Friday, November 28, 2014

Reviewing customer feedback online - how trustworthy is it?

I always prefer to give scam advice that gets people thinking about motivations of others as I feel this is what ultimately protects against any scam, although it is not foolproof.  But I decided to write some practical ways of checking if good reviews online are what they say they are.  This list is in no way exhaustive but I thought it may give you some pointers what is good to do before you decide to trust someone/something online. I have already written a post about how feedback on websites can be faked so let’s expand on that across other websites. 

Online recommendations and reviews
Word of mouth is one of the best advertisements one could ever have. I am sure you have heard this one before and with the internet, word of mouth has been transformed into feedback. Often, sites will have options for reviews that customers can leave but how reliable are they?  I generally take online reviews with a pinch of salt.  Some websites are better than others.  Retailers like John Lewis or Ocado fair better at publishing honest reviews because it is in their interest to see if the chosen products sell.  However, this is not foolproof as the manufacturers often have marketing teams that work hard on promoting products and sometimes this means playing dirty – like leaving reviews that are not from ordinary customers.  So what can you do?  Read negative reviews first and then read the positives. Click on the username of people leaving positive reviews.  This is handy as it will show you other reviews they left.  If they just left the reviews for that product or just that brand, disregard it.  You may be disregarding an odd honest review but generally people fall in two categories; those that love leaving reviews – these will have left reviews for other products they bought and those that only leave reviews when they are unhappy. 

If you are reading great reviews on the website that only sells their own brands, think very hard about who gets to choose which reviews go up before you trust them.  What you can do in that case is to reference the product you want to read a review for in Google and other, independent sites will come up.  You will notice that often products that are rated excellent on the original website will be rated lower on sites like Make up Alley or Google reviews.  Always look for independent feedback.

Hiring a good workman
The feedback sites like MyBuilder, Checkatrade, Rated people and so on are extremely popular as they allow customers to see feedback from other customers.  But it pays to be careful despite this.  I found few loopholes that can be abused.  For example, what is stopping any tradesman impersonating a customer?  Or their friends and family leaving a review where details are asked of you before you post a review.  What you can do is click, again, on any usernames that left them feedback and see if they have hired other people from the site.  If they haven’t, disregard that review.  Again, you may make a mistake and disregard the good review but better to be safe than sorry, in my opinion.
Finally, put the name of the company in the Google and really give it a go at looking at everything that pops up. Sometimes information about previous companies they had pops up for free.  If they have had several companies in the past few years, this might be telling you something.  But please remember, information on Companieshouse, for example, is not checked by the government.  I have heard of a case where a scammer set up a fictitious company up there with false details and identities to add to their credibility.  It is good to check stuff like that but also cross reference it.  Often, putting the phone number and the address the person gives in the Google by itself might give you a clue if the information lines up.  If there is a discrepancy, it could be that the person is dishonest or they are hiding something.  I tend to walk away from those.

I will give you a solid example.  Recently someone I know had a bad experience with the dentist overcharging.  Simple Google unearthed a good review by a satisfied customer.  Cross referencing the person leaving the review, I saw that he left a review for all their branches and that he is a website developer by profession (probably hired by them).  He probably did not have dental treatment in all of their 4 branches.  Often, someone who is unhappy with a certain company will discuss it somewhere.  I find that very good information is to be found on Forums too, however, again it is not foolproof.  If someone is gushing about a particular company, check what else they have posted.  Scammers often will do some stuff to add credibility but they don’t have unlimited resources so there will be tell tale signs if you invest the time.

It pays to cross reference things in Google before you decide to trust someone you have never met.  I also cross reference people’s mobile phones.  If I cannot find it online, I am a bit more cautious.  A good tradesman will have a phone number listed somewhere and he will not need to change it.  I also cross reference emails. This is a useful tool to use in Facebook as scammers often have several emails.  If you cross reference the email address in Facebook and someone else pops up, chances are this person is not honest.  It takes a bit of time but it can save you a lost of grief in the long run.

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