Monday 20 April 2020

ABC of Reviews: 2. The Law

It should be so simple. The law states - unequivocally - that any business that invites any customer reviews, to any platform (and that includes Google and the business's own website as well as sites like TripAdvisor, Trustpilot and Feefo) must comply with these two basic rules:
  • all customers of the business must be able to write a review at a time of their own choosing
  • the business must not selectively invite customers to write reviews
But what do we see, on a daily basis?

1.  businesses selectively contacting 'happy' customers asking for a review - leaving a paper trail for the regulators (and plenty of evidence for their competitors).

This is the single most important breach that businesses will attempt to justify. We hear variations on the following:

  • surely they don't expect us to invite [insert name of customer the business knows will write a negative review]?
  • but if we invite everyone won't only our unhappy customers will write reviews?
  • but we know [insert name of competitor] is being selective, so why shouldn't we?

None of these are defences against breaching one of the CMA's core rules.

This is just one paragraph from the open letter the CEO of the CMA has published. For the complete text and an explanation of the rules, see this article.

2. businesses controlling the timing of the invitation, commonly immediately after the transaction has taken place - paper trail ditto.

The objective of the CMA regulations is to ensure that reviews are a) helpful for consumers and b) not manipulated by the business. Again we hear:

  • our customers are happiest just after we have delivered our goods/services
  • we want to ensure we get reviews from bona fide customers

Both are fair comments. Let's examine them in a little more detail: in the case of a) nowhere in the CMA regulations is there an allowance for businesses 'maximising' their chances of either getting a review or getting a positive review. The consumer comes first and last as far as the CMA is concerned. With b) the CMA's rules are designed so that all stakeholders are treated equally, not just the 'registered customer' on the business's books, and that means anyone who comes into contact with any business in any way. This, therefore, includes those who contact the business and decide, for one reason or another, not to proceed with a purchase or go as far as using the business's service. 

There is a subset of the above that has achieved some popularity, and it's known as gating. Gating is the practice of using a mechanism - this can range from a simple email to a more complex 'customer survey', or even an app or a reviews site - to identify the aforementioned happy customers and only then invite them to post a review. This is not only illegal in the UK but also expressly contravenes Google's terms of service (when Google finds evidence of this it simply deletes all of the business's reviews - and there is no appeal).

Here's an example of a single business that appears to have all the bases covered (!) ...

Twenty-two reviews on Google with a score of 3.6, forty-four on Trustpilot and a (trust)score there of 3.5 and then twenty-seven on Feefo (an invitation-only site - see CMA regulations above) with a score of 4.9. Guess which they are using in their current TV marketing campaign?

The solution?

We will cover this in detail in this series of articles. Regular readers and clients already know the answer, but, in a nutshell, if we discount 'doing nothing' as a potential solution the only way a business can be compliant with the CMA regulations is to either have a Google reviews widget on its website or to adopt proper full-time review management. As we say: more later.

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