Friday 27 October 2023

How to succeed with reviews - the secrets of our clients' success

It's a question we find ourselves being asked all the time: 'How has ABC Plc done so well?' And we have generally answered it with a combination of the memo below and 'showing and telling'. This time we thought we would reach out to some of those successful businesses and actually ask them and then report back here. Some of their answers will be common sense, some will be pretty obvious, but many will not be either (otherwise, why would so many businesses either fail to look as good as they deserve or feel they need to flout the law to do so?).

So: what questions did we ask?

It would have been easy to ask 'What process(es) do you adopt?', but it soon became evident that this question bypassed a great deal of thinking and planning. We needed to go further back and ask 'What were your objectives?' and 'Why did you adopt HelpHound?'

So let's address these two first:

'What were your objectives?'

The simple answer was 'To look great on Google [scoring 4.8+ with three figures of reviews] and great on our own website' along with 'To drive more enquiries through search and though our website'.

Supplementing those were 'We want to be legally compliant' and 'We want to support our SEO/ranking in [local] search', as well as 'We want to save money on Google Ads and other marketing'

'Why did you adopt HelpHound?'

Because you told us that, providing we followed your advice, we would achieve all of the above! 

Now, some of our readers will be thinking 'That's it then; join and all our wishes will be granted/all our problems will be solved.' but that's akin to someone walking into a car dealership and buying a new car. Without first learning how to drive! The next section is all-important. Here is the guide we give to new members...

... and all of our most successful clients follow it to the letter: crucially they prime their customers by warning them that writing a review is an integral part of the relationship and they follow up every email with a call.

But there's more, for those star performers: invariably they do one or more - or all - of the following...

  • they set targets for staff to achieve a certain volume of reviews - as a percentage of business transacted or on a periodic basis
  • they reward* staff for excelling at obtaining reviews
  • they operate as a team, with the back office supporting the front office in its efforts to obtain reviews
  • they have a dedicated member of management responsible for coordinating and reporting on review management
  • they respond - to all their reviews; there's some interesting psychology at work here - it has become obvious that businesses that always respond to reviews send a clear message to those tempted to play fast and/or loose when writing a review. That message? We're going to be reading your review and we're definitely going to be addressing any exaggerations or misapprehensions.
  • they give their customers the option to post their reviews to either the business's own website or directly to Google - with direct links to both in the email. This has the practical effect of achieving more Google reviews from those who find writing more than one review a chore**

** 'A chore': this is why the telephone call is so important. The call has an overall objective: to get review(s) written - to the business's own website and to Google if at all possible. But within that call there are steps that deal with potential objections...

    1. 'I don't have a Google account' - 'Don't worry, I'm sure you will be able to write a review, almost everybody can because they have used one or more of Google's services in the past; if you like I'll stay on the line while you follow the link I sent you.'
    2. 'I've only got time to write one review' - 'That's great, we will send you a copy of the review you write on our website and you will only have to copy & paste that to Google, you won't have to begin all over again.' or 'Great, just write the one review and copy it to both links.'

We then asked them what aspect of HelpHound they valued most: invariably, to a man or woman, they answered: moderation.

Here is the line that sums it all up, the clincher if you will...

"We joined HelpHound when we realised that we would then be legally compliant whilst still maintaining the ability to choose precisely whom we actively invite to write a review.'

As regular readers know, we don't hold back when stressing the value of moderation but the crucial thing that kept being mentioned by businesses was the fact that it was moderation that gave them the confidence to engage with reviews in the first place. Without moderation, they would simply not be willing to run the risk of attracting inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews. They would either have to rely on customers posting reviews unprompted or do as many businesses still do: flout the law and select which customers to invite to write reviews.

The screenshot above is of the Google rating and number of reviews for a client that had only two Google reviews when they joined. The one below is of the reviews hosted on their website (as you can see it contains the crucial 'Write a review' link that keeps all our clients compliant with UK law and CMA regulations)...

They are really, really good at what they do. We know, not only because we have met them (all of them, from the owners of the business to the managers to the salespeople to the back office staff) but because we have seen and read every single review ever written about them, on their website and on Google, and - crucially - the ones where our moderators intervened in order to ensure, as far as legally possible under the CMA regulations, that the review accurately reflected the experience of the reviewer. 

That's why moderation*** (see 'Essential additional reading', below) has to be done by a human being - our moderator will come to know the business whose reviews they are moderating as well as their customers; this enables them to spot outliers, right down to individual members of staff mentioned by name in reviews. They will know that it is highly unlikely that staff member A of business B has left multiple emails unanswered and a metaphorical alarm bell will ring that initiates contact with business B. Suppose, in this instance, the customer of business B had their email address hacked and therefore blacklisted, leading to non-delivery of emails? Would it be fair to simply publish a 1* review saying that business B didn't care about their customers? Of course not. Moderation in action - benefitting both business and consumer.

In Conclusion

Success? It's a combination of adopting the correct mechanism in the first instance - any amount of good practice and procedure cannot make the wrong approach right - and then following the 'rules' as laid out above. Do that and we absolutely guarantee that your business will shine in search and produce results such as these.

Essential additional reading

All of the above will be of no avail without...
  • ***Moderation - How often are we asked 'Why not simply ask our customers to post reviews direct to Google?' This article explains just how important it is for businesses in the professions and the service industries to have this crucial safety net.

The 'Multi' review invitation - and why it has so many hidden benefits

The original purpose of the 'Multi' - inviting reviews to the business's website and to Google simultaneously with both links in the same email - was to enable established clients to simplify review gathering. A 'one email covers all' solution.

Why only 'established' clients? The rationale was simple: inviting both reviews simultaneously ran the risk that a customer might submit a review containing errors of fact or misleading statements directly to Google, thereby bypassing HelpHound's moderators. 

Ten years of experience shows us that...

As you might expect, we spend quite a while analysing numbers and other data here at HelpHound. And we have a lot of numbers to crunch. Amongst the most important of all of those is the difference in outcome for businesses inviting their customers to write a review directly to Google as compared with those that use the two HelpHound routes...

Route 1 is as follows: send an email to the customer asking them to write a review to the business's own website (including the direct link supplied by HelpHound), call the customer to ensure a high conversion rate, then HelpHound sends an automated email to the customer once their review has been moderated and posted to the business's website asking them to copy and paste their review to Google*

*Back in the day only about 50% of people could write a Google review, they needed a Gmail address or some other Google account. Over the years almost everyone has had reason to log into Google or one of its multitude of services. You will find that these days almost everyone can write a Google review. 


Route 2 consists of: sending a single email with two links (see screenshot above) - one to the business's own website and one to their Google page. The follow-up call is made in exactly the same way except the caller's objective is to get the customer to write a review to either or both of those locations.

This latter email is known to us internally and to many HelpHound clients simply as the 'Multi', short for 'multiple invitation' (it can include other sites as well - we had a client who needed to boost their presence on Trustpilot recently, so we simply included a link to their listing for a few weeks). Now back to the numbers (which will explain why we don't advise new clients to use the Multi straight away). 

A business has three options...

We've all seen and read them. But you owe it to your business and to readers who will rely on the review in question to have chance to interact with the reviewer before a potentially factually inaccurate or misleading review is posted for all to see

Option 1:The business invites its customers to write their reviews directly to Google. It will receive, on average, a one-star review every 15-20 reviews. Those one-star reviews may or may not be factually accurate or potentially misleading. What is sure is that the reviews will stand (the likelihood of a successful Google appeal against a factually inaccurate or potentially misleading review is vanishingly small). Those one-star reviews will be served in every Google search, and be especially damaging when the searcher uses Google's 'Lowest' default.

Option 2: The business only invites its customers to write a review to its own website, using the HelpHound module. That way it will receive a one-star review every 30-40 reviews. Why the disparity in numbers? From our extensive experience of studying how our users - both business and consumer - behave the conclusion that we have come to is that reviewers are far more careful with the wording of their review when they know, for certain, that the business, and the person they have interact with at the business, will read what they have written. Put simply: people are far less likely to write ill-considered negative reviews when they know they will be read by someone with whom they have interacted. HelpHound then automatically invites the reviewer, once their review is published on the business's website, to copy their review over to Google. Most of our clients achive at least a 50% success rate when following this up with a phone call. 

Option 3: The 'Multi'. Inviting both reviews in the same email. This results in even fewer one-star reviews, sometimes as few as one or two per hundred reviews. Why? Because of a combination of the factors already alluded to above. Customers with negative issues to air are far more likely to choose the 'Write a review direct to the business' option. Mostly because there is an implication in the invitation that it will be read, and therefore acted upon. Happy customers, on the other hand, are far more likely to choose to write their review to Google, in the knowledge that it will be seen by prospective customers of the business and therefore help the business that has helped them.

Hence our invariable advice: to discount Option 1, the 'Direct to Google' option altogether: it is far too high risk for professional and service businesses - and we have seen too many businesses over the years harmed - and by 'harmed' we mean 'literally stopped the phones ringing' in extreme cases -by factually inaccurate or misleading reviews that would have been corrected in moderation, to use Option 2 until they have at least double figures of Google reviews scoring 4.8+, and then to use Option 3, the 'Multi', thereafter.  


There are only three ways for a great business to look as great as it can be where reviews are concerned:

  1. Be perfect - and have perfect customers. There are such businesses, but they are few and far between. No matter how hard most businesses try to please all of their customers all of the time there will be those who misunderstand or simply get the wrong end of the stick 
  2. Adopt a moderated review system - and use it all of the time. Invite every customer to write a review and have all their subsequent responses independently moderated (a business cannot legitimately moderate its own reviews - the conflict of interest inherent in this is obvious)
  3. Adopt a moderated review system but allow customers to choose where to post their review - via the moderated system to the business's website or directly to Google
Bear in mind that everyone who writes a review to the business's own website and has it moderated - they all are - and ultimately published there, will, in the case of HelpHound, receive an automatic request to copy their review to Google. 

Now you know exactly how all our - great - clients have their hard work and expertise reflected in their reviews. And why those reviews tend to be more helpful to prospective customers of those businesses than the average review on Google (or Trustpilot or any other site hosting reviews, for that matter). Our results, we feel, speak for themselves.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Review sites to address fake and fraudulent reviews? Forgive us for being sceptical


A link for those of you with access to the Times Online

Estimates vary, but there appears to be pretty universal acknowledgement that around 15% of all online reviews are fraudulent - 'fake' in short - bought and paid for by unscrupulous businesses. The UK's CMA estimates that consumers were defrauded to the extent of £312 million as a direct result of fake reviews in the last year under review. And that does not begin to address the losses - both financial and emotional - resulting from consumers being misled into using professional service businesses - financial, legal, medical and the like - that are in breach of the CMA regulations.

Here's a link to the full announcement on Amazon's website - Trustpilot's website, as of today's date, remains silent on the issue, so do the others. The 'Coalition for Trusted Reviews' does not, as yet, appear to have a website of its own (please don't hesitate to alert us if you find one). There are also some names absent: Google, the overwhelmingly dominant player in online reviews, Yelp (and, as you might expect, HelpHound).

We have read everything there is about this move, as well as other announcements made in the past by these businesses designed to convince their stakeholders that their reviews are trustworthy and that they are doing their very best to ensure that trustworthiness. It is interesting that none of the statements released by the members of the Coalition for Trusted Reviews so far mention potential solutions or courses of action.

Our reaction so far? Hollow words. 

The problem

This broadly divides into two distinct issues...

  1. Sellers of products paying for fake 5* reviews - Amazon alone estimates that there are at least 10,000 Facebook groups dedicated to generating fake reviews on behalf of businesses. Such reviews are for sale across social media. This is obviously not a 'good thing' but getting misled into buying a second-rate product by a business faking reviews is one thing. £Tens, maybe £hundreds, wasted.
  2. Sellers of services flouting the law - at least in the UK and EU - as well as Google T&Cs that specifically forbid cherry-picking or gating: identifying and then inviting happy customers to write reviews as well as offering rewards for positive reviews. There's nothing wrong with their reviews - they are written by genuine customers - it's the method of invitation and collection that is being abused. Being misled into using a service business by fraudulent manipulation of the review process is of a whole different order of magnitude from point 1 above. Imagine you are looking for a reliable financial adviser, a lawyer, or an oncologist? Even a good estate agent (read on, see the screenshots and then carry out your own Google searches).
And then we have the advent of AI. In the past fake reviews were often pretty easy to spot, often as a result of some pretty awful use of English. AI has changed all that. Here's an example, produced by ChatGPT in less than a second...

The only solution

There is only one solution to this issue. How do we know? Because we went through the very same thought process over ten years ago. We invested heavily in software designed to weed out fraudulent and suspect reviews - we even named the software 'Buster' because it was designed to 'Bust' fake and fraudulent reviews. But it didn't work. By comparison with human oversight and intervention, it was ineffective. 

Only a trained human being can spot, with any degree of reliability, a fake or fraudulent review, or, for that matter, a review containing factual inaccuracies or misleading statements that a consumer might then go on to rely on when making purchasing decisions.

Every single review written through HelpHound is moderated by such a human being. We estimate our moderators' accuracy in identifying the contentious areas outlined above is over 97% accurate. Combine that with the fact that the business under review and anyone reading the published review also has the right to challenge its content and the figure climbs further towards the unattainable 100%.

One last question for businesses

Which do you think is more visible, viewed as more credible and more trusted by consumers? For an in-depth answer read this. For those of you in a hurry - the answer is 'Google', by a country mile, especially where service businesses and professions are concerned

If you are paying Trustpilot or any other review site - why? When you can have eminently more visible, credible and influential Google reviews. 

You can then use the money saved to host moderated reviews on your own site - reviews that you own - and get a significant proportion of these across to Google.

Look like this...

See those 567 'votes' next to the ***** 4.9 rating? They're the business's own reviews gathered using HelpHound

And this...

When anyone clicks on that 'Write a review' button (top left) their review goes straight to HelpHound moderation - it is that moderation that gives businesses like this the confidence to be proactive in inviting reviews, to their own website and then to Google

And ultimately lead in search like this...

Further reading
  • Don't make the mistake of going straight down the Google route - it invariably leads to a game of 'Splat the Rat'
  • Results - hard proof that effective review management drives business - both quantity and quality

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Avoid being forced to play 'Splat the Rat'

Look at so many successful businesses, and what do you see? A great Google score backed by lots of reviews. Are we right?

Of course we are. But underlying so many of those scores, especially with businesses that have hundreds - even thousands - of Google reviews, are far more negative - 1* - reviews than necessary.

Look at these two real-life examples (we're not going to name names for obvious reasons, but we can tell you they are both legal firms)...

Now, they both have what most untrained observers would consider to be respectable scores, one eminently so. But here the good news ends, for them both. 

When a consumer conducts the most popular second search move - clicking on 'Lowest' - what do they find? 16 one-star reviews of the business rated 4.9 and 61 one-star reviews for the business rated 4.3. In both instances, that's a lot of people saying, effectively, 'Don't use this business'.

And even if they just read the feed Google supplies they will almost certainly come across one or more damaging 1* reviews.

The impact of those one-star reviews? They get read, and the ones that are carefully written and credible are believed and acted upon. Consumers trust reviews (why else would businesses put so much effort into getting them?) both positive and negative. If a negative review doesn't drive business (and we've never met anyone who thinks it does) then, it stands to reason, that it has to have the opposite effect. Not always and not all the time, but enough to make a significant impact on contacts, inbounds and lead flows as time goes by.

So both these businesses have adopted the only course of action they believed to be open to them (given that the likelihood of an appeal to Google** to have any of the reviews removed succeeding is vanishingly slim): they have played 'Splat the Rat'. In other words, every time they have received a 1* review they have made every effort to invite reviews from happy customers in order to drive the 1* review down and, hopefully, out of sight. Apart from the questionable legality of such a strategy - the CMA expressly forbids such activity by businesses unless they provide consumers with an open conduit whereby they can submit reviews at a time of their choosing - it leaves the 1* reviews to be found by anyone considering using the business, forever.

**If you have a review that you consider infringes Google's Terms and Conditions please speak to us, we have over ten years' experience of conducting Google appeals.

But surely, we hear some of you say, the law also states that consumers' opinions are sacrosanct? Indeed they are. But the law also allows for moderation should the review contain an error of fact or a statement likely to mislead readers (future customers to a man or woman - who else is going to be reading reviews of a law firm?). Here's a great example from amongst the 1* reviews of one of the two firms...

This review - and its annotation/correction by the reviewer - illustrate exactly why HelpHound exists: with our moderation the interaction that has taken place would have happened in private, before the review was ever posted to Google. And almost certainly - 97.3% certainly - before the review was even posted to the business's own website. The business will also have to contact the reviewer - assuming they have posted under their real name (in the case above they will struggle to identify the reviewer!) - in order to ask them to correct their star rating, which will have impacted their overall Google score, again unnecessary with moderation.

The bottom line

Our moderation process applies to every single review written to a client business's website, whether rating the business 5* or 1* or somewhere in between, and addresses everything from incorrect use of English through factually inaccurate or potentially misleading wording to reviews written by people who have not used the business under review - fake reviews or reviews by competitors, for two examples. With a moderated review management system your business can relax in the knowledge that it will no longer need to watch your reviews every second of the day in case an unfair negative appears. 

This link: 'Write a review' performs two functions, it allows anyone to write a review whenever they wish which ensures the review goes through HelpHound moderation (with all the attendant benefits for both business and reviewer) and it means the business is fully complaint with the CMA's regulations (the law)

The business can also be confident in being proactive in inviting reviews from customers through whatever channel may seem most appropriate, the obvious ones being inviting reviews by emailing customers direct with the appropriate links and the passive invitation that will be embedded into your website (see screenshot above).

And some real-world results? See here.

Monday 2 October 2023

Responding to reviews - again!

How many times do we need to say this: a response to a review should be seen as a CRM opportunity. But what do we see, so much of the time?


And this...

And this...

Now, the company in this example - Cadent Plc - made an operating profit of £935 million in 2022/3, so we can safely say that shortage of cash was not the issue. So what would our advice be to it, and any other business finding itself in the same position?

1.  Stop treating reviews as a subsidiary branch of CRM

Reviews - Google or any other - should not be a substitute for customer service. Customers should be able to express their opinions in private, but if you read Cadent's reviews they mention, again and again, an inability to make contact with the business...

"We have been told there is a claim form to fill and to ring or e-mail certain numbers, all the phone numbers deny it's their responsibility, even given some numbers that don't exist."

"I have spent hours on the phone each time having to explain the problem"

"They think it's acceptable to leave a family of an 8-month-old baby and 4-year-old child without adequate heating overnight. It's disgraceful. I have contacted via contact form and email but no response."

All of which have received the response above, whatever their complaint. And we stress our use of the word 'complaint' here: these are not reviews, they are complaints. 

Which, we suppose, is better than no response at all, which is the case with their Google reviews...

2.  Invest in CRM/complaints management

Good - by which we mean effective - customer relationship management will deal with complaints offline, well before the customer feels that the only route left to them is to post a review. How? By inviting independent feedback at every opportunity - via the company's website. Social media can be effective...

...if, and only if, someone is monitoring it and responding...

...but it is no substitute for effective review management.

3.  Why 'independent'?

Consumers constantly tell us how grateful they are for our moderation of their reviews and their subsequent interaction with the business under review. When we launched our moderation process, nearly ten years ago now, we were concerned that consumers would somehow see HelpHound as agents of the business, but they seldom do. On the contrary, both we and the businesses under review are often told how reassuring consumers find our involvement. Moderation works. It takes the heat out of the exchange, and ensures that factually inaccurate, misleading and plain unfair reviews are very unlikely to be posted - anywhere. You only have to look at any HelpHound client online and you'll see just how effective the process is.

So: where does HelpHound fit in?

Our service rests within and above the business's existing CRM. It is the first and last port of call for any customer wishing to voice their opinion on the quality of service that they have received. It sits reactively on the client business's website and their email signatures and is used proactively to invite customers to write a review.

Most important of all, all reviews sent to the business are moderated by HelpHound, so factually inaccurate, potentially misleading and just plain unfair reviews are so much less likely to see the light of day.