Amazon and Google are clamping down on fake customer reviews: Why should you care?

Online regulators are taking measures to combat fraudulent reviews. We examine the impact on SMEs, and explain why customer testimonials are so important for brands

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Anyone who says the phrase ‘you are your own harshest critic’, has clearly never read an online review site.

Dealing with reviews – both good and bad – is an unfortunate consequence of being an entrepreneur. But their importance also cannot be ignored.

Testimonials have a direct influence on your company’s credibility and, therefore, customer decision-making. 

Nonetheless, ratings platforms are currently contending with their own negative feedback. The reviewing stage has been plagued with bad actors, with millions of shoppers likely to have been fed fake or misleading reviews.

Last month, the UK government announced plans to give the Competition and Markets Authority more powers to locate and remove sham reviews from websites like Amazon and Google.

Below, we’ll outline how the changes will affect small firms, as well as the positive benefits that using genuine customer feedback can bring to your business.

Why are fake reviews harmful?

You might have already encountered a review of your business that you thought was suspicious.

Maybe it was a customer complaining about a product you don’t actually sell, or claiming to have visited your cafe when you were closed for the bank holiday.

Whatever the subject matter, false indictments of your company can cause catastrophic damage to your reputation.

But it’s not just integrity that’s under threat. These measures also serve to protect small businesses from blackmail threats.

One business owner was recently targeted with false reviews by a scammer. Southampton-based telecoms company, circle.cloud received scores of fake one-star reviews.

This was immediately followed by a threatening message from the blackmailer, who said circle.cloud would have to send payment for the reviews to be removed.

Of course, some causes are less sinister. Business competitors might forge or purchase negative reviews to persuade people not to use their rival’s products or services.

What if it’s a positive review?

Some entrepreneurs will post a favourable review of their own company to persuade people to purchase a product or service.

This is just as unethical and is also a guaranteed way to drop down the ranks on Google, which will automatically flag your site as untrustworthy or disreputable.

Consumers are also catching onto the problem. Many have become distrustful of reviews, harming those businesses that have spent time and effort gathering authentic customer feedback.

How is the problem of fake reviews being tackled?

Tech giants like Google and Amazon are infamous for their questionable reviews of small business products and services.

Earlier this month, Amazon announced it would be taking legal action against four companies accused of deliberately flooding its shopping platform with fake reviews.

Separately, the UK government has unveiled its own proposal to stem the flow of falsehoods. Under the new plans, it will be illegal for businesses to pay someone to write or home a false review.

Those found to be involved in such activity face being fined up to 10% of their global turnover by a competition watchdog.

Sites that host consumer criticism will have to take ‘reasonable steps’ to substantiate the claims.

How can I use customer reviews to grow my business?

Despite their problems, customer reviews – when gathered authentically – are a fantastic tool for engaging new buyers or service users.

Startups’ expert team of researchers surveyed over 1,000 people on how they viewed customer reviews. 92% said they are important for making a purchase decision.

Celine Maher, Vice President of EMEA Commercial at Zendesk, explains: “Testimonials build trust that the product or service they are spending money on will meet their needs, work as advertised and also be delivered with a positive customer experience.”

Another use of testimonials is for identifying the areas you need to improve in your firm.

Should you hear from multiple people that they think your pricing is too high or their wait time was too long, you might consider altering your operations to improve satisfaction.

How can you gather customer testimonials?

You don’t have to rely on larger companies like Capterra, or Google reviews, to give you accurate responses from customers.

Instead, you can use your own methods of data collection to find honest and persuasive opinions on your business offering. Then, use your small business website builder to build a page that can host the testimonials.

The top three sources we recommend for gathering customer feedback are:

  1. Monitor social media accounts
  2. Set up Google Alerts
  3. CRM software

Monitor social media accounts

Social media platforms are where many people like to air their opinions on the products and services they are employing and enjoying.

Keep an eye on local pages or community groups where your name might pop up. Unexpected sources like LinkedIn recommendations can work really well for this.

It’s likely you’ll find comments from a satisfied customer who’s had a good experience with your business. You can then share these across your own social media accounts or website.

Even if the customer hasn’t said that much, you can always message them directly to ask for a longer review.

As they’ve already posted organically about your organisation, it’s reasonable to assume they’ll be happy to share more thoughts.

Set up Google Alerts

The internet is big. There are tons of other websites where your business might be mentioned like personal blogs or forums.

Obviously, you can’t spend hours trawling through web pages to locate these niche third-party reviews – you don’t have time.

Instead, you can set up daily email notifications using Google Alerts. Simply input some keywords like your personal and brand names, specific products, and also filters like ‘review’ or ‘guide’.

Once you’ve located a customer with a positive experience, you can contact the poster to ask about publishing their comments on your pages.

Usually people are happy to oblige – especially if you offer to link back to their website.

CRM software

You can also reach out to customers yourself using small business CRM software. Collect their commentary on what they’re satisfied/dissatisfied with from your firm.

Webforms are an excellent way to do this. Simply embed the tool into your website. It will act as a survey, inviting customers to share their thoughts or experiences with your team.

You can also use CRM software to run email marketing campaigns to encourage user responses. Incentivise reviewers by offering a discount code or competition draw.

Should you respond to customer reviews?

This is one of those client servicing tasks that comes under the umbrella of ‘going the extra mile’.

You don’t necessarily have to respond to every customer complaint or bit of praise. But if you do, you show customers that you’re committed to listening to their concerns and exceeding their expectations

Maher agrees, telling Startups that by “listening and responding to reviews [brands] can build ongoing trust and even turn a negative review into a positive one.”

Zendesk’s research echoes this value of responding to touch reviews. 65% of UK customers said they would forgive a company for a mistake after receiving excellent service.

Conclusion

That the government is cracking down on forged business reviews can only be a good thing for UK SMEs. Bogus ratings have been allowed to tarnish the reputations of firms for too long.

For those small businesses that don’t want to rely on potentially false or unconfirmed assessments while they wait, a more proactive approach is to gather the testimonials yourself.

Social media groups or blogs are home to genuine and convincing customer evaluations that can be more easily corroborated.

Hosting these on your website will bring an added layer of credibility to your business and encourage sales growth.

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Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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