Wednesday 17 August 2022

Is 4 out of 5 a good score?

The simple answer? Yes, if you are selling clothing or white goods. Consumers will buy a shirt or a toaster that scores 4 out of 5.

But for services? Medical, financial,  legal and so on? No way. Let us explain. First some numbers: let's assume the business has 100 reviews - and that the reviewers have scored the business either 5* (happy) or 1* (unhappy) - a score of 5.0 self-evidently means 100 x 5* reviews. A score of 4.0 means 75 x 5* reviews and 25 x 1* reviews (75 x 5 = 375 + 25 x 1 = 25 = 400/100 = 4.0). A business with fully a quarter of its reviewers rating it 1* (given that a reviewer cannot rate a business 0 stars) will not look good by comparison with most of its competitors.

Take the firm of solicitors above. Scoring 4.0 means that no less than six of their 25 reviewers rate them at 1 star. The comments made in those 1* reviews will deflect business - they will prevent people from picking up the phone and/or clicking any further. And so will the score. Far from saying to themselves '4 out of 5, that's not bad', prospective clients or such a business will be faced with ninety-two out of a hundred such firms scoring 4.5 or better, the same goes for the  medical sector...

The odd one out, somewhat surprisingly, is the financial sector. We continue to see scores such as these...

What is the legal profession doing that the financial advisers are not?

Simply? Asking for reviews. If you don't ask for reviews you don't get them (that is, you don't get the ones you deserve - you will get the odd review from the most motivated of all reviewers: seriously unhappy customers).

Our advice

1.  Ask for reviews. But remember, by law you must enable all your customers to write a review. No cherry-picking (just about any business scan score 4.7 by only inviting happy customers to post reviews - but it's illegal). 

2.  Adopt a moderated system such as HelpHound. This will enable you to sleep at night without the fear of unfair or inaccurate reviews causing harm - and harming your score.

3.  Aim for as close as possible for a perfect 5.0 score. Few businesses achieve it over any length of time, but 4.7 - 4.9 is our benchmark for clients. Any lower and we take a long hard look together. 



Monday 1 August 2022

The fake review saga rumbles on

Which? on 28 July...

Whose responsibility is this? Let's look at the stakeholders one by one...

  • the consumer
All these sites' terms and conditions contain wording to the effect that 'the review should be a record of the reviewer's personal experience of the business under review'. And the overwhelming majority of reviews contain just that. The problem is that the tiny minority of inaccurate or misleading or just plain fake reviews will do harm - to the business and to potential users of the business alike. Few review mechanisms have addressed this effectively.

Consumers need review mechanisms they can trust; it is up to the platforms and their business clients, as well as the regulators, to ensure such mechanisms are, as far as possible, delivered.
  • the business
Businesses - again, the overwhelming majority - fall into two camps: those that have realised the potential that reviews have to drive business in their direction and those that are scared stiff of them. Many of the latter have only joined the former by gaming the system - by hand-picking those that they are as sure as they possibly can be will be complimentary and write a 5* review. This - and this still comes as a surprise for many - is illegal in the UK.

Businesses need to find ways of delivering reliable reviews to consumers. And they need to stop gaming the various review platforms.
  • the regulator

The CMA addressed the issue of review manipulation back in August of 2016 - six years ago now. Unfortunately, as in many other areas of marketing, until the CMA uses its powers to enforce its regulations and makes an example of a business that is flouting them, businesses will continue to break the law. We have an ever-expanding file of law-breakers and so we must assume do other businesses where they have found their competitors to be gaining an unfair advantage. We know our clients are often asked 'What's the difference between you and XYZ (when you both have such similar Google scores)?' and the answer invariably impresses: 'If you look at our website there's a 'Write a review' button on there which anyone can use to write a review whenever they choose.'

The regulator needs to sanction a business - any business - that is flouting the law.

  • Facebook, Google and Trustpilot - and the many other sites that host reviews
Our opinion on this is a matter of record, and it's shared by Which?: that platforms that host reviews have a duty of care to stakeholders - the reviewer, the business under review and the reader of the review - to do all they can to ensure that the reviews they host are written by genuine customers and contain as little content that is fake, factually incorrect or potentially misleading as possible. Those that dismiss this as extreme should pause to think of reviews of essential services - medical, legal and financial, for instance - where health and wealth are at stake before saying 'does it really matter if the odd review is inaccurate, misleading, fake or written by a competitor?'. Unfortunately, all of the platforms quote the 'freedom of speech' mantra and do little to prevent such reviews appearing under their banners. This, as matters stand in 2022, is where HelpHound comes in.

Businesses need to realise that these sites are not going to move any time soon and adopt a moderated solution - now!

One click - on that 'Write a review' button - is all it takes: full compliance and moderation both flow from there.

What about HelpHound?

First the process: with HelpHound there are two main avenues that someone must follow to write a review - they will either be invited, by email, by the business, or they will see the 'Write a review' button on the business's website (above). In both cases, once written the review will be read by a HelpHound moderator before it is published. All reviews are published unless they contain content that is factually incorrect or has the potential to mislead a reader. If this is the case our moderator refers back to the reviewer and, if appropriate, to the business under review (it should be noted that the reviewer retains the right to have whatever review they wish published - this maintains the system's credibility and complies with UK law).  After moderation the review is published on the business's website and we then automatically invite the reviewer to copy their review to Google. In every case.

Now: let us examine the potential for fraudulent misuse of our system. 

  • Who can write a review? Anyone with an email address. So there's no way to ensure the reviewer is genuine? No. None at all - except the content of the review (we do confirm email addresses, but that means nothing, anyone can acquire a new Gmail address in a matter of seconds). And that is one of the main reasons we moderate all reviews. It is unfair to both the business and the future consumer that may rely on the review when deciding whether or not to use the business to publish reviews without moderation.

Perhaps an example may help here: the reviewer writes a review saying the business overcharged them. If we published that review without asking for the business's version of events the business may well end up being unfairly criticised and anyone reading the review would be - again, unfairly - put off using the business. Some will say that the business has a 'right of reply', and so it does. But this will not alter the impact of the unfair rating on the business's all-important overall Google score. Consumers - like it or not - select businesses first based on their Google score: a business coring 4.8 will receive more enquiries than one scoring 4.6, all other factors being equal.

  • So the business could write its own reviews? In theory - yes. But HelpHound has a 'two strikes' rule (you can see it referred to here, as far back as 2016) whereby we promise to 'sack' any business caught doing this after a single warning. We have had to warn a handful of client businesses over the years - almost always because one of our moderators has spotted a review written by an over-enthusiastic member of staff who thought that  their wonderful experience of working for ABC Plc was worthy of a review. HelpHound's reputation rests on the quality of our moderation - in the reverse of the way in which sites like those in the Which? headline are harmed by their lack of such oversight.
  • So a competitor (or a disgruntled ex-member of staff) could write a review? Yes. And they do - occasionally. But they never make it through moderation. We will - and do - email anyone where we have cause to suspect their review is in any way flawed and, unsurprisingly, few in the above categories respond! In the rare cases where they do we will ask questions that they will find impossible to answer convincingly - the name they used when transacting business, for instance. 
  • How can a HelpHound moderator spot a fake review? It's remarkably easy - and over 99 percent effective. The way the review is written will almost always give it away. Add in the fact that our moderators can communicate with both the reviewer and business under review during the process and the success rate rises as near as makes no difference to 100%. 
  • Is there an inherent incentive for HelpHound to filter out negative reviews of its clients? No, simply because almost all genuine reviewers, if denied the right to have their review published through HelpHound, will simply resort to writing their review elsewhere - mostly to Google. And remember that all reviewers, whatever their opinion or star rating, are automatically invited to copy their review to Google. It's built into our software. On top of this, we really don't want the negative publicity of the kind that the review hosting sites receive when the press and the likes of Which? decide to test the system.


Google, Facebook and the review sites - despite their protestations of action - don't look like they are about to make any fundamental improvements any time soon. So, for both your business's and your customers sake it makes sense to employ a moderator such as HelpHound. 

The immediate impact of doing so? You won't have to worry about fake, inaccurate or malicious reviews any more and you won't have to worry about flouting UK law. Most of all: you will be delivering reliable opinions of the service your business offers to your prospective customers/clients/patients. 

We estimate that the hard number attached to our service results in our clients scoring on average 0.2 - 0.4 more than they would otherwise - both legally and legitimately.

And finally...

We appreciate that all of this, although essential, is fairly dry. If you would like to read a consumer's take on just how influential reviews can be and a dispassionate industry influencer's - estate agency in this instance - take on just how successful one of our clients is, relative to one of their closest competitors, please read on.