Monday, 7 June 2021

Moderation - it protects and aids the consumer just as much as the business under review

Read this article - it will give anyone seeking professional medical help massive pause for thought

It's one of the key issues facing both businesses and consumers in the C21. We have all the options a click away, but how do we distinguish between them? Back in the day we would have two: accept a personal recommendation or take an educated guess.

Now, we are are not saying that reviews are the whole answer today, but if adopted and addressed in the right way they have the ability to truly add value, both for the consumer and great businesses. What we can say, for definite, is that consumers now rely very heavily indeed on online reviews. But first let's look at the issues highlighted here by the Washington Post.

Problems with reviews in the 2020s

When the Washington Post contacted Google, Yelp and Truspilot about the reviews of the business in question the sites removed 73, 40 and 93 respectively. Reviews that, until then, the public had been relying on to make informed decisions about serious medical procedures.

Businesses - some businesses anyway - nowadays will do almost anything to ensure they look great. What can an unscrupulous business do?

  • they can get staff to write reviews
  • they can get staff family and friends to write reviews
  • they can buy reviews
  • they can cherry-pick happy customers to write reviews
  • they can do their utmost to control the timing of their reviews
  • they can 'gate' their reviews - meaning inviting 'customer feedback' or using a less visible review site and then only inviting those who rate their service 5* their to post to the most visible site (usually, but not invariably) Google

All of the above serve to mislead consumers. And a misled consumer is much more likeley to seek out ways to 'get their own back' by writing a negative review.

Why do businesses adopt these kinds of strategy? It's simple: a great rating and great reviews lead directly to increased business flows. But there is a less-understood reason as well: fear. Fear that reviewers will post inaccurate and/or misleading reviews. Neither are a valid excuse, and both are a) illegal under UK law and b) against Google's terms of service.

Why is this so much more important for the professions and other service businesses than for e-Commerce?

e-Commerce has adopted reviews with a will, but what value - for the consumer - is added by them? Little, we would suggest: one camera or washing machine or shirt does much the same job as the next, but e-commerce understands the power of reviews and mobilises them very effectively. When did you last see an advertisment for a vacuum cleaner or an e-bike that didn't incorporate a bold reference to the business's review score?

But just put yourself in the position of a consumer needing medical, financial or legal advice: how much more important do reviews of those services become when they have the potential to save lives, livelihoods and money?

So what should a business do?

First: none of the above! Most businesses, to be fair, are not buying reviews, but you might be surprised to know that well over 50 percent of businesses that are proactive with reviews are adopting at least one, often two or more, of the strategies listed above.

How do they get away with it? That's simple: the CMA - the government regulator - currently has other priorities, and we are sure COVID has slowed things up considerably. But that does not mean that these abuses are not well and truly on their radar. Anyone who doubts this would do well to read this open letter from the CEO of the CMA.

But there are other implications of gaming reviews: the main one being that competitors will notice (or be told by whistleblowers) and won't hold back when asked by a potential customer how the business in question manages to have so many overwhelmingly positive reviews.

So: how to comply with the law and still look great?

  1. Be great at what you do. We know it sounds like we are stating the obvious, but businesses that provide value for money and great levels of customer service invariably have a head start when it comes to reviews. Test your CRM to destruction.
  2. Invest in moderation: moderation is the process of having each review checked - independently - for accuracy and the potential to mislead readers. No business would hesitate to invest in other areas of marketing, PR and advertising, so make allowance for a moderated review management system in your marketing budget.
  3. Invest in compliance: as you would do for any other aspect of your business.

That's it. Not rocket science is it? 

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Review solutions - a checklist

Professional advice combined with years of experience will ensure you safely negotiate this maze!

There are over two million words in the 750 plus articles on this blog - and every single one of them relates to reviews and review management - so here is a simple checklist for your business (for more detail you can always interrogate the blog by entering whatever specifically interests you into the search box - above left, and you can also always call and speak to one of us!). 

After each of these 10 points we have added a link to the most relevant article - again: feel free to read as much as you like or just pick up the phone and speak to us.

1.  Don't be sold a solution: there are several review companies out there with large PE/VC-backed salesforces that will promise you the earth.  Research the market thoroughly before you decide on the right solution for your business.

2.  Own your own reviews: apart from the fact that data is so valuable these days, and you don't want to be giving that to someone else unless there's no alternative, you want to be able to vary your review solution as the years pass without losing those reviews you have already accumulated.

3.  Distinguish between product and service review solutions at outset: product reviews are rarely read, they simply provide the fuel for the all-important review score that you see next to virtually every product on an e-commerce website these days. The content is therefore pretty well immaterial, as long as the overall score is over 4 out of 5. Service reviews, however, are read, and in some detail, almost always 'worst' first. If you are a service business the following point - 4. - is vital.

4.  If you are in a service business or one of the professions your review solution must incorporate moderation: a single factually incorrect or misleading (or even plain 'unfair') review can, if published on Google, literally stop the phones ringing. Over the years we have seen this happen so often we have lost count. For the same reason solutions that incorporate a feed direct from Google are extremely high risk. Only a moderated review solution can ensure against reputational damage in the long term.

5.  You need to display your own reviews on your website: apart from the blindingly obvious reason that customers like to see and read reviews there, Google gives you credit for doing so in SEO; you may be wondering why some of your competitors rank higher in search - if they host their own reviews (not those from review sites or Google) that will almost certainly be a contributing factor.

6.  Respond to reviews, wherever they may be: if you don't consumers will make all sorts of assumptions: that the negative reviewer is correct and their assertions are unanswerable is just one; that you simply don't care is another. If a customer has taken the trouble to compliment your business online a simple response thanking them is all that is needed.

7.  Dont expect Rome to be built in a day: once you have a solution on board you should adopt realistic targets for reviews on your own website and reviews on whatever external platform you have chosen (after careful consideration and comparison with the alternatives). Remember: four reviews a month equates to fifty reviews a year; three years at that rate equates to 150 reviews. Mind you, we have seen clients accumulate those numbers in much shorter timescales; where there is a will there is a way.

8.  Don't sacrifice quality in the quest for volume: it is tempting to adopt all kinds of mechanisms to generate the maximum flow of reviews. In our extensive experience the only one that produces quality reviews in terms of content is email backed by personal contact; expecting email alone - or worse still, text or other kinds of media - to do the job is unrealistic and will only lead to disappointment and/or low quality one-liner reviews full of typographical and grammatical errors.

9.  Don't break the law:  every business we meet usually is, intentionally or unwittingly. UK law categorically states that businesses that invite reviews must allow all their customers to write a review at whatever time they choose. Let us be clear on this important point: hand picking happy customers to write reviews is illegal; only inviting customers to write a review at a time chosen by the business is illegal. Having a moderated review solution - see point 4 above - protects your business from inaccurate and misleading reviews and ensures compliance with UK law, so no excuses there.

10.  Google won't attempt to sell you their reviews solution: but it is invariably the best one - alongside an independent hosting and moderation solution for your own website.

That's it. Follow these ten points and you won't go far wrong; ignore any one of them and your business will almost certainly suffer, now and in the future.

Further reading...