Over the past months we’ve seen a backlash from consumers around fake reviews on Amazon, Airbnb and eBay. Each individual scandal has been incredibly damaging to brand reputation but also for customer trust. Peter Muhlmann, Founder and CEO at Trustpilot looks at why on transparency and trust in online reviews is more vital than ever in a post Covid-19 world.
A lack of transparency has riddled the online reviews space for years. It is an on-going challenge with some businesses (thankfully a minority) still trying to create fake reviews, or even prevent and censor people’s opinions from being published in the first place.
And now with increased searches around Covid-19 treatment, prevention, and testing, some brands are using fake reviews to bolster claims that they provide services or products that can help. On average, three new domains with either ‘Coronavirus’ or ‘Covid-19’ are being added online each day.
But it isn’t just the “unknowns” who may be trying to bend the rules. RBS was recently criticized when launching its new app Bó, after five-star reviews were found before its launch date. It soured the reception of the app and the bank has since shuttered the innovation altogether.
Businesses that operate as trading platforms have also fallen into this trap; Amazon, Airbnb, and eBay have all experienced criticism in their online reviews. Ultimately, it shows us that the short-term benefits gained from complimentary fake reviews will only lead to long-term consumer trust issues.
As an industry, we all need to work hard to overcome the challenges that fake reviews present. This article will look at what businesses and brands can do to champion transparency and trust.
The importance of the good, the bad, and the ugly
Online reviews are an influential part of the customer journey. They can make the difference between a customer clicking buy, or abandoning the sale. The CMA’s pledge, alongside Facebook and eBay to rid fake online reviews was a positive step. Moreover, it’s an overdue step towards total transparency in the sector.
It’s the brand’s responsibility to ensure there’s an accessible source of truth, where customers can find all of your reviews (even the bad ones) and see the bigger picture. Currently, 90% of consumers in the UK read reviews before buying online, which equates to an annual average spend of £433 per person. So, there’s a lot to lose out on if a brand appears untrustworthy.
Of course, customers don’t just buy from companies that hold a five-star rating – far from it. Fake reviews will scupper your chance of a customer buying from your site, more so than a negative review. Some 47% of consumers are already sceptical of brands manipulating their image through fake reviews, and 40% believe they’re doing this by deleting reviews. Therefore, the best approach is to be open and transparent with your reviews process.
You may grimace at a low rating and perhaps disagree entirely. However, good and bad reviews are a big opportunity to build relationships, improve your services or products, and cement trust – even when you receive negative feedback. This is extremely important as fake information and news – particularly during Covid-19 – continues to grow.
If you fail to champion the truth and censor those that have already purchased a service or product, you might as well tell them you don’t care. Customers want to know they’re being heard, and 40% are concerned about their freedom of speech when it comes to brand censorship.
Instead of hiding them in the depths of the internet, acknowledge them, show your concern, and act upon it. There’s always an opportunity to turn a bad review into a great relationship and if you’re doing it in an open environment, there’s even greater opportunity for your good intentions to be seen by other potential customers.
Prospective customers will be equally startled by a brand’s censorship of reviews. People don’t want to buy from airbrushed brands; they want to buy from authentic brands that admit their mistakes, do everything they can to fix the problem and genuinely care. Being able to display and improve on bad reviews – as well as the good – shows you’re open to customer feedback and prepared to change.
Honesty is more important than flawed perfection
Less than positive reviews are also a way to manage expectations. For example, if a review says a product is on the small side, this may inform customers that they need to buy a size up. Moreover, if a plumber posts the wrong area code information customers will ultimately be disappointed they cannot use an important boiler repair service and will not repeat their business.
If it’s absolutely crucial for your brand to monitor reviews like it is for trading platforms like eBay and Amazon, then keep your customers in the loop. Through our Transparent Flagging feature, Trustpilot shows how often companies flag reviews and what happens to them once they’ve been investigated. Recent changes also allow everyone to see how all businesses are receiving and inviting reviews and how responsive they are.
Why is this important? Because without further clarity, consumers will lose confidence in the information that should be helping them to make purchasing decisions.
Ultimately, customer feedback helps brands improve – and companies must remember that. So be honest, be transparent, and act on the most valuable insight you’re going to get.
By Peter Muhlmann
Founder and CEO