Friday 2 June 2023

Review moderation - the essential ingredient in professional review management

We refer to moderation in most articles, because it is central to what we do for our clients. In this article we will walk you through the process, to make completely clear the difference between using a moderated review management system and inviting customers to post unmoderated reviews direct to any review platform.

Before we go on to discuss moderation and its [positive] impact on our clients' online reputations let us first make one thing absolutely crystal clear: a single well-crafted review - fair or not - can literally stop the phones ringing. Saying 'We hardly ever get a negative review, so we might as well ask our clients/patients/customers to post direct to Google' may work out fine for months, even years, but the panic calls we receive from great businesses saying 'We have just had a single grossly unfair/inaccurate/misleading Google review and it's severely impacting the number of calls and clicks we achieve.' says precisely the reverse. And please bear in mind that HelpHound's monthly fee for what you hope you will agree after reading this article is an essential service (often described by clients as 'insurance for our hard-won reputation) is roughly the hourly rate charged by most businesses in our marketplace (actually, often considerably less).

If you have any doubts whatsoever please look at this....

We estimate that for every reader that clicks on the thumbs-up button at least another ten to fifteen have read the review and acted on it. That's 200-300 fewer enquiries and the number could be a quantum higher. No one will ever know, but we do know that this review will have had a negative impact on new business flows for the business concerned

...and read this shocking tale of how a single review impacted a law firm from the south of England so badly that they felt compelled to take the reviewer to court.

What is moderation?

The word itself has many meanings. Here's what the Oxford Dictionary says...

But, while the OED currently ignores the common web usage of the word, Wikipedia comes closer...

So, here's our definition...

  • Moderation is the act of reading a review before publication to ensure that it contains...
    • no factual inaccuracies - reviews containing errors of fact help no one
    • nothing that may potentially mislead a reader - for the same reason 
    • understandable written English

So what happens in practical terms?

If our moderator - a human, not a computer programme or an algorithm - identifies any of the above (which requires a measure of understanding of our client's business) the following happens...

  1. the review is sent to both the reviewer and the business under review, simultaneously, with an accompanying note from our moderator, highlighting the issue that has been identified
  2. the reviewer and the business are then invited to respond to our moderator
  3. Our moderator will then share those responses with both parties
  4. The reviewer is then given three options...
    1. To have their original review published
    2. To modify their review and then have it published
    3. To decide not to have a review published
  5. If either options 4.1 or 4.2 are chosen by the reviewer then they will automatically be asked to copy their review to the business's chosen review site (invariably Google)

N.B. Unlike one prominent review site, HelpHound does not publish reviews contingent upon proof of purchase by the reviewer. The CMA regulations clearly state that barriers such as this must not be placed in the way of a reviewer attempting to publish their genuinely held opinion. In practice - and we have well over ten years of experience to back this up - we find that well over ninety per cent of reviews subject to moderation are modified by the reviewer, in favour of the business. After all, in spite of what the most cynical may think, reviewers seldom want to have erroneous opinions published.

The process you see above is the only legally compliant way for a business to minimise harmful factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews.  
Here are examples of strategies currently used by UK businesses to minimise negative reviews, accurate or not - all of these are illegal:

    • hand-picking satisfied customers to invite to write reviews
    • pre-qualifying customer opinions to identify those satisfied customers - often by using customer surveys and questionnaires
    • having friends and families of staff write reviews
    • incentivising customers to write 5* reviews - we have seen examples of Amazon and M&S vouchers and plain old-fashioned cash used as incentives

We would go so far as to say that about 75% of businesses with over 100 reviews, on whatever platform, have employed one or more of the strategies outlined above.

The CMA regulations - see them, accompanied by our analysis here - apply to all UK businesses. They expressly forbid all the strategies above. So what makes HelpHound's moderators' interventions compliant with the CMA regulations? First: the express invitation at the end of the moderation process to have whatever review the reviewer wishes published. Second: the automated invitation to copy the review to Google. And third?

The red ellipse, above, highlights two buttons, each leading to a crucial aspect of the moderation process...

1. The '[505] reviews' button, which enables anyone to read all of the business's reviews (and choose to read them by latest, best, or worst) and then ...

2. The 'Write a review' button, which allows anyone to write a review of and to the business at a time of their own choosing...

Neither of these prevents the business from proactively inviting reviews (by email or at POS, for instance), from all its customers or, critically, from selected customers, because the business is in compliance with the law - the CMA regulations - by having this standing invitation on its website.

A Case History

We have one client who to date has had over 70 cases through Resolution (across multiple branches)Only four of these have resulted in a final published review, either on their website or on GoogleThey currently score between 4.and 4.9 on their own branch websites (with over 800 reviews there) and between 4.7 and 5.0 on Google (with over 600 reviews there).
 It goes without saying that this is a well-managed and thoroughly consumer-focused business - as HelpHound clients tend to be, by definition.

In Conclusion

Here's what that client looks like in Google search...

Important Note

What follows is the key to HelpHound's service, so we feel it bears repetition: while the CMA regulations make it abundantly clear that 'cherry-picking' customers (their words) - and/or gating (the practice of pre-qualifying customers before inviting them to write a review) is illegal, this does not mean that a business must reach out to every customer or stakeholder to proactively invite them to write a review - to their website, to Google or to any other location.

What the regulations do require is that any business that is going to selectively invite reviews has a mechanism to allow any customer to write a review at a time of their own choosing.

Here is that mechanism - and it appears in a very similar format on every HelpHound client's website

There you have it: everything you could want from reviews - your own, on your own website (that's where the 4.9 rating and the five gold stars from 505 reviews come from under their organic listing - they're from their own reviews hosted on their own website, not from their Google reviews), then copied to Google, all in compliance with UK (and EU) law, and without putting your hard-won reputation at risk by exposing your business to factually inaccurate, potentially misleading or just plain unfair reviews. 

If you have any more questions about moderation, and how it can benefit your business, please don't hesitate to contact us, if you would like to see examples of concrete results - increased calls and clicks - call us or read this article.

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