Wednesday 24 February 2021

Trustpilot: what has it done to Summerfield Browne?

Many of you will be aware that a firm of lawyers successfully sued one of their clients who posted a review on Trustpilot - for those of you who are interested the full sorry saga is here.

But today we are focussing on Trustpilot's response, nearly two weeks on (so far - they are currently yet to finalise whatever action they may or may not take).

The story so far...

The customer/client posted this review:

The business - in this case a firm of solicitors - took the reviewer to court and won (£25,000) for 'loss of earnings directly attributable to the review in question.' Trustpilot was ordered to remove the review.

So what other action has Trustpilot taken?

They posted this on the business's listing:

We appreciate that this may be hard to read on some platforms, so here are the key points:

  • 'Please be aware that this business has taken legal action against a consumer for a review...'
  • 'We strongly oppose the use of legal action to silence consumer’s freedom of speech. As a public, open, review platform we believe strongly in consumers having the ability to leave feedback - good or bad - about a business at any time, without interference.'
  • 'This is the first time we’ve seen a business taking such extreme measures against a consumer voicing their genuine opinion. The vast majority of businesses on Trustpilot engage with their consumers or use our flagging tools to report content and resolve their issues.'
  • 'Unfortunately, we are required to remove the review which was the subject of the legal action. We are exploring our options to challenge this decision.'
  • 'The business’ actions have resulted in media attention and this profile has seen a significant increase in reviews that don’t reflect an experience with the business.'

Trustpilot is no longer accepting reviews on the business, pending 'further investigation'

But the following reviews remain on the business's listing:

The above is almost certainly - to our eyes anyway - written by the person who wrote the original contentious review.

And this:

This is obviously written by someone who has no experience of the business whatsoever, aside from reading about the legal action on the BBC website. 

Here is the business's Trustpilot score returned in search as of today:

We would like to make the following points:

  1. The court made its ruling and award on the basis that the single negative review had caused a fall-off in inquiries of nearly forty percent
  2. This shows the power of a single negative review
  3. So why would Trustpilot allow the second review by the reviewer in question to remain of the business's listing?
  4. And why would they allow the 'review' by 'Chris' to remain?
  5. If the forty percent drop in business as a direct result of the one negative review is true, and the court certainly believe it to be so, what impact will a 'frozen' listing containing the two reviews shown above - as well as the dreadful score in Google search - continue to have?

HelpHound's opinion

  1. Review sites where there is no right of appeal - or the right of appeal is somehow dependent upon paid membership - should be outlawed by the Competition and Markets Authority
  2. Selling the services of a review site predicated upon negative reviews from unverified customers should likewise be outlawed
  3. Reviews that are patently written by those with no first-hand experience of the business should be outlawed
  4. It should be made compulsory to explain to potential clients of reviews sites that there is a free alternative to the core services: review and display of reviews, provided by Google
  5. Reviews sites should not be allowed to promote  the suspension of negative reviews  'pending proof of purchase' as a benefit of paid membership

In summary

We believe that Google reviews - either of the business or its products and services - combined with the facility to show verified reviews on your own website are the only currently viable proposition for businesses. This is explained in detail here.

We also believe, firmly, that moderation services such as our own are essential to ensure the very minimum of factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews sees the light of day.

Fair for the consumer and, just as importantly, fair for the business.

And finally...

Our advice to Summerfield Browne: you have £25,000. Use that to put all the pressure you can on Trustpilot to reopen your listing and then get the two offending reviews deleted, by resorting to law, if need be.

But don't, whatever you do, pay Trustpilot. Instead: focus on your Google reviews. They are seen by every single person searching for your business, even just to find your phone number, and you currently look like this in every single search:

With this a click away:

And our advice for the legal profession as a whole?

Many law firms remain extremely vulnerable to a single well-written, but possibly malicious, negative review. In the case of Summerfield Browne they were probably lucky that the reviewer chose Trustpilot: if they had chosen Google the damage would have been greater by a significant margin - especially on top of the pre-existing negative review above.

It is important to keep an eye on all review platforms, but especially on Google, where we advise all our clients to achieve a minimum of 50 reviews as quickly as they possibly can and then aim next for 100, at which point a business can relax, but not to the point of ignoring reviews altogether; they are far too important an ingredient in every single business's SEO, apart from impressing prospective clients - in both directions, as is evidenced by the fall-off of enquiries to Summerfield Browne in London.

We advise all our clients to ensure their review management policies comply with UK law, and this is obviously extremely important for legal businesses. Far too many solicitors are currently in breach - we estimate at least four in ten - mostly by chery-picking 'happy' clients to ask to write reviews whilst ignoring others. Such action is against the CMA's core regulations and thus against UK law. There's more on compliance here.

And a final word of caution...

Do not, whatever you do - and however tempting the pitch may be - fall for any business with the words 'reputation management' in its 'About us' tab. We have a file full of horror stories of upselling, freemium schemes and long-term lock-in contracts. Businesses with pre-existing negative reviews are manna from heaven for so-called 'reputation managers'.

At HelpHound we don't expect any of our clients to sign any kind of term contract; if we have worked for a business for two years - or even ten years - it's because we produce the goods. They are all free to leave at any time.

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