Tuesday 28 August 2018

Yopa raises £20 million - so what?

This article appeared in yesterday's Times...

...and we expect estate agents to have all sorts of opinions as to the impact that funding will have in the marketplace, but here at HelpHound we were drawn to a single comment made by a Times reader...

We won't make any subjective judgements, but we will comment on the numbers quoted - which appear to be pretty accurate. 

Yopa on Trustpilot...

Yopa on Google...

...and Yopa on Reviews.io (which currently comes first in an organic search for 'Yopa reviews'...

...so we make the exact figures (a day later, admittedly) as follows...
  • Trustpilot: scoring 9.2/10 to give a 'dissatisfaction rate' of 8%
  • Google: scoring 4.2/5 to give a 'dissatisfaction rate' of 16%
  • Reviews.io: 'recommended' by only 29% of reviewers
Now - why do we mention all this? Because, yet again, it is an example of a high-value service business using a reviews site designed for products. We are fully aware of the mechanisms that some estate agents use to 'manipulate' such reviews systems in their favour, but Yopa, far from indulging in such tactics, would appear to be actively using a system that discriminates against them.


Estate agency is a complex business. It involves many more stakeholders than just the buyer, seller and estate agent (solicitors, banks, other lenders, surveyors, mortgage brokers and so on, usually multiplied by two!) and the potential for misunderstanding - and a resulting misleading review - is vast. You only have to read lines like...

"I am considering involving solicitor in this as I feel tricked!"

"After we accepted an offer...we were then passed to post sales support who are just a bunch of people who have no idea of what they are doing."

"They completely ripped off my elderly mum."

...to realise that there needs to be some way for the business and the customer to communicate before the review is published. Not to prevent the business from receiving negative reviews - but to ensure that future customers are presented with, as far as possible, accurate and informed opinions of the business.

How it works at HelpHound

First - and most important of all - all reviews are moderated. This means that any review that has the potential to mislead, contains factual inaccuracies or is otherwise contentious is first put into what we call Resolution™ - where both parties are invited to 'resolve' whatever issues our moderators have identified, pre-publication. 

In order to maintain compliance with CMA regulations, we ensure that the reviewer always has the option of publicly posting their review during this process, from beginning to end.

The results: are overwhelmingly positive - for the consumer: they end up posting an accurate review, and are thankful for that; for the business: the reality of their service is presented. Every stakeholder in the process is happy.

Monday 27 August 2018

Sorry TripAdvisor - but we'll never be making 'Level 4' now...

TripAdvisor users - past and present - get emails like this from time to time...

...designed to increase content on the site. The problem TripAdvisor - and all the reviews sites - now have is that the person this email is addressed to, and many tens of millions of others now post all their reviews, of whatever product or service, in one place. And that one place? Google.

What do businesses - and especially the hospitality industry - need to do? They need to recognise that they need to look good - first and foremost - on Google. 

Sunday 19 August 2018

A familiar story

Last week we spoke to two businesses, both clients of two separate reviews sites - and this is what they had to say...

  • Business one: "We adopted [this solution] because we were told that we could selectively invite customers to post reviews and that customers could only post a review at our express invitation."
  • Business two: "We adopted [this solution] because we were told that, due to the sensitivity of our profession [legal] we would be able to have negative reviews suspended pending confirmation from the client that they had indeed conducted business with us."
So why were they speaking to HelpHound? both had come to realise that the solution they had adopted, combined with the way they had been advised to use it, was in contravention of the CMAs regulations.

Let us take each in turn...

"We adopted [this solution] because we were told that we could selectively invite customers to post reviews and that customers could only post a review at our express invitation."

The superficial attraction? Very simple - no business wants to attract negative reviews, so being able to restrict invitations to 'happy' customers looks great, until you check on compliance with the CMA regulations. Likewise customers being able to write a review by invitation only - which flies in the face of the CMA regulation that stipulates that any customer must be able to write a review at a time of their own choosing.


"We adopted [this solution] because we were told that, due to the sensitivity of our profession [legal] we would be able to have negative reviews suspended pending confirmation from the client that they had indeed conducted business with us."

On the face of it? Eminently sensible; after all, what business - or potential client - wants reviews from people that have not experienced, first hand, the service under review? In theory, at least, this is a runner. But not in practice. The minute the business uses a mechanism that removes the right of the consumer - any consumer - to have their review, whatever its content - published, without unreasonable delay, and especially where the business has any influence over the duration of that delay, the business becomes non-compliant.

The conundrum - and its resolution...

The conundrum is simple: businesses want to look good, compliantly. The regulators, on the other hand, insist that the consumer always retains the right to have their review, whatever its content, published.

The solution is also simple: and it's called moderation. Every review at HelpHound is moderated - by a person, not an algorithm - and any that have the potential to mislead or misinform are immediately (or as close to 'immediately' as humanly possible) served to both the business and the reviewer, the rule being: the reviewer always retains the right to have their review, whether the original or a modified version, published at any time during that process.

The real-world outcome?

Look at any HelpHound client, and - with very few exceptions - what will you see? You will see a well-run consumer-focussed business represented by a very high proportion of positive reviews. What you are unlikely to see are two things...
  1. A 'perfect' business, scoring 5 out of 5
  2. Misleading or factually inaccurate reviews - at least in any volume
What you definitely won't see...

...is a review saying 'I was prevented from writing my review by HelpHound (or by a HelpHound client)' or 'the mechanism X business uses prevented me from having my review published'.

A typical HelpHound client - scoring 4.8 on their own website (with 123 reviews - four of which are negative) and 4.9 on Google (with two negative reviews out of 85). Every reviewer who has posted to the business's own site has been invited to copy their review to Google.

  The 'Rating' (4.8 and the stars, along with the number of reviews - 123) showing under their organic listing is taken by Google from the reviews hosted on the business's own website

And in local search? None too shoddy - and fully compliant.

In other words: the best of both worlds.

Further reading...

Thursday 16 August 2018

RBS 'Must put up posters revealing it ranks worst for customer service'

This from today's Times...

...or, to use the modern version of a consumer survey...

...Google reviews.

We are only mildly surprised that the CMA chose to commission a survey, when there's one already out there, available to all: Google reviews. How about a survey based on them?

Here's First Direct (the 'winner' in the CMA survey)...

...not perfect, but what bank is? 

Of course, the results would be far more accurate - and valuable for consumers - if these banks proactively invited their customers to post reviews to Google.

The full list...

...and the results published on RBS's own website...

...and here's the poster (actually two posters, one for personal accounts, one for business accounts), right in your eye-line in branch...

And the lesson for every business to take away from this? Customers are seeing the very same thing - albeit without the CMA rider - every time they do a search on Google...

Angel Plumbing would appear to be the RBS of plumbers in Islington. What impression is this creating amongst their potential customers? How about 'Just as bad as if they put their Google score on the side of their van'?

Monday 13 August 2018

Moderation - and why it is SO vital

It's a funny word, yet another - like 'forum' or 'post' or 'thread' - that the internet has adopted, and changed the original meaning of. But of all the words we use here at HelpHound it is arguably the most important, so what do we mean when we talk or write about 'moderation'?

A quick word about the history of moderation on the Web

Moderators first appeared in forums back in the 1990s, when it became apparent that without them the forums would become empty deserts, all reasonable people having been driven out by trolls and flamers. Their role was - and is - to ensure that codes of conduct are adhered to. 

Moderation - how does it apply to reviews?

Most review sites are unmoderated. That is to say: anyone can post virtually anything. You only have to look at Yelp...

...or Trustpilot...

...or even Google...

  Luckily Tim was helped by HelpHound - and this review is no longer showing on Google. There's more on this story - and how HelpHound were able to help the business when the national press had failed -  here.

The issues with the three reviews above? The first (Yelp) and third (Google) were both written by reviewers who had patently never used the businesses they were reviewing. The second (Trustpilot) is alleging illegality without providing any proof.

Moderation at HelpHound

All three reviews would have been challenged by a HelpHound moderator. Not because they are negative in score or content (we are just as likely to challenge a positive review if we think the content merits it), but because the review itself contains sufficient information for us to suspect that our T&Cs have been breached.

Our moderators look to see if a review...

  1. is the genuinely held opinion of a bona fide customer of the business
  2. contains any factual inaccuracies
  3. is potentially misleading
  4. alleges any criminal wrongdoing (theft or deception, for instance)
  5. Uses intemperate language

...and if 2, 3 or 4 applies we will contact both the reviewer and the business before we publish the review. In the case of 5 we simply contact the reviewer and explain that we think their review will be far more powerful if it does not contain expletives. If we have any doubts as to number 1, these are almost always cleared up by asking the reviewer for their point-of-contact at the business and the date of interaction. 

This means that a HelpHound review is, as far as can be reasonably said, genuine, accurate and, by far the most important, a reliable guide for anyone considering using the business.

It also means that businesses can confidently engage with online reviews without that perennial concern: that their reputations will be unfairly damaged by inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews.

It works so well we gave it a name: Resolution™

 Here's a typical example of a HelpHound client - they only had a small handful of reviews before they joined and HelpHound's moderation - Resolution™ - gave them the confidence to fully engage. 

Here are the bare numbers for another client: before and after joining:

We call the method by which we interact with both business and reviewer Resolution™. There's much more about the nuts and bolts of the process here.

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Happy 10th birthday AirBnB! - you sure taught us some lessons

AirBnB. You've probably used it - if you haven't, 300 million people and rising have (and it's currently valued at more than $30 bn). All for a business founded exactly ten years ago this month.

So - what's to learn for other businesses? The main thing for us is that this is a business built on reviews.

AirBnB understood - from the very beginning - that making reviews front-and-centre would drive business for their hosts

From the start the guys at AirBnB realised that intelligent use of reviews was going to be important for them. More than important - core.


  • Reviews - which are mandatory in both directions - give users the confidence to book. You might find reviews for a hotel on TripAdvisor or Booking.com useful, but only about one in a thousand guests leaves one on those platforms. On AirBnB it's well-nigh 100%. 
  • Reviews give hosts the confidence to accept bookings, knowing they will be able to see previous hosts' experience with the guests.
Without these two - core - functions, it is likely that AirBnB would still be two guys and a dog sleeping on air-mattresses in San Francisco.

So: lessons for other businesses?

Make reviews as 'mandatory' as you possibly can. There are many ways of doing this without alienating customers. 

1.  Explain, right at the beginning of the transaction, that it is company policy to ask all customers for a review once the transaction is complete.

2.  Explain, also, that this is entirely at the customer's discretion, but emphasise just how helpful such reviews are for a) future customers and b) the business and all its staff.

3.  Discuss the way the customer found you - if that included reading reviews (or personal recommendation) then you will be half way to getting a review.

 This button - 'Leave A Review' - is prominently displayed next to all of our clients' reviews. Alongside the reviews themselves it provides crucial reassurance to anyone reading them that any customer can leave a review at any time. And consumers love transparent businesses.

4.  Explain that any customer can - at any time - go to your website and write a review. This is one of the most popular aspects of review management with consumers - because it reassures them that the business is obliged to accept every customer's opinion.

So - some questions for your business...

  • Do you have 100 reviews - independently verified - on your own website? If not, why not?
  • Do you have at least 50 reviews on Google? If not, why not?
  • If you do have reviews, were those reviews acquired compliantly? Or did you just invite selected customers to write them (that's illegal, by the way)?
These may look a tad harsh, but, as we all know, the business world is harsh. As professional review managers of many years' standing we know why so many businesses are unable to answer 'yes' to these questions - because they are, understandably, concerned that they will attract misleading or factually inaccurate reviews. 

But fear not. That's why HelpHound exists, to provide moderation and verification - ensuring that our clients' businesses are fairly reflected in their reviews, like this...

Over 500 reviews on their own website and nearly 300 on Google

...and this was a business with two reviews on Google when they joined!

HelpHound is here to give businesses like yours the confidence to engage with reviews.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Car rental - without reviews, where would we be?

Today the Times ran a hardy perennial in their weekly Troubleshooter column - holiday car hire.

The most important message was saved for the last paragraph...

  And more and more of us are doing just that...

Goldcar in Palma?

This is just one more instance where reviews can save consumers heartache and cash. It also highlights a massive opportunity for a well-run business in the sector.

The opportunity?

Let us explain, by showing you some examples. We took Palma in Majorca - because it's a popular holiday destination served by just about every car hire company you can think of, from the multinationals to small independents. What do they look like? First the big three: Hertz, Avis and Europcar...




But a little time spent on Google comes up with...

 And the company even responds to its customers!

The lesson...

For individuals - is 'read reviews'.

For businesses - is 'look great - or else'. Or else what? Or else consumers will - increasingly - read your Google reviews* and use a competitor.

Need to consult a reviews site? Of course not.

*Google reviews? Why not Rentalcars.com or TripAdvisor? For one simple reason - when anyone searches for car rental the first reviews - and these days probably the only reviews - they see are Google reviews.

Friday 3 August 2018

The reach of a single negative review...

As many will know, Google reports to its Local Guides - telling them just how many views their reviews are getting. Here's just one example...

What can we learn from this email?

First, the reach of this review - of a SME business in London - has been pretty astounding, at over 1,000 views.

Second: it has made that kind of impact over such a short space of time - the review was written on 22 May, under three months ago.

In other words: (negative) reviews get seen!

What action should a business in this position take?

This business is committing two cardinal errors (both easily rectified) - and missing one massive opportunity. First the errors...

  • it is not responding to its Google reviews - positive or negative, leaving criticisms unanswered and losing the opportunity to impress readers that it cares about its customers' opinions
  • it would appear to be ignoring Google reviews altogether - in the space of four years it has received just twenty-eight reviews, nine of which rate it just one or two stars - resulting in a Google score that fails the Google reviews filter by quite a considerable margin

Now the opportunity...

Assuming this business, like most businesses, is good at what it does (but occasionally makes mistakes - enough to provoke a customer into posting a negative review about once every six months): It should be proactively engaging its customers by inviting them to post reviews.

Playing the numbers game...

Suppose a business has a footfall of a hundred customers a day, if only one per cent - just one customer - writes a review, then that's thirty reviews a month (three a day? That's still three reviews a month - 36 a year).

How to get the customers to write a review?

Simple - and good businesses have been doing it for so long we know it works...
  • email - a simple email inviting them to write a review
  • card - a card with the business's website and a request to post a review, handed to the customer in a face-to-face situation

The result?

The first objective should be to have at least 95% of the business's reviews scoring it positively. That, in turn, will result in...

  • passing the Google filter - now set at 4.5 (up from 4.0 last year)
  • creating a generally positive impression of the business in all Google searches - desktop and mobile - specific (on the business's name) and local (on the kind of business in its area -  e.g. 'plumber' in 'Reading')

When this business joined HelpHound it had less than a handful of reviews. This is the impression it now creates every time someone looks it up on the web (the 'Reviews from the web' at top left - all 511 of them - are the reviews it has on its own website, invited through HelpHound)...

Which will then show in increased business!

Further Reading...

Don't be afraid to engage - HelpHound is here to help

Many businesses don't engage with Google reviews because they are concerned - quite understandably - that they will attract unfair or inaccurate reviews, and that those reviews will have the exact opposite of the desired effect (which is, of course, to attract more customers). Greene & Co - the business in the screenshot with 286 Google reviews - were no exception.

HelpHound exists, at least in part, to ensure that its clients' reviews accurately reflect their businesses. We cannot guarantee that a HelpHound client will not get any negative reviews - no business is perfect, after all - but we can reassure you that having your business's reviews moderated by HelpHound pre-publication will reduce the chances of an unfair or misleading review appearing in print to as near to nil as will make for confidence in embarking on this important journey.

Here's an article that goes into this important part of our service in greater detail.

And here's one that shows you that professional review management drives more business (the numbers are from Google itself).

Oh - and please bear in mind that if a business invites reviews it is subject to the CMA regulations, and they have the force of law (they say a business must allow all its customers to write a review at a time of their - the customer's - own choosing). Here is an article that explains these rules.