Keeping Customer Reviews Above Board

Recently, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) reported the result of an investigation into an online retailer found to have suppressed the publication of negative reviews for their products on their own website. It’s the latest in a number of investigations looking at the way sites handle customer reviews and offer incentives to people to post favourable content about them.
Customer submitted reviews of a product can be a great way to build ‘social proof’ for your brand, but you need to be willing to take the good with the bad if you want to avoid trouble with regulators.

Why have online reviews

Reviews can have massive influence in purchase decisions. Review platform Bazaarvoice found that 54% of online shoppers read reviews before purchase. This influence isn’t just limited to online shopping, they also found that 39% people of people shopping in physical stores also consulted online product reviews before purchase.
Unfortunately, you can’t please everyone all the time and every brand can expect negative reviews, no matter how good they are. The level of transparency customer reviews provide can be daunting for a lot of brands. Research has found bad reviews helped build trust in a product, as long as they’re in the right proportion to the positive reviews of course.
Interestingly, recent research shows too many positive reviews can have a negative impact for online retailers – increased product returns as a result of lifted expectations of a product from positive reviews.
However, if you’re transparent about how you handle the negative situations, user reviews (even negative ones) can reassure customers, by showing that if there is a problem your brand is willing to help. But of course, fail to pay attention to them or mishandle them and your brand could suffer.

Staying compliant

In the UK there are consumer protection laws which govern how brands should approach online reviews of their products.

If the way you manage or present reviews misleads consumers, your business could be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs), which prohibit unfair commercial practices that distort consumers’ decisions. – CMA letter to retailers that host customer reviews on their websites

Don’t delay publishing submitted reviews.
You can’t ‘unreasonably’ delay publication of reviews.
Check both positive and negative reviews to the same standard, and have a procedure for removing the fakes.
The CMA has been looking into fake reviews for a while now, with a few high profile cases getting wide publicity
Make it clear to customers how reviews are collected and checked, how to get one published, and why one might not be published.
Clear guidelines are an important ingredient in an online community. You need to have easy to understand guidelines about what is and isn’t acceptable and these guidelines need to be available to everyone.
Make sure you clearly differentiate testimonials from reviews
Testimonials include instances where you’ve offered incentives for positive reviews, including ‘influencers’.
Don’t discourage reviews from people because their initial problem has been solved.
Why avoid a chance for some to talk about how you made things right?
Knowing the rules is a great start but the best way to stay on the right side of the law is to make sure you your team is able to act in the right way. Key to this is having strong, clear guidelines on review moderation including how to identify and remove fake reviews.
The next element is making sure your team is properly trained in assessing reviews. After that you need to make sure that these policies are being followed through regular monitoring and quality checks.

From reviews to social customer engagement

Beyond simply moderating, ensuring customer-submitted reviews are integrated into your customer service process is a logical next step and a great way to keep your customers happy. You’ll need to make sure all elements of your customer service are connected and that your team has the authority to act to help those customers with issues.
It might seem like a lot to think about, but if your brand is actively trying create a positive community around your products and services, you’re more than likely within the rules anyway.
The benefits of well-managed user reviews are definitely worth the time you put in.

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