Online reviews: The real price of customer advocacy

Recent news reports have thrown up a number of stories relating to online, or should I say fake online reviews on sites such as Amazon, Facebook, and most prominently Google. The first report that sparked my interest was an article on the Statesman website, about an Austin company filing a law suit over a customer’s negative online review. The article relates to a review that was posted by someone going by the name of Norma Lee who accused the company of bogus customer reviews on the site.

A second article a couple of weeks later on The Denver Channel news website told of a woman who admitted she was paid to post five star reviews on the Google feedback site by a local business. This has been followed by a number of reports of new algorithms to help locate and flag online reviews which appear to be fake.

Whether the above companies are guilty or not of what they have been accused of is not something which needs discussing here, but the fact that these supposed incidents are being widely reported demonstrates the high likelihood and sad believability that some businesses are carrying out this practice.

Undoubtedly companies are aware of the value of online reviews and although these are isolated cases it is a worrying demonstration of the length companies can go to and the risks they are willing to take to create advocates of their service on the web. It is also hard to argue with the value of these reviews; online reviewers can reach a huge audience (especially on the aforementioned sites) and also have an influence over the buying process.

Yet there is no easy or crooked replacement to creating genuine customer advocacy both online and in customers’ everyday lives. After all, isn’t the creation of genuine advocates – individuals who have actually experienced excellent customer service – the healthiest and most profitable business model you can follow? By listening to the Voice of the Customer, understanding customer preferences, and tailoring their customer service appropriately, businesses can achieve this.

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