Online reviews aren?t the enemy of businesses

We know that 80 per cent of us now read a review about a company before we book a holiday or buy a product from them, making reviews a virtual ?word of mouth? and increasingly influential in what consumers buy.?

I read Charlie Mullins? column this week about the potential damage that reviews can do to a business?s reputation and I fully agree. It is dangerous that some review and feedback platforms allow just anyone to post an opinion without even checking whether the writer is a genuine customer. It most certainly can be hugely damaging to businesses if fake or malicious reviews appear, as well as misleading to potential customers.?

The days of telling a few blokes down the pub of a bad experience are long gone. Social media means hundreds of thousands of people can read a review that is unverified in minutes and the damage is done, whether its justified or not.

I have to say, that I find it strange that the very review platform that Pimlico Plumbers uses, is one that does allow anyone to post a review, regardless of a genuine relationship or not! Worse, it is even possible to offer to pay a small sum of money for someone to write a review for you on that platform. A quick online search reveals lots of ?volunteers for cash? willing to write a nice review for you!

However, not all review sites operate in this way. These ?open? platforms, where anyone can post a review, are very different to ?invitation? platforms, where only genuine customers are allowed to leave a review. Every customer is invited to review and rate a company for the service experienced and the product purchased, and reviews are never modified or deleted to make them look better. What you see is what you get! That means totally trustworthy reviews from verified customers.

The prominence of online reviews and social media means businesses cannot afford to ignore them ? search for any business online and, chances are, one of the first results will be a review about them.?

There is an easy solution. Business can take control of the process by actively inviting all their customers to review them. Very few of us would ever take the time and effort to actively seek out somewhere to leave a review of a business unless we had an exceptionally good, or more likely, a bad experience. That means the views left on ?open? platforms are not always representative of a business? entire customer base. On the other hand, asking each customer to take 30 seconds of their time to rate a product or service leads to a far greater response rate ? and a far more representative indication of a business? track record.?

The days of the ?mystery shopper? are dead! Every single customer should be treated as a ?mystery shopper?. Genuine customer opinion is a valuable tool ? it provides businesses with the useful insight to act on, opportunities to improve and individual employee successes to reward. If your staff are doing a great job, let them hear about it from more of your customers. Even when those dreaded negative reviews arrive, it is a great opportunity to win round a customer, by correcting mistakes and demonstrating a commitment to good customer service. That customer, in turn, can and often will become your biggest advocate.

Charlie Mullins called for the online review industry to be better controlled. Here here Charlie! There is far more that can be done to prevent malicious and fake reviews ? and it is in the hands of businesses themselves to take control of their online reputation. Actively invite feedback from all genuine customers and you will be sure to have a prominent and trustworthy source of customer reviews available to reassure prospective customers of your real reputation.

Andrew Mabbutt is chief executive of Feefo.

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