Thursday 30 January 2020

Taking the trust out of Trustpilot?

No wonder review management is such big business

As all our clients know, HelpHound acts as a kind of 'broker' where reviews and review management are concerned. Our concern is to find the correct solution for their long-term review needs. In this context, we are sometimes asked 'why not Trustpilot?'

But before we answer, we ask 'what are your objectives with reviews?' The answer invariably, and quite correctly, is 'to use the power of our customers' opinions to drive more business'. HelpHound's primary role is to advise on the solution most likely to drive more business.

In this context, there are secondary but still very important considerations:

  1. is the solution proposed the very best for our client's business?
  2. Is the solution proposed trusted by consumers?
  3. Is the solution proposed compliant with UK law (and Google's terms of service)?
  4. Is the solution proposed liable to attack by our client's competitors?
  5. Is the solution proposed able to be manipulated by the business (this, of course, goes to points one and two as well)?
One by one...

1.  The very best for our client's business?

There are two places all your potential customers look: Google and - providing you look impressive there - your website. So you need Google reviews and reviews on your website. Google reviews are free and they provide a free widget to embed those on your website, so, before you start paying anyone else you are going to need some powerful reasons not to use Google.

The main disadvantage of this 'free' solution is its inherent lack of moderation - you won't be able to stop inaccurate and potentially misleading, never mind downright unfair - or even, dare we say it, fake - reviews appearing. Bad enough on Google, worse when you're importing them onto your own website as well (fear not, there is a solution for this - read on).

2.  Trusted by consumers?

There's no arguing that Google is known by just about every consumer in the free world, and that gives it a head start in the 'trust' stakes. There are the occasional rumbles in the press about people gaming Google reviews and posting fake positive reviews of their own businesses and fake negative reviews of their competitors' but these, in our extensive experience, are rare. So Google gets an A-minus for trust.

The other review sites? They start at a distinct disadvantage, simply because they are reliant on the businesses to pay them - and that makes consumers sceptical, to say the least.

A good first step is to look at their Google reviews:

Just 9 out of 79 are positive and many appear to written by unhappy business customers, and as far as we can tell four of those are from reviewers who have mistakenly rated a Trustpilot client. And then there's this 5* one:

3.  Compliant with UK law?

UK law - the CMA regulations - say that if a business invites reviews - any reviews at all, as opposed to just being passive (a business cannot stop reviews being posted to Google, for instance) - it must allow all of its customers to post a review. It also states that the customer must be allowed to write their review at a time of their own choosing

Trustpilot appears to comply with these until you mine down into the relationship it has with its paying businesses. One of the 'benefits' Trustpilot allows client businesses is the facility to challenge any review - they call it 'quarantine'. A challenged review shows up like this...

...and if the reviewer cannot - or is unwilling to - or just plain cannot be bothered to - provide 'proof of purchase', the review disappears. This places the onus fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the consumer (who has to respond if their review is to remain) - against both the letter and spirit of the CMA regulations.

With Google, the onus is on the business to prove the reviewer categorically wrong as well as in breach of Google's terms of service, otherwise the review stands.

4.  Liable to attack by the business's competitors

What is the point of adopting a review management system that hands your competitors a stick to beat you with? You must be able to stand behind whatever system you adopt and to do this you must be able to say...

  • 'anyone can write a review to our website at any time'
  • 'all who do so are invited to copy their review to Google'
If your competitors can show that your review management solution is demonstrably skewed towards showing your business in a good light you have wasted time, effort and resources. Worse still, you have damaged your business's reputation in the marketplace.

5.  Able to be manipulated (against the consumers' best interests)?

For any review system to work compliantly two things need to be in place:
  • a trustworthy external review management platform
  • a business committed to dealing with that platform in a trustworthy manner
It is simply not good enough for the review platform - in this case, Trustpilot - to rent out their software to any business on the planet without having some form of audit and sanction mechanism to ensure that the business does not manipulate the results in its favour. 

There is a massive difference - in the impact on a prospective customer's thinking - between a negative review of an online retailer like this...

And a review of a service business like this...

Trustpilot's system probably works for online retail, where the volume is extremely high - sometimes thousands of transactions a day, but when it is applied to high-value low-transaction service businesses such as the professions (medical, legal, financial, property) where a single negative review can literally stop the phones ringing (see 'Jenny's' review of Intercounty, above), it is demonstrably found wanting.

It is just too easy for the business to flout the CMA regulations. By only inviting customers it knows are likely to write positive reviews and to use gating mechanisms (customer surveys etc.).

On the review sites themselves?

You have already seen what reviewers on Google think of Trustpilot,. Here's what 1,223 reviewers on think of them...

And, to be fair, here's what 189 reviewers on Trustpilot think of Trustpilots's main UK competitor, Feefo...

And even Trustpilot reviewers on Trustpilot...

...where twenty percent - over 15,000 reviews - rate Trustpilot 'Poor' or 'Bad'.

We suppose, to be fair, we should include Trustpilot's reviews of

We heartily recommend you read the actual reviews, some of which are patently mistaken or misguided but many of which are obviously written by business owners that have first-hand experience of the service they have been paying for.

Our advice

Take no short cuts - and plan for the long term. If your business provides a service, as opposed to selling products - then ignore Trustpilot, Feefo, Yelp and the rest - commit to Google. 

If your reputation matters, and this covers...
  • your Google score
  • your individual Google reviews
 - and that almost certainly applies to any professional business - then adopt a professional review manager. They will provide...
  • software - in the form of an API preferably - to enable you to invite and display reviews on your own site and automatically invite those reviewers to copy their reviews to Google
  • moderation - the facility whereby inaccurate and potentially misleading reviews and/or content can be corrected by the reviewer pre-publication
  • compliance advice - the best reviews in the world are of no use if your procedures are not compliant
Proper professional review management - paying for itself over and over again.

Further reading...

This writer of this article has studied 9 million reviews left for over 198,000 businesses. He also uncovered this interesting memo...

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