Wednesday 25 April 2018

Why break the rules - when there's no need?

The whole point of reviews is that they provide a reliable guide for consumers, but to see what some businesses do with them you would think that they were expressly designed to be manipulated so businesses could 'fool all of the people...'.

Without credibility these are worth less than nothing - they actually harm a business's brand.

We have written about this before - here, amongst others. But we have found more glaring breaches since that article. We are writing again because what started out as a gentle trickle has now morphed into an epidemic. Almost every business we look at is manipulating reviews, either intentionally or unintentionally - and always in breach of the Competition & Markets Authority's regulations.

Let us pose a question...

  • Do businesses think that they have a right to manipulate reviews? Because if they don't, then there are far too many out there doing just that.
For example...
  • The business (UK-wide, multiple locations) that thinks it is fine that their management and staff post Google reviews - how do we know? Because they have done it using their real names; not only have they posted five star reviews, they have responded to those reviews, thanking the 'reviewer'!
  • The business - a Plc - that thinks it is a good idea to get their customers to write reviews to an obscure reviews site and then have their staff cherrypick the five star reviews and call up the authors and encourage them to copy their reviews to Google
  • The business - another Plc - that thinks its a great idea (presumably for the business) to use a reviews site that does not allow its customers to write a review unless invited by the business. Let's make it plain - the business a) chooses which customers to invite and then b) chooses the timing of that invitation
  • The business that thinks it is a good idea to offer incentives for customers to write a review. This would probably be questionable under any circumstances, but in this case the reward is conditional upon a positive review. How do we know - because one of their customers thanked them in the body of their review and another complained about not receiving their reward, again, in their review
  • The business that uses a (multi-national) reviews site that allows them to have negative reviews suspended 
  • The business - with branches across London - that employs a member of staff to write its own reviews

Then there are the 'unwitting' ones (businesses that claim they didn't know that what they were doing was in breach of the CMA regulations)...

  • The cherry-pickers: choosing which customers you invite to write reviews, whether to Google or a reviews site, is in breach - of course it is. Just think for a minute - if you were the regulator - would you condone this? Of course not.
  • The users of 'closed sites' - where the customer can only invite a review if they are expressly invited to by the business. Again - of course this is a breach, because the regulations explicitly state that a customer must be able to write a review at a time of their own choosing. Do you want to know if a brand new pair of shoes is fit-for-purpose? Yes. But might you also want to know if that pair of shoes is still in one piece six months after purchase? 
  • The 'incentivisers': businesses that reward customers for writing positive reviews - we have seen Amazon vouchers, M&S vouchers and just plain ordinary cash

And then there are the reviews sites themselves...

These sites had a nice little earner all to themselves until Google entered the fray - they were the only way a business could get reviews onto the web. With the advent of Google reviews these sites found themselves in a pickle - what had they to offer that Google did not - for free? The answer is 'virtually nothing' - especially since Google introduced their free product reviews widget. So they now face an uphill struggle to add value, and, in doing so, some of them are crossing over the regulatory line. This gives businesses an added problem - they cannot take it for granted that a commercially available reviews solution complies with the CMA rules. We see examples of the following...

  • Sites that offer 'invitation only' solutions
  • Sites that offer the business the right to challenge - and even suspend - any negative reviews
  • Sites that allow businesses to attribute star ratings gained in one product or service area to another product or service
  • Sites that allow reviews and ratings gained in one location to be attributed to another location

None of these is compliant, and the onus for compliance lands fairly-and-squarely at the door of the business using the reviews site - it is they, the business, that will be on the receiving end of any disciplinary action.

Why break the rules?

There's one simple answer to that, and it goes something like this (we know, because so many businesses like this have told us)...

  • "We have to have reviews - because we know that without them we will lose business to our competitors. But we are afraid to ask [all] our [genuine] customers to write them because, human nature being what it is, we know our happy customers won't and our unhappy customers will"

So these businesses willingly put their reputations in harms way. They know that people know they are 'up to no good' and they know that there's a significant risk that one day, sooner or later, a (ex)member of staff will blow the whistle and the game will be up. but still, such are the potential rewards, they continue to do it - because they fear giving up the short-term rewards of looking great in reviews.

There are many reasons that we publish on this subject again. To warn businesses that they have far more to worry about than the odd whistle-blower. They need to know that the CMA is actively taking an interest in just the very practices that we have outlined above. We also need businesses to know that there is another way.

Another way?

This all pre-supposes that the business in question is committed to high levels of customer care. Given that, then the only thing such a business would require is access to a mechanism that would ensure, as far as is reasonably possible, that reviews containing inaccuracies - of fact or opinion - could be addressed before publication.

Such a mechanism - as HelpHound clients already know - does exist. And its name is Resolution™. Resolution enables our clients to look just as good as they are. It does not prevent a reviewer from publishing an inaccurate or misleading review (and it certainly does not prevent a reviewer from writing a negative review) but it does mean that such a reviewer will know, pre-publication, that their review - if potentially misleading or factually inaccurate - will be subject to challenge by the business if it is published. 

There's no need - there is another way - and it's called HelpHound.

Further reading...

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