Recently, the law firm Peninsula was the subject of a Radio 4 discussion for its ‘whitewashing’ practices, after evidence emerged that it had been over curating and actively deleting negative reviews left by customers.
Apart from the wider ethics of any company (and especially a law firm), being found out for doing this and attempting to deliberately mislead potential clients, it had angered their customers, who felt they had lost their voice and right to react to genuine problems they had faced when dealing with the firm as their legal advisors.
Gavin Mullins CEO of Eooro.com highlights that what is interesting to observe is that deliberately deleting negative online reviews is part of a growing practice among some companies and in part due to the mistaken belief that any negativity is bad for business.
In fact, the reverse is true and having some less positive reviews can actually be a good thing for reputation. This is because it provides an opportunity to demonstrate good customer service, be seen to be responding to issues and learning from mistakes.
Overall, it can mean consumers are more likely to trust your brand – because it’s more real and believable. The key is in how you deal with them after collecting online reviews.
Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between feedback from genuine consumers and fake reviews from trolls. The well-known review platforms don’t make it easy to remove negative review, because this is how they entice business to sign up to their expensive packages.
However, there are now some review platforms that provide the mechanism to quickly flag and remove fake reviews. These are qualified behind the scenes and if the author doesn’t respond to clarify the situation properly, they can safely be deleted as unauthentic.
Negative feedback from real consumers on the other hand needs to be handled very carefully and should not be removed. There are multiple reasons why whitewashing is a poor strategy when collecting online reviews:
- Customers regard being able to respond with feedback is a basic consumer right. Since many of the goods and services we buy today are from online sources rather than face to face, people have very little ‘come back’ if what they bought fails to meet expectations.
Having the opportunity to vent their frustrations is like having an extra insurance policy. Consumers feel reassured in the knowledge that if they are unhappy, they can always go online and tell other people, which forces brands to think twice about delivering poor quality.
- Negative reviews are a bit like objection handling during a sales situation and how you respond to the feedback is really important.
Rather than becoming defensive, think that a customer has done you a favour and shared some important information about your products and services, which gives you the chance to make improvements.
They could have walked away dissatisfied and simply never bought from you again. Not only would you have lost a customer, but you wouldn’t be aware of the reasons why and have the chance to rectify an issue.
- Although it’s comforting to see an array of 5 star reviews when investigating a potential brand, consumers aren’t naive and they don’t believe that any company can achieve full satisfaction all the time.
Seeing a few negatives along with a majority of positive feedback is a far better foundation for building trust – it is more plausible and demonstrates greater authenticity. From the perspective of a potential customer, they want to be reassured but they also want to see how problems are dealt with.
As much as a positive review is helpful, it’s just as important to see that a brand is listening and that when problems do occur, they are handled professionally and openly.
- Overall, although business owners dread the prospect of negative reviews, they are an inevitable part of business. No-one gets it right all the time, things can go wrong and you can’t please everyone. Research has shown that customers are more likely to trust brands and businesses that aren’t afraid to be transparent, even if that means sharing poorer experiences, being honest when things weren’t as they should be and, most importantly, being seen to put things right.