Credibility is all: How can a little button mean so much?
One of the most common mantras we hear when discussing reviews and review management is “How can we/our customers believe them?”
And of course the questioner is right; if there is any doubt, ever, over the veracity of your reviews then credibility whistles out of the window.
We are all familiar with good old-fashioned testimonials, but whenever did your read a negative one? Being contrarian for a moment, this is almost justifiable: you wouldn’t expect a business to publish defamatory comments about itself on its own website, and nor do most consumers. But that’s why they now look for reviews instead!
The ‘invitation only’ review
Often dressed up as a way of ensuring that ‘the reviewer is a genuine customer’, this mechanism has flaws:
- It is sent just once – commonly immediately post-purchase, and what readers end up with is either a glowing review: ‘The shoes are fab’ or a review of the delivery service: ‘the shoes arrived the next day’ or, more important – and damaging – for the business: ‘the shoes arrived late – I therefore rate them 1*’ Wouldn’t it be more sensible if the reviewer could leave a review at any time? Or even multiple reviews: ‘They were fab when they arrived, but I wore them twice and they fell to pieces, so ignore my last review.’? Google have a great solution to this: you can edit your review at any time. HelpHound allows your customers to post as many reviews as they like, whenever they like.
- Is it in your business’s interests to restrict the invitation to just one point-of-contact – usually the person for whom you have an email address? How much better to allow: all the diners in the party/ both people who stayed the night in your hotel room/ people you spent hours showing round properties (and were impressed by the quality of your service) but did not buy/rent, to post a review?
This last example bears more scrutiny: why should your business welcome reviews from those who either did not pay the bill or were never customers in the first place?
The easy one first: those ‘not paying the bill’. You don’t need to be the person paying to have a perfectly valid right to comment on a business. We see many reviews from spouses, business partners, wedding guests and so on. All perfectly valid – and helpful for both the business and their prospective clients.
‘Never customers’: here are two – real-life – examples which, we hope, will make this point for us:
- The next-door-neighbour driven to distraction by their neighbours’ behaviour; they wrote a review on our estate agent client’s website (because they could). You may say, with some justification, that they should have contacted the agent direct, but the fact is that they didn’t (and many other like them every day don’t); they took up the agent’s open invitation – that sits on their website 24/7 – to write a review. If they had not taken that option they may, just may, have resorted, as so many people now do, to writing a negative review on Google, about something that was not strictly speaking the business’s fault, out of sheer frustration. As it was, that agent was able to reassure the reviewer that their concerns were being addressed. When our system invited the reviewer to post a final review, they declined. Why wouldn’t they? Their concern had been addressed. A happy ‘non-customer’ and a business’s reputation unharmed.
- A wedding guest at a hotel had a bad experience with a member of staff. Not wishing to disrupt the happy couple’s day, they wrote a review the next day on the hotel’s website. The hotel contacted HelpHound to say that they had no record of any guest by that name, and HelpHound reverted to the reviewer to check their bona-fides. The reviewer provided the name of the bride’s parents and the review was responded to by the hotel, in private, with an apology. No final review was posted – to the hotel’s website, to Google or to any other ‘open’ site (TripAdvisor, for instance). Another ‘non-customer’s’ complaint managed effectively, and the hotel’s reputation unsullied.
That second example is interesting: some would say ‘Why allow the business to answer that review before it was published?’ Our answer is that it is in everyone’s interest that good businesses look good on the web. In our book a good business is defined as a business that addresses customer issues when they make mistakes (instead of ignoring them, as some do). If the hotel had fallen into that latter category then the reviewer would doubtless have asked for their review to be published. Our system – known as Resolution™ – is fair to everyone concerned: the customer gets their issue addressed, the business is not dmamaged by a negative review and the potential customer ends up dealing with a business that puts thing right when they go amiss.
But aren’t ‘open’ sites vulnerable to fake reviews?
Correct. Let us mine down into those fake reviews:
- The fake positive: posted by owners or staff – or, in some cases, agencies – of the business in question. Sometimes emotionally justified by the business as a response to what it sees as ‘unfair’ negatives: ‘We were just trying to rescue our reputation – the review (the unfair negative) was harming our business.’ If you doubt the harm just one of these reviews can do you should read this awful tale (with a happy ending thanks to HelpHound). In about 50% of the businesses we look at we are easily able to identify fake positive reviews. Part of our role is to advise clients how to have these deleted.
- The fake negative: posted by competitors, disgruntled (ex-)members of staff or ‘trolls’ (the story in the link above was prompted by a trolling review – here is a definition of trolling). TripAdvisor themselves admit that a meaningful percentage of their reviews are suspect. Google’s system is better – because they require reviews to be linked to G+ account – but not infallible. Last spring we alerted Google to a troll who had posted over 16,000 ratings of businesses, mostly estate agents, worldwide. Almost all 1* (and, as a result, very damaging).
At HelpHound our system deals with fake negative reviews very simply: we require the reviewer to verify their use of the business concerned. No verification – no published review. If the business decides to game Dialogue then they will fall foul of our ‘two strikes’ rule: the first time they are warned, the second instance results in termination of membership.
The ‘no anonymous reviews’ sites
But sites can go too far in the other direction; Yelp, for instance, makes much of its ‘reviews community’ and in doing so risks alienating all but the young, who seem happy to expose their personal details for all to see (and critique). For all sorts of genuine reasons some people do not wish to expose their true identity when posting a review. Privacy is paramount for many people, but they also don’t want to alienate business owners in their community. Businesses should welcome anonymous reviews – for often these tell the business far more about itself and its standards of service delivery than reviews from identifiable customers – who may moderate their comments.
- The reviewer has patronised a local restaurant for many years, but recently service standards have fallen. They don’t want to stop using the restaurant, and they don’t want to go head-to-head/face-to-face with the owner. How do they square this? By writing an anonymous review
- The reviewer is uncertain as to whether their comment – which may relate to a complex transaction (often the case with our estate agency clients) – is valid. They want to communicate with the business, but they don’t want to make a fool of themselves. They submit an anonymous review, and, depending on the business’s response, will then decide to pursue the matter by disclosing their identity
This is where HelpHound works, yet again, for the benefit of both reviewer and business. We act as mediators, allowing reviews to ‘evolve’ from anonymous to ‘named’ as each individual case progresses. All away from the glare of the web, allowing the business’s reputation to be protected from inaccurate or misleading reviews whilst giving their customers a channel to have their opinions and comments heard.
The best of both worlds
HelpHound’s system – Dialogue™ – gives businesses and their customers the best of all possible worlds.
- can offer their customers a channel that is always open – whenever the customer chooses to use it
- whilst being protected against unfair of inaccurate criticism
- can ensure that reviews – on its own site and on important sites like Google – are accurate and credible
- can reward the business, publicly, by writing a great review
- can give the business an opportunity to right wrongs, privately, before they go on to write a public review (or not, as they wish)
- can believe the reviews they read
HelpHound: review management at its most professional – and therefore also at its most credible.