New York regulators have had enough of fake online customer reviews. Last week, Eric Schneiderman, the state’s attorney general, slapped 19 companies with $350,000 in penalties for mandating that employees and hired reviewers—many of whom had never even used their products or lived in the same country—write glowing online opinions about those firms. In some cases, company CEOs even wrote fake reviews through fabricated identities.
A New York Times article mentioned that reviewing restaurants, movies, cars, etc., used to be performed by knowledgeable professionals. But with the explosion of activity on the Internet, everyone can share their opinions, regardless of whether they’re true, factual or genuine.
Many restaurants have been hurt by malicious reviews, and many operators allege that negative opinions are actually highlighted by the online review site Yelp, if their restaurants don’t advertise there. As a recent story in the Los Angeles Times made clear, Yelp is struggling to disprove that claim.
It’s human nature to value others’ opinions because they can lead us to the good while steering us from the bad. It’s why word of mouth advertising is so valuable: When we can look another in the eye and hear their testimony, we typically trust it.
The cynic may say, “That’s because we all want to think, ‘She wouldn’t lie to me, right?’” but the reality is most of us enjoy sharing truthful and useful information with others. It’s how we build lasting relationships.
So how do we deal with potentially negative messaging about our brands?
By encouraging customers to share their positive opinions online where many can read them. And when they have a grievance, you convince them to share those privately with you.
This happens by providing customers a channel through which they can have their say, good or bad, conveniently and quickly. That channel is accessed via their smartphones, their preferred communication tool.
Getting them to proclaim online that, “Dave’s Burgers are the BEST!” rather than just telling a friend or two, hinges on inviting them to begin a dialogue within that channel. And when they do praise you online, reward them with incentives, such as redeemable rewards points at your restaurant.
That same channel is used to repair bad experiences. Since you have a relationship with those customers, they can contact you directly through that private channel as if settling a family dispute tastefully. Their attitude is one of, “I should let him know about this problem,” rather than, “I’m going to trash them online!”
Customer “reviews” are important to spreading the word about your business, so you may as well encourage them and also control as much of the process as possible via your unique mobile channel. When a negative review is made public, you’ll know it immediately, and you can remedy the situation within that same channel. There, your loyal customers, who also have access to the channel, can witness it.
Suffice it to say, that builds far greater credibility than a business’s fake “counter review” on Yelp.
Jitendra Gupta is CEO of Punchh, the only mobile-centric marketing platform for restaurants that uses the power of mobile devices and social networks to drive and measure repeat visits, word of mouth, and referrals.