local search:

So: HelpHound gives service businesses and the professions a safe and secure way of engaging with reviews. With a host of advantages (see 'Further reading' below) but with the objective of driving more business through search and the business's own website always at the core of everything we do:

This is the Google My Business monthly report for just one branch of a client business, for the month after full implementation of our service, showing the 'HelpHound effect'. Imagine what these numbers could do for your business.

Further reading: