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Testimonials vs reviews

Testimonials and reviews are meant to give an appraisal of services offered by a business or proprietor. This article provides some clarification of the pros and cons of testimonials and reviews, and helps you to make a more considered judgment when you read them.

Differences ^

The principal difference is that reviews are managed by a third party site, so the business being reviewed should not be in a position to unduly influence what reviewers write. Conversely, testimonials are published on the business’ site, so they can be selected to show the business in the best light, as opposed to reviews, some of which may be negative.

In Australia, the ACCC has legal provisions for ensuring reviews and testimonials are provided with some measure of truthfulness. However, review sites are under more scrutiny to ensure their processes are fair, and provide an opportunity for reviews to be challenged as to whether they were done in good faith or fraudulent. Unfortunately, the ACCC’s recommendations do not provide an opportunity for the decisions of review websites to be challenged, leading to some being frustratingly autocratic in their dealings with businesses and reviewers.

Of course, all businesses are under an obligation to make sure that what they put on their websites is truthful, and does not misrepresent, so even testimonials need to be seen as falling under that requirement, though they are not, and should not be seen as, a complete representation of a business or its services.

Just be aware that some professions or services, such as for medical procedures for life-threatening illnesses, may be legally prevented from offering testimonials, and maybe even reviews, in your jurisdiction, just because the people they are targetted at are at risk of manipulation because of their circumstances, and professions that are offering services that have duty of care responsibilities cannot be seen to be spruiking such services in a way that may be perceived as unduly biased.

How to tell if a review or testimonial is genuine ^

So, given the incomplete representation that reviews and testimonials provide, how can one decide how close a business is likely to be to the review and testimonials of them?

Firstly, quantity. A lot of testimonials or reviews, at face value, will tend to give a reliable indicator of what most of their clients can expect. That is one reason why it is better to show all testimonials received.

Second, quality of what is written. A person who has actually had a service will write, to some extent, of the details of their experience, and how they personally felt about it. While they may use some words that are on the website, or that others have used, just because they were looking for inspiration of what to write, the words will tend to exhibit the writer’s style and phrasing, so looking through a few testimonials or reviews should reveal a wide variety of styles, and a groundedness that only comes from actually experiencing the services.

Fake reviews or testimonials will tend to have few variations in style between them, and use words that are fairly superficial, typically reflecting that they have very little idea of what the services are actually like. They may tend to read like an ad, rather than an experience. The easiest ones to pick are those written by the business itself, as the style and phrasing will tend to be what the rest of the site is composed of.

Practically, trying to write a lot of high-quality fake reviews would be beyond the capability of almost all people, and certainly require a lot of time, which would be better spent actually providing a better service, and writing good content for their website.

Is it really that bad? ^

While a business may offer consistent good service, there may be occasions when someone writes a lower-scoring review. A reputable review site will allow a take-down of that review, if it is shown that writer did not actually use the service, or was just being malicious. That is fair enough.

Bad review sites are those that just allow any review to be posted without any details of the reviewer being recorded, and don’t provide a means of challenging them, as recommended by the ACCC. They are often repositories of slander by trolls. Avoid registering with them!

A reader of a lower-scoring review needs to determine whether it reflects either:

  1. a.A one-off lapse of the business.
  2. b.Consistent poor service.
  3. c.A customer with an attitude problem.

The words used should give a good indication of which it is. Of course, consistent poor performance will be shown by several lower-scoring reviews.

Pros and cons of review sites ^

The significant advantage of quality, well-trafficked review sites is that they get good rankings in search results, and typically a lot better than most small website operators can do on their own.

The downside is that if they decide to change their business model, and wipe out the category that a business falls under, that business loses income pretty quickly, and possibly the reviews as well.

Review sites are thus useful, but should not be relied upon as the sole means of site visibility. That also means that keeping a good selection of testimonials, or all of them, on your site is probably wise too.

Beware of sites, and comments in forums, that are dismissive of review sites, and claim that reviews are just bought. Review sites that take curation of their sites seriously take pains to ensure that there is a distinct division between bonefide reviews and what is paid-for positioning, through which they get the support to run their site.

It is similar to search engines having to ensure their organic listings are fair, but separate and distinct from paid ad placements. Those who pay, get favoured, but distinct, positioning, but get no favours in the order of organic results or review listings. Review sites tend to list the businesses with the most reviews first.

Are 5-star reviews real? ^

When seeing a lot of 5-star reviews, it is natural to be sceptical. Is it really possible to have so many?

Yes, it is possible, but you have to work consistently at it.

Note that a lot of what follows also applies to testimonials.

The consistant actions required for 5-star reviews are:

  1. a.Do your best every time.
  2. b.Improve your service to ensure you continue to do your best.
  3. c.Ask every client that gets one of your best services if they are willing to write you a review/testimonial.

The first rule is really that your service must be worthy of people taking the time to write about your service. You are unlikely to provide a good service if you don't ensure that your attitudes and processes are consistently exceeding your client's expectations.

That takes work, especially if you are relying upon staff to provide your services. If you want them to excel, you must be worthy in their eyes. Look after them well, and your customers will notice.

People like to be in a place where everybody working there wants to be there. It cannot be faked. If customers have to wait while being served, they will have plenty of time to see the posture of staff as they work, and overhear their conversations.

If your staff really enjoy and feel fulfilled their work, as opposed to distracting themselves as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling stressed about their work, they will naturally want your customers to be fulfilled as well.

The same applies if you are a sole proprietor. Be present for your clients. If you find that difficult, change what you do to become more engaged.

You don't have to ask every customer for a review/testimonial, but it will be obvious who will write you a good one, because they will be enjoying themselves with, or at least willingly immersed in the experience of, your service.

It is also essential that you:

  1. a.Don't be pushy.
  2. b.Don't expect them.
  3. c.Don't make them up!

If you are really providing a good and consistent service, you should have no problem getting enough 5-star reviews/testimonials fairly quickly, without having to apply any coercion at all. Coercion will likely be counter-productive.

Generally, people who really like a service seem to have no problem writing about it. However, many will not, perhaps because they just don't do it, so don't expect them to. You will have plenty of others who do.

It may be tempting at the start to 'seed' your reviews/testimonials with a few made-up ones. Don't! You will have a bias in your writing that will not reflect how someone who really has experienced your service will write. Genuine review/testimonials read as genuine. Made-up ones read as desperation. Be patient, as it will not take long to get enough.

Once you have a few dozen, you can be more selective. People are not going to read more than the latest few if they are all 5-star. However, if using a third-party review site, they will be date-tagged, so it is important that you continually get them, just so people can see that you are still offering a quality service.

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