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Consumer reviews pros, cons and who uses them?

Recently I was asked if I used review sites. Yup. Of course I do. I was also asked if I thought people did generally and if so which ones. Interesting question I thought, so I did some extensive scientific research over a couple of days and asked a few friends, family, and those who follow me on Twitter and those who like my page on Facebook. So here are my findings….

Background to review sites

It takes longer to look up reviews than it does to write a letter of complaint. So few people put a complaint in writing. The rest one assumes are content with accepting poor food, faulty goods and poor service for which they have paid! But more people appear to spend far more time looking at what a best buy might be. Reviews are being written and read more as other sites spring up all the time.

What sites get used the most?

Even what must arguably be the most well known and most used review site Trip Advisor was used by only 35% of respondents to my survey and less than 10% post reviews. Amazon was also popular with 30% using it and of course Which? with a surprisingly low score of 20% of respondents using it.

Other sites getting a mention were, AV Forums, Gsmarena.com, Argos, Review Centre, Yelp, Ciao, DooYoo, Checkatrade, B & Q and new on the scene BizAdvisor. One or two of those I hadn’t even heard of and I use review sites! But! More people went by the name of a product than used these sites.

Amazon reviews are good because if you are already on the site looking to buy it takes no extra clicks to see the review. Some of the reviews are  very funny too. Take a look at my mate Iain Duncan Smith’s first (and last?!) novel on there. (Check out the “All I know series too!)

Reliability

How much can you depend on sites anyway? Anything less than having 5 reviews you are going to disregard. There isn’t nearly enough reliable information. Let’s take Trip Advisor. Now I do write reviews there! Lots of ’em! Not just bad ones either (I know you were thinking that!)  but I do take just as much delight in being given a “found this helpful” vote on reviews which clearly would stop someone staying somewhere as I do with ones where extra business will be gained. I think writing reviews helps people and it doesn’t take that long. Part of my principles  – if people complained more then service would have to improve, it’s the same thing really, the more we share good and bad service the more accountable businesses become and the more people will use review sites. A good review site will allow businesses to comment on reviews. It happens surprisingly little on Trip Advisor. A site where businesses are able to have the last word when someone criticises them on one of the (if not the) largest reviews sites out there and still very few businesses use their right to reply. So the business is missing many a trick a) to thank customers to encourage them to return and b) risk other people accepting a review that may not be wholly true.

I’ve also known people ask people for fake good reviews for themselves or friends. Bad move, makes them look very dishonest, mainly because it is!

Spotting the fake reviews good and bad

The point about relying on reviews was picked up by people who said they didn’t use review sites citing them to be unreliable. That why I advise the following

  1. Only really take on board reviews where there are at least 5 entries so you can discount the top and bottom.
  2. If someone is saying that an item has this great part and that superb element but the majority of the reviews say otherwise, be dubious!
  3. Likewise, if someone says they find a product useless or similar and the majority of other reviews are positive, it’s likely to be fake. Not necessarily a paid for review, but a competitor or a troll, many of them exist on the Internet!
  4. Check out the reviewer. Click on the reviewer and their other reviews, see if there are any similar patterns. Are they all 5*?
  5. If the reviewer has all their reviews hidden that is unusual. If they are leaving bad reviews it could well be a troll or a competitor
  6. Look at dates. Lots in a short amount of time, particularly at point of launch or after lots of low scores.
  7. Someone who undertakes honest reviews for companies such as bloggers will state that they were given the item for free.

Word of warning about Trust Pilot

“Ah” said someone “TrustPilot is good because you have to verify that you were a real customer” You’d think that would be good wouldn’t you? Not necessarily. Last year a company tweeted that they would give people a £20 M & S voucher to the first 10 people (may have been 20) who wrote a good review. Totally backfired, people retweeted this and it did them no favours. They deleted the tweet later but the damage was done. Some of it by me it has to be said. I felt it my duty. Me being me tried to do something about it and I contacted Trust Pilot. I left a review stating what this company had done and the business got the review removed within an hour because I was not a real customer. I did it again and got abuse from the company! I contacted Trust Pilot and told them what had happened and they asked for my customer reference clearly not having read my email stating that I wasn’t a customer! Followers of this blog know how much that sort of thing annoys me so I emailed again, and again they came back with the same thing! I got really cross and made myself very clear but so did they, that they would do nothing about the company which had attempted to buy reviews, a clear breach of their own rules. I have never trusted this review site since. I’m open to having my mind changed but…

Update 22/10/15 Interesting article regarding Amazon suing people for fake reviews and some pointers on spotting the fake reviews.

Further warnings about fake reviews

Update 18/10/18 Which? goes undercover to expose fake and paid-for reviews

Should you use review sites when purchasing an item?

So, given the above my opinion on review sites remain the same. It is a good guide but should only play a small part in your purchasing decision until more people start writing reviews.

How much do you write and or use review sites?

Rob Rinder on reviews

Rob Rinder talks reviews with Helen Dewdney

If you have received poor quality good or services you should certainly complain and you can threaten leaving an honest review on forums etc. if necessary. See Top 20 Tips How to Complain! for more help.

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For masses of information and help with asserting your legal rights including template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to GettingREFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

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The Complaining Cow Meets The CEO With Common Sense at AO

A little while ago someone tweeted me to say that ao.com’s customer service was really good. Me being me tweeted something like “I bet I could find fault!!!!” Next thing I knew I was being invited up to Bolton from London to see round the place for myself.  All my train tickets and accommodation were sorted and off I went. In the meantime the Post Office didn’t pick up the tickets to send me. Quick as a flash I was telling them what to do to get some money back but I don’t think they needed me to tell them! James, the Customer Services Manager gave me a tour round and have to say I was impressed. One of my Top Ten Tips for companies about preventing complaints in the first place is about ensuring that staff are well trained, equipped and looked after. Look after your staff and they will look after your business. It’s common sense and appears to be the CEO’s ethos.

How does AO look after staff?

Now, frankly, free chocolate always available has got to be a winner in my book. They keep it in the fridge though which is the wrong temperature for chocolate and I wouldn’t want to wait for the chocolate to reach room temperature. (Told you I would find a fault, took me ten minutes.) But actually they do do more than that. Days out, subsidised cafe, a Starbucks, with hairdressers and therapies and a bar to come….! The days after I went a member of staff tweeted that they had a massage at their desk. Not happy about that either, they could have done that when I was up there! There’s even a team dedicated to organise this stuff! “Creator of Happiness” is the job title of one member of staff. The Daily Fail would call that a Mickey Mouse job title.  She and her team spend all day cooking up ways to make staff happy and enjoy working at AO. I’m sorry, but this is not rocket science. It is obvious that if staff are looked after they look after your customers which means they pay money and stay loyal and spread the word. Yeah well common sense is seriously lacking. As you may have seen on the picture on my Facebook page “Common sense is not a flower that grows in everyone’s garden”. Many companies could learn from the continuing success of AO.

They train staff for 8 weeks before they are really let loose on customers. That’s more than most customer call centres methinks. Nice that the call centre is in Bolton and not India too. Staff are supported if it is felt that they could do something better and staff turnover is minimal, again saving costs! Interestingly, their HR department is small, another saving.

Staff are put on a Performance Improvement Plan if their customer service needs support. This focuses on call quality, effectiveness and feedback levels, key areas in customer service. I met one member of staff who had been on this and spoke highly of it. Rather than seeing it as a method of getting rid of poor staff he said he had learnt a lot from it and was really glad he had gone on it. That’s the theory behind such schemes in the Public Sector but they don’t work as well funny enough…

AO is the 4th (second year running) best place to work in the UK according to The Sunday Times. But although I could be tempted to work there if I actually liked people, I couldn’t. Too many happy smiley people. Before going freelance I worked in the public sector, all this smiling felt a bit alien to me. That and having to be nice to people complaining, being idiotic and the like. *shudders.

The CEO

Met the CEO. I liked him. (I know, it’s a rarity but it happens). Why? Well firstly anyone that says publically that they would rather stick pins in their eyes when asked to meet David Cameron because he has no interest in meeting a politician who does not care about making things better for everyone and not just the rich, is of course onto a winner with me! I bet Phillip Clarke from Tesco has/would. But then Clarke doesn’t respond to customers because he doesn’t care about them, only profits. A foolish short sighted approach but then you know my thoughts on Tesco! The CEO of Currys of course is one of Cameron’s mates. See how happy their staff are! (just Google “Unhappy Currys staff” you don’t need links from me!) Compare that ignorance and contempt for staff with John Roberts who invited me up to Bolton, paid for the travel and hotel (I reviewed on Trip Advisor!) and spent over an hour with me. Could have chatted for ages especially about the foolishness of this Government in not putting money into preventative services for children and young people which costs dearly later but that’s another post…! Compare Clarke ignoring his customers so much that they end up taking Tesco to court with John’s approach. When I went into John’s office there was a pile of letters that he was signing, personally. A couple of apologies following up complaints and loads saying thank you to people, staff and customers. He certainly feels it is important to treat each customer individually.   The company empowers staff to make decisions regarding how to resolve complaints and believes that the customer is always right. Not in that trite ridiculous way but they do do what the customer wants to have any issues resolved. Dedicated staff in all areas with good internal communications (yep that other thing I keep banging on about) means that they get good comments on their Facebook page. Unlike certain other retailers….

The cost of ignoring customers

Quite a fresh approach. Like I said, it’s not flipping rocket science but it is rare in my experience of being a customer…. It’s obvious and common sense to me. Why? Simple. When I complain and don’t get results I escalate. Now when that escalates it has cost the company far more than if they had just dealt with me properly in the first place. Let’s take Tesco as an example (Surprise!) In my case which led to taking Tesco to court, the first few emails were responded to but then they didn’t honour their promise. I involved the Twitter team. Nice people, they tried but poor internal communication lack of training and empowering them meant that they made the situation worse. I only wanted my money back that they had promised to give me! Off to court. Their legal people got involved, made an offer, I refused more legal people time. I won. I wrote up the post it’s there to stay. How much did that cost Tesco? In real terms far more than if they had just paid up in the first place. Look around the blog and you will see lots of examples of my contacting a CEO, sometimes this gets passed down to the Executive team (happens in Tesco sometimes if it isn’t ignored) sometimes as often with Sainsbury’s, the CEO responds. Isn’t it obvious to a company that that costs them more than if staff at the frontline were equipped to deal with complaints properly?  I’m loathe to say this at risk of people trying it on with AO, but they even pay out when it is doubtful that then customer is telling the truth. This would irk me I have to say, “IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING” I would yell! But you can see the reasoning behind it. A low percentage of people are dishonest so therefore a low percentage of paying out. Very few complaints get escalated leaving the more senior people to get on with other things.

Then what?

(Well, currently putting together a few questions about irons sent from someone with a different name and I’ll be testing knowledge, with any luck I’ll be able to complain about something). So far it would appear that in the North “pants” are ironed…

View from Bolton Whites Hotel
View from Bolton Whites Hotel

Back at the nearby hotel I had a lovely meal thanks for asking. The view was wasted on me though but the food and drink wasn’t!

Enjoyed the meal even if view was wasted on me!
Enjoyed the meal even if view was wasted on me!

 

CEO With Common Sense. 

Look after your staff and they will look after your business. It’s common sense and appears to be the CEO’s ethos.

I emailed James and asked for the emails of everyone I had met so I could thank them for their time. He wouldn’t give me John’s email. Some things are still the same whatever company you look at. It was of course no matter that I didn’t get the email address from James. I sent my email directly to John later that day. Obviously. I am The Complaining Cow after all.

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