Customer Reviews: A Double-Edged Sword
As a leading estate agent in the property business, we are equally in the people business. The relationships we create and cultivate with our current and past customers are not only important for the ongoing health and success of our business but they also influence our potential to secure future business.
However, more than ever before, customers are less inclined to believe what a company says about itself through its marketing and place more value in what others say about their experiences of the company in the form of reviews.
As an estate agency that operates within open and transparent business practices, we have always welcomed reviews. They are a barometer of our success and provide a platform for customers to give instant, fresh, honest and direct opinions. Such feedback enables us to continue doing what works and, in the event of negative reviews, to acknowledge our customers’ issues, take immediate action to correct any problems and improve our service for the next customer.
Historically, a company wishing to understand the needs, wants and drives of their customers would need to commission regular market research, which was a far lengthier process. Whereas now, opinions in the form of reviews are instant and unfiltered giving us direct understanding of our customers’ expectations.
We are not interested in censoring or deleting genuine feedback because we are happy to learn and grow from it. We want current customers to feel heard and, should our service fall below our usual standards, we appreciate that a platform exists through which customers may have their issue resolved so effectively that they would have no hesitation in coming back to us. We also think it is important that prospective customers see that we respond well to feedback, so that they can be assured we will value their custom and their opinion.
However, there is a darker side to the trend for customer reviews and that is the worrying rise of fake reviews.
As a company that values customer input, we investigate every review because they are so important to us. We keep records of all customers, the service provided and the staff involved and we refer to this information in the event of a complaint. This detailed information also enables us, in the majority of cases, to identify which customers are genuine and whose feedback is genuine. Interestingly, genuine customers usually use their real names when posting.
In the case of genuine ‘negative’ reviews however, due to GDPR we can’t be seen to publicly address them because that would mean revealing details of the sale, the service or the customer.
The same applies for fake reviews, in that we are prevented from publicly discussing details which would expose reviews as being fake. Also, behind the scenes, review sites require companies like us to prove that a review is false and, even then, some of the review sites use their discretion as to whether to remove them.
Therefore, we are powerless to defend ourselves against untruths and/or defamation and can do nothing to correct the misinformation spread amongst the general public. Our only course of action being to invite all negative reviewers to contact us directly so that we can resolve their issues privately which, to date, none of the imposters have done.
The issue is further compounded by the BBC news expose that reviews are being traded on the ‘dark web’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-43907695. Such unprofessional practices not only damage the value and validity of reviews in general but also undermine the genuine reviews and the credibility of the businesses receiving them.
So, countless businesses like ours find themselves caught in a twilight zone where business is won and lost on reviews that are lauded by customers, yet these reviews are wide open to manipulation and abuse. We value our customers’ feedback and we constantly strive to improve our quality of service but until the review system is revised or even possibly regulated, it’s becoming difficult to hear our genuine customers when they are constantly being crowded out.