Monday 16 May 2022

A lesson for every business

This article appeared in today's Times:

Here's the full article

Don't worry if you cannot burrow through the Times' paywall, we'll highlight the salient points here.

Those of us that have lived and breathed online reviews for the last two decades find it intriguing that we are still encountering businesses in such volume that are making such fundamental errors when managing their interaction of reviews of all kinds. But there are - and they do. Hence this article.

Two key points straight away:  

Dreading the ping of review alerts

Sure. If the business has no proactive review strategy in place they'd be right to dread that ping. We looked at the Saracen's Head's Google reviews (after all, very few potential customers get past Google reviews if there are enough - we tend to define 'enough' as 100 minimum -  and the Saracen's head has plenty) and we can see that they are almost certainly asking customers for reviews - you don't generally get north of 300 and a score of 4.5+ without asking. 



So what are they not doing? They're not responding to reviews.

'Why respond?' we hear some of you ask. You respond because responding has three important effects:

    1. It shows potential customers reading the review (believe us, they will!) that the business cares.
    2. It allows the business the opportunity - for free - to address the issue(s) raised.
    3. It gives future reviewers pause before they 'over-egg' their complaint. If they know they will get a response they will either decide that their complaint is not important enough to write a review at all or that they will be more careful with their star rating (instead of simply plumping for 1*).

Please don't say 'We haven't the time' - we estimate a considered response to a review takes less than 5 minutes - surely worth the time for a business that 'dreads the ping of a negative review' and the 'immediate impact on team morale'.

Impact on team morale

Pete and his team should be - and undoubtedly are - proud of the service they provide to their customers, across all four of their venues. But Pete is also right to highlight the impact a negative review can have on staff morale. 

The opposite is also true: staff positively glow when they see a 5* review (businesses that have no proactive review management strategy please note). Get reviews flowing* and your staff will thank you.

*all research proves that companies that ask for reviews score considerably higher than those that don't. This is not rocket science: happy customers rarely write a review unless asked while unhappy customers are far more likely to, so asking customers to write review works!


Just in case any readers still doubt that reviews have impact. There's also a case history here where a single negative review literally stopped the phones ringing at a firm of solicitors. They took the reviewer to court - something we would strongly advise against - but were able to prove to the judge, and therefore the world - that the review had cost them a quantifiable amount of money. Pete Dale's restaurants have few negative reviews, but he would far rather there were none, for good financial reasons.

Fake reviews and regulation

The fact that businesses - some businesses - are willing to pay for fake reviews shows just how powerful reviews and review scores are. Why would a business resort to such behaviour? We can hear readers saying 'My business would never do that' but we have a file full of examples - and you might be surprised at some of the names. Why do otherwise respectable and law-abiding businesses break the law?

Best define 'the law' first:

1.  By law, if a business invites any customers at all to write reviews, anywhere at all, it must allow all of its customers to write a review. It cannot choose which customers to allow to write a review.

2.  Nor can it control the timing. Using a system that only allows customers to write a review when asked to do so by the business is illegal.

3.  Using any mechanism to establish which customers will be most likely to write a positive review is also illegal. Examples include using an email customer satisfaction questionnaire or a less visible review site (we see examples of companies using review sites to gather reviews and then only inviting those who rate them five stars to post a review to Google - if we can see them, so can the regulators - the CMA in the UK).

4.  Buying, or in any way encouraging 'fake' reviews is now illegal in the UK. That includes asking 'friends and family' or others that have not directly experienced the product or service the business is selling to write reviews. It is also against Google Terms of Service; Google will delete all the reviews of any business found doing this.

Businesses are, quite understandably, very wary of reviews; they know that good reviews will drive business but they also know that negative reviews can harm business. That's why - in a nutshell, that a huge number of businesses flout one or more of the laws above. So what are businesses to do, given that...

The next business referenced in the Times article is The CheeseGeek...

Now we fully appreciate that one man's 'torrent' is another's trickle, so let's look at the numbers (on Google* - because that's the place most of their potential customers will be looking):

                  • 5 star: 37
                  • 4 star: 1
                  • 3 star: 1
                  • 2 star: 1
                  • 1 star: 16
*The issue here is one of misdirected resources: the CheeseGeek has over a thousand reviews on their website, almost all of them complimentary, but they have failed to realise that the place they need to be inviting customers to review them is on Google. If only ten percent of those customers who had left a review on their website went on to copy it to Google then their score would be safely nudging 4.5.

And this doesn't only apply to restaurants and online retail, far from it, it is far more important that professional and service businesses in the medical, financial, legal and related spheres look impeccable in search.

Here's a four step plan...

1.  Invite reviews on your website - like this...

2.  Have those reviews moderated before they're published

Moderation is the act of reading the review - it's done by a real human being, not a bot - before it's published to ensure that it is, as far as practically possible...

  • factually accurate (no one benefits from reading factually inaccurate reviews, not the business, not the consumer reading - and relying on - the review, and certainly not the reviewer)
  • it contains nothing that may have the potential to mislead the reader
  • personal abuse or anything of an illegal nature (you might be surprised...)
This is probably the single most important function we perform. As you can imagine, it's impossible for a business to moderate its own reviews - all credibility would be lost; moderation takes 99 percent of the fear out of reviews - because that fear is generated by the contents of the three bullet points above.

3. Get as many of them across to Google as you can

  • we suggest a target of one in two, because we know it's achievable. If you look at the example above, Winkworth Blackheath have 241 reviews on their own site and152 reviews on Google...

4. Respond to them all - see above.

In summary

If you have read this article you will know 90% of what any business needs to know to succeed with reviews. The other 10% is contained in this blog and consists or advice, for instance, to focus all you efforts on Google reviews and to avoid review websites at all costs. Just use the box above to interrogate the blog or, even simpler, pick up the phone and dial 020-7100 2233 and ask to speak to one of us.



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