The consumer watchdog is working to stamp out misleading customer testimonials, so make sure your business doesn’t fall foul of the law.
The rise of social media and review sites has made it easier than ever for businesses to fabricate customer testimonials which claim to be impartial praise. Most businesses aren’t that shonky, but even if you’re dealing with legitimate customer reviews it’s important to familiarise yourself with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s guidelines on the matter.
Several businesses have already been taken to court and slapped with fines for being less than honest about customer reviews.
In the eyes of the law, pulling down legitimate negative reviews can be just as misleading as publishing illegitimate positive reviews. In the words of the ACCC: “If the total body of reviews doesn’t reflect the opinions of consumers who have submitted the reviews, consumers may be misled.”
The consumer watchdog isn’t just on the lookout for businesses trying to paint a rosy picture of themselves; it’s also watching for businesses looking to bad-mouth competitors. It’s important to note that the law applies regardless of whether the reviews in question appear on your business’ website, on a competitor’s website, on social media or on a third-party review platform.
Pretending to be a disgruntled customer on a competitor’s Facebook page can get you into trouble, as can giving them a bad write-up on a site like TripAdvisor or Urbanspoon. Even if your staff decide to take matters into their own hands and engage in a little social media trash talking, your business as a whole might be held responsible. It might be worth adding a section on customer reviews to your workplace internet Acceptable Usage Policy.
The ACCC’s guidelines recommend against encouraging family and friends to write reviews about your business without disclosing their personal connection with your business in that review. They also recommend against writing reviews when you have not experienced the product or service reviewed, or writing reviews which do not reflect a genuinely held opinion. You should also not solicit others to write reviews about your business or a competitor’s business if they have not experienced the products or service.
These all might seem like open and shut cases of wrongdoing, but the ACCC’s guidelines don’t just cover writing dodgy reviews about yourself and your competitors.
They also recommend taking great care when offering your customers some kind of incentive to write a review, lest it impact on their impartiality. This is where the most honest of businesses could stumble, even if their intention isn’t to bribe customers into offering praise.
The ACCC recommends that:
- incentives are offered equally to consumers likely to be complimentary and consumers likely to be critical, and positive and negative reviews are treated the same;
- the reviewer is expressly told that the incentive is available whether the review is positive or negative;
- the incentive is prominently disclosed to users who rely on affected reviews.
If you’re offering your customers incentives to write reviews – to run on your own website or elsewhere – then it’s important to audit the process and ensure that the incentive doesn’t influence their opinion.
Regardless of who is writing and what they’ve got to say, it’s important to ensure that everything is above board when dealing with customer reviews.
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and support company.