Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

Guest Blog: Fake Reviews Destroy Customer Experience and Confidence

This week we feature an article by Mike Allton about negative and fake reviews. Ask your customers to post online reviews. This shows that you have confidence that you will take care of your customers by delivering a great customer service experience and taking care of any problems that may arise – in such a way that will earn you a glowing online review. – Shep Hyken

Have you ever received a negative review?

As Shep has pointed out numerous times, negative reviews happen to everyone. “A negative review, like any complaint, is an opportunity to show how good you are.”

What do you do, though, if the review is fake? What if it’s not from an unhappy customer, but rather, from a competitor?

It’s a major problem and getting worse. In fact…

If you buy or sell products that are related to online business, odds are that you have been fooled or impacted, respectively.  

What are Fake Reviews?

The European Parliamentary Research Service definition…

“a positive, neutral or negative review that is not an actual consumer’s honest and impartial opinion or that does not reflect a consumer’s genuine experience of a product, service or business.”

It’s biased, fabricated and intended to fool you if you’re searching for a review of a product.

Fake, negative reviews are not just immoral, they’re illegal. They constitute Misleading Advertising. If orchestrated by a central organization to deceive consumers, it is often called  “Astroturfing,” pursued in New York and elsewhere in the U.S, (techopedia).

Fake reviews are commonly written for commercial purpose in review aggregators such as Amazon, Yelp, app stores, etc. Since faith in reviews is critical to consumer confidence, companies constantly battle fakes, with reasonable results.

However, standalone fake review web pages, written by affiliates, have no such vigilant protection. Google returns worse than “Panda reject” quality while the regulatory authorities seem more interested in the large aggregators than this out-of-control affiliate situation.

These practices are most prevalent in those online niches that are particularly prone to human emotion (e.g. illness, debt, diet).

Fake Vs. Real

The above niches are bellwethers of illicit marketing techniques that spread to other industries. The rest of this article examines the “cutting edge industry of scams,” Making Money Online (MMO).

A high-value, experience-based review with an impartial and valuable recommendation, which also identifies an affiliate relationship and income, is not a fake review. Sadly, this is becoming the exception.

Affiliates write glowingly positive reviews of products they’ve never tried. They write negative reviews of products (“Product A”) in order to recommend a competitive product for which they are affiliates, Product B (“Bait and Switch” (“B&S”)).

Google ranks many fake reviews highly, despite the generally low quality of the content and results that are counter-productive to search intent. The credibility of Google rankings adds to the reader’s vulnerability, who already believes it to be an actual review.

Morality hits rock bottom when the quality of Product A is superior to B. The affiliate not only betrays the consumer for B’s commission, the loss to the customer exceeds the cost of product – opportunity cost of time, as well as the sense of disappointment instead of the promised benefit.

Loss of Confidence

According to various surveys, 70-85% of shoppers use reviews before purchasing. The percent increases for high-priced items. Most shoppers actively seek negative reviews, making B&S effective.

When falsely recommended products underperform, few remember the actual affiliate site. However, the MMO-related niches are widely regarded as infested. Purchasers become cynical.

Some companies develop reputations for training affiliates in what amounts to B&S.  Wealthy Affiliate is widely castigated (1, 2) on this basis. As victims of this company, the authors examined their “Affiliate Bootcamp” training materials and draw the same opinion.

What To Do About Fake Reviews?

If your business is the target of negative fake reviews, invite your existing customers to write their own reviews! As Joey Coleman suggests, you should prompt customers as soon as they “achieve success.” An overwhelming number of genuine positive reviews for potential customers to read, both on and off your website, is effective.

The most powerful response is to refute fake reviews with rigorous fact. Can your product be measured – larger oranges, superior-sounding speakers? Document and create unassailable proof to refute the negative recommendations.

SiteSell designed a rigorous study of its product, Solo Build It! vs. Wealthy Affiliate. The overwhelming result (e.g., 33x more likely to achieve a high-traffic site) was a direct contradiction of fake review recommendations.

That makes the next step more effective. Leave a comment on the webpage, or send an email, that politely, without anger, refutes the errors stated in the review. Invite the reviewer and readers to try your product/service or contact you with further questions.

A follow-up communication, by email or registered mail lays the groundwork for a possible lawsuit. Contact the author and explain how their review is inaccurate and needs to be updated or removed. Include supporting documentation.

If necessary, take legal action against the affiliate or, in the case of astroturfing, against the company.

Fake reviews hurt customers and do damage to your business and entire industries. Report, refute and protect yourself.

Mike Allton is the CMO for SiteSell, as well as an award-winning blogger and author at The Social Media Hat. SiteSell’s flagship product is the only all-in-one business builder for solopreneur. It is the only product that produces verifiable proof of success. It can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

For more articles from Shep Hyken and his guest contributors go to customerserviceblog.com.

Read Shep’s latest Forbes Article: Walgreens: At The Corner Of Technology And A Better Customer Experience (CX)

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  1. Thanks for sharing this unique article Shep. I found the article very interesting because a couple of months ago, I wrote a similar article about fake book reviews, “How Fake Reviews Have Tarnished The Image Of The Publishing Industry. Indeed fake reviews hurt customers but we are in a world many are easily deceived than convinced. I hope many will learn from this great article.

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