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? 

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