Reviews are the lifeblood of many businesses, but you shouldn't be tempted to create dishonest ones.
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Imagine you receive an email asking you to leave an online review for a concert you went to a decade ago. Besides being a test of your beer-befuddled memory, it would also ring a few alarm bells, wouldn’t it?
Or maybe you are suddenly requested to leave a review for a restaurant you have never heard of and which on further inspection turns out to be a back-street wheelie bin compound.
Sadly, these are real-life examples of the various ruses that have eroded confidence in online reviews, even though the vast majority of shoppers still rely on them when buying something, whether online or in a store(1).
The invitation to leave a concert review allegedly came from a ticket-resale website trying to shake off negative headlines, but ended up triggering more bad publicity and was entirely counter-productive.
Scepticism grows very quickly when such ploys are exposed, making the whole issue of fake or engineered reviews one that needs to be resolved urgently and effectively.
It is not a trivial matter. Not only are reviews incredibly useful in offering us confidence and guidance, they can save us time in reaching a decision, whatever we are buying – whether it is lightbulbs, holidays, cars or houses.
Reviews are relied upon for everything from theatre trips to holidays
Reviews can also be a real spur to a business, kicking it up the backside and enabling it to find out with greater precision what its customers want and where things are going wrong.
The problem with the industry is that anyone can go online and buy a bucket-load off-the-shelf reviews that make a business look superficially wonderful.
Only last year, the House of Lords European Union Committee issued a warning to companies for misleading consumers with fake reviews and bogus discounts.
What consumers need are reviews they can believe in(2) – that have gone through some process of authentication. Shoppers are no longer so easily manipulated by fake reviews or the filtering out of criticism.
While most consumers are not inclined to buy ice cream-makers or double-glazing on the strength of a one-star rating, they regard the absence of anything negative in a string of reviews as suspicious. And they extract what they need, even from poor reviews.
The absence of children’s play facilities at a hotel may feature in a series of griping reviews by parents, but be the kind of indicator an amorous couple is looking for when seeking a tranquil venue.
Consumers also like leaving reviews. In fact the bigger the purchase, or the more related to personal taste it is, the more likely they are to leave a short assessment, good or bad, emphasising how investing hard-earned cash in a product or service entails a degree of emotional commitment. Just look at all the long strings of reviews for cars and holidays.
All businesses need to wake up to the fact that going online to share an experience on social media is second nature to ever-growing numbers of consumers and if they cannot leave honest, critical reviews on the company website, they will make sure they are heard on Facebook.
If they don't like it, people will hear about it
Businesses no longer need to fear negativity – they can learn from it. For example, lousy star-ratings have often turned out to be about the failures of the delivery company and not the product.
Using reviews to sort out these problems quickly, means a business can improve its performance immediately without the risk of suddenly being roasted in a fire-pit of bad reviews on social media.
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are now transforming the review sector, too, making it possible to extract what is valuable to either the business or individual consumers from thousands of reviews they would never otherwise have time to comb through.
If your business is interested in how a new phone’s battery life is affecting consumer sentiment, the AI will accurately monitor and extract for you what has been said on the topic from thousands of reviews.
We may be in the age of “fake news” and “post-truth” opinions but it is time for falsified or filtered reviews to be banished. Once they are, it isn’t just consumers who will gain, businesses will learn more about how to improve products and services. They will find out what consumers really think, rather than just relying on how many stars they receive.
1. 74% of UK shoppers say reviews usually influence them to some extent; 66% of UK consumers most likely to read online reviews after finding out price when considering a purchase – Feefo survey of 2,000 consumers, Feb 2017
2. Only seven per cent of consumers completely trust reviews – Feefo research, Feb 2017