The Pitfalls Of Abusing Online Customer Reviews

In Small Business by Chris RisseLeave a Comment

Getting customers to leave online reviews for your business, products, and services can seem like tricky business. On one hand, it is great to have a customer publicly celebrate how awesome their experience was. On the other hand, it can be downright painful to wake up to a negative review that shines your business in the worst possible light. Since most humans like to avoid pain, when at all possible, and stick to the positive feelings, business owners want to look for shortcuts and ways to cheat on customer reviews.

To help you and your business avoid the dark side, here are the areas that businesses tend to abuse when working on online customer reviews:

Don’t Spam

In most cases that I have experienced, spamming will lead to problems. Yet, many businesses find it acceptable behavior to spam their customers with marketing and communication – even if it can lead to potential legal issues. For customer reviews, spam can come in two forms:

#1 Don’t spam your customers to leave your business online reviews.

There is a time and place to ask for reviews, if you miss the window for the best opportunity, you need to move on. Odds are, if you continue to harass your customers for reviews, you will end up with negative reviews. This is a situation that is best avoided.

The window of opportunity to ask your customer for a review is going to depend mostly on your business and the relationship you have with your customers. The best time to ask for, and possibly receive, a customer review is directly after product or services have been delivered. That window closes quickly, so you must be prepared to ask and guide your customer to leave the review. Asking too soon, too late, or too often can come off as desperation or seem annoying to your customers. Ask at the right time, follow up soon after, then move on if you do not receive the review. There will be more opportunities.

#2 Don’t have customers creating spam reviews across your business’ online profiles.

Seeing the same review from the same customer pop up across the Internet is going to create alarms for search engines, as well as potential customers who are doing their due diligence on your products and services. When they come across the same customer and review in multiple places, the credibility of that review is going to diminish each time they see it.

Keep your customers limited to 1 review, if possible. If your business has multiple transactions with the same customers over time, you are welcome to ask the customer to leave additional reviews, but try to have the reviews focused on the most recent transaction. If you can get the different customer reviews in different locations over time, the better for your business!

Don’t Give Incentive

Giving your customers incentive to leave your business a review is a major no-no. Reviews created by customers who have been given incentive is a conflict of interest and is seen as a misleading representation of the experience your customers have with your products and services. This activity is not only frowned upon, but it is technically illegal in the USA when it is not publicly disclosed. A paid endorsement is legal, but it must be accompanied by a full discloser of the relationship between the business and the endorsement. Paid endorsements are best to be left out of customer reviews and utilized in other promotional areas.

FTC Guidelines For Customer Endorsements

On the other hand, your business is welcome to reward customers as you choose to do so. As long as the reward is not stated before or part of a transaction as an offer, it is not considered an incentive.

Don’t Make Fake Customer Reviews

It can be incredibly tempting to create a customer review for your business, especially when you have no customer reviews. A quick 5-star rating, write up, and voilà, instant customer review! Except, it isn’t. This shows dishonesty within your business and a dirty little secret you must bear. While I’ve witnessed business owners argue against this, or look the other way while staff/employees are doing it, there really isn’t a moral leg to stand on by creating fake customer reviews.

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer, who has made a decision based upon the information given to them, part of that information is weighed heavily by the experiences of other customers. How would you feel to find out that those experiences are completely fabricated? Chances are the customer won’t be thrilled. Quick rebuttals are always “What the customer doesn’t know, won’t hurt them.” OR “What if I am a customer of my own business?” Either way, the false review is not a representation of a common customer experience and is a flat out lie.

Here is the bottom line – DO NOT create customer reviews for your own business as yourself, a fictitious name, or on behalf of your customers. Also, DO NOT ask staff and employees to create customer reviews. Work on getting real customers to leave real reviews.

Don’t Make Fake Reviews For Your Competition

Now we are getting into the darkest areas of customer reviews, a place I really don’t like to go to, but I feel like we need to cover this. Competition can be fierce, especially for business owners who feel their competitors are misrepresenting customers and providing less than desirable services. How can a business get away with providing mediocre experiences and poor results, yet still some how manage to get great customer reviews?

I get it. Your competition looks good and you hate it. That does not make it OK to make public false claims against them, anonymous or as yourself, even if you feel them to be true. Ultimately, this comes back on you and your business in a negative way, which makes your competition look that much better by comparison.

Take the high road and provide a better customer experience than your competition, ask your customers to leave online reviews, and repeat! The consistency of delivering satisfaction to your customers will justify your business in many ways. If you want to show your competition that your business is the better, do it by getting legitimate customer reviews again and again.

Don’t Post Testimonials As Customer Reviews

One last area to avoid for customer reviews is using customer testimonials in place of customer reviews. For those of you who do not understand the difference between a testimonial and a review, I have covered this topic here: Episode 16 – Reviews & Testimonials, What Is The Difference?

Posting testimonials on behalf of your customers goes back to “Don’t Make Fake Customer Reviews”, since it is your business that is posting the review, even if the statements and claims came from a real customer. Let your customers post their own reviews. Yes, that means they need to go through the process themselves. You can ask nicely and be helpful by providing them with steps involved with leaving a customer review, but they must do it, not you.

However, you should still ask for testimonials from your customers. Again, testimonials are different from reviews and have a value for your business marketing. In cases where you can’t get a customer to leave you a review, due to technical issues OR they have left you a customer review previously, a testimonial of their experience with your business is a great asset to have.

Do It The Right Way

Hopefully, you haven’t found yourself or your business taking any of the actions I listed above. If you have, you should feel bad! Just kidding, but you are no aware that these things really are not good for you and your business. It would be a good idea to remove any fake reviews created, disclose any paid endorsements, and stop spamming as soon as possible.

Best Practices For Online Customer Reviews

If you are going to play the game, play it right. That means follow the rules and win by using your skills. To keep things legit, here are some continuing reading areas that cover the best practices for online customer reviews:

About the Author

Chris Risse

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Chris is the owner of Mediaryte, a digital commerce company working with local small business, non-profits, and municipal organizations. He has worked with countless business owners on business mastery, systematizing processes, and quantifying results. Chris also has a fantastic sixth sense for detecting well hidden candy and treats.

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What other ways are small businesses abusing online customer reviews?

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