Who doesn’t love reading a positive customer or client review online – it’s invaluable social proof.
More and more businesses are realising the power these social recommendations have on sales. For consumers, online reviews help them make an informed purchasing choice. But not all reviews are great, and not all reviews should be trusted.
Sadly, the popularity of review sites has inevitably led to the unethical practice of false customer testimonials that create an unfair competitive advantage in the market.
False reviews are written by someone pretending to be a genuine user and include both ‘false positive’ reviews designed to dishonestly inflate a company’s image and ‘false negative’ reviews aimed at discrediting a company. Even if all your customer reviews are written by genuine users, the mere fact that this practice happens means people will be suspicious. The real damage this behaviour causes is to erode trust, which is an unequivocal component of any brand’s success.
The ACCC has introduced guidelines with severe penalties to combat this shonky practice. The new laws mean there is much to lose by artificially improving your ratings. If you think it harmless to post a rosy review of your business or perhaps pretend to be a disgruntled customer on a competitor’s social media page or on third party review sites, think again.
It can now result in legal action and heavy fines. In 2011, the ACCC fined a removalist that copied another company’s testimonials, altered them and published them on an independent review platform. Last year, an Australian company was fined $145,000 for misleading consumers by, among other things, filming a fake customer testimonial and posting it on YouTube.
What businesses may not realise is that the ACCC’s guidelines extend beyond the open-and-shut cases of unethical and malicious behaviour. In the eyes of the ACCC, positive reviews given as a means of obtaining a reward are also considered ‘fake’.
Attempting to suppress negative reviews is also against the law. The ACCC regards removing negative reviews or editing out the bits you don’t like as just as dishonest as posting fake positive ones.
Businesses need to be very careful with reviews and treat the new laws very seriously. Don’t rely on this post alone, you should read the guidelines to ensure your business complies and avoids the fines.
The rise and increasing value of customer reviews on social media and review platforms is only going to continue and it can be hugely positive for consumers and businesses alike, provided everyone abides by the new set of dos and don’ts.
Encouraging reviews from genuine users only
It’s OK to suggest people post an unbiased review of their experience as part of your after-sales support, so others can benefit from their experience. It’s not OK to ask friends or family members to write reviews.
Be careful about offering rewards or prizes
The ACCC guidelines for best practice recommends that a reward or incentive (such as small discount on a future purchase) may be OK, provided it is offered equally to everyone, and there is no advantage for those who provide positive comments (such as a prize for the best review). Say thank you – acknowledging your customers for their feedback is often reward enough.
Never delete or edit a review
You should be open and welcome poor reviews as well as positive ones. Never attempt to have a negative review removed. If you are suspicious that a negative review is ‘fake’ then contact the review site, who may ask the reviewer for proof of purchase. If the review is genuine, a good approach to handle negative feedback is to engage the reviewer, and possibly even fix the problem for all to see. A well-managed public resolution may actually add to your credibility and trust-worthiness. But a word of warning: if you can’t solve the issue you will just have to take the good with the bad.
Further reading: ACCC
How do you encourage reviews and respond to negative feedback?
About the Author
Matthew White is the Director of Ergoflex.com.au