The online review is the digital interpretation of word of mouth recommendations. Google and Facebook are perhaps the most influential review platforms out there, and everyone who runs a business wants as many positive reviews from customers as possible. That is the desired scenario.

Real life of course is very different, and people being people is something you can absolutely count on to slap you a dose of reality. Modern day business thrives on positive reviews, but the review system itself is massively flawed. It has great points, but the problems are pretty stark as well.

This is my quick look at the problems with online reviews.

Fake news

Fake. False. Use whatever word you wish. But we all know that a significant number of reviews are out there, both positive and negative.

Our industry, as with any other industry, wants to get as many 5 star reviews as it can. At our place reviews are something we should have spent more time on. During this year we aim to put that right. But if you were to look at the reviews we have at the moment they’re all either 5 stars or 1 star. No middle ground. Just polar opposites.

The 5 star ones are great of course, always nice to read those. But it’s the 1 star reviews which give us something to think about. Not because they’re addressing some serious issues that we have to address, but because for the most part they’re complete and utter tosh.

For example, we have had a negative review from a customer who intended to buy a single replacement double glazed unit. After being told that we don’t survey or install on a Sunday they cancelled and proceeded to leave what I would call a hysterical review on a couple of platforms. Another example I can give is where we turned down the business of a potential customer because of their conduct towards us only at the quotation stage, before an order was even placed. We decided not to deal with that person. In retaliation they threatened to leave a negative review. This was months ago, and only now has that review been left.

The difficulty we have had with reviews like this is that those people have been free to write what they want, whilst not reflecting the true nature of what actually happened. Naturally we respond to negative reviews in a constructive way, any reviews which we think go beyond a line we challenge with the platform they are left on.

The reality is, with online reviews, those leaving the review are able to pretty much write what they want with impunity, whether what they write is true or not. That, by the way, also goes for fake positive reviews as well. Poor validity of reviews undermine the whole review process itself.

Then again, I think we know that ourselves. I think most of us can spot a dodgy review when we see one. A good example I can use is when I was researching where to go on holiday a couple of years ago. We were on TripAdvisor looking at a hotel in Jamaica. We were scrolling down the reviews, most of which were 4 or 5 out of 5. Then we found a couple of negative reviews in a row. The first one I read was from a woman who was complaining that their bed was rustling too much when she was trying to sleep. The second was a complaint about the speed at which their drinks were served. Consider that this was an all-inclusive resort with 14 bars and ten restaurants, the drink was never going to run out. So, of these two absolutely menial complaints, did these people downgrade their 5 star reviews to a 4? No. They gave flat 1 star reviews. Not quite proportional feedback is it?

This is the absurdity of the review system.

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A fabricator’s sticky point

Thanks to the internet and social media, home owners have much better access to the upper parts of our supply chain, namely fabricators and suppliers. No longer do home owners know of installers of windows and doors anymore. They are now very much connected to fabricators and suppliers of windows and doors too.

Whilst that brings a positive for those fabricators, in which they can generate leads, it also leaves them exposed to poor reviews that ultimately may not be their fault at all.

Fabricators supply to installer who then do the actual work for the home owner. If that installer does a bad job and the home owner has a complaint, it is very easy for the installer to cover their own backs and quickly blame the supplier. The home owner, face to face with the installer, is inclined to believe them and then takes aim at the supplier of the poorly fitted products instead. This sort of thing I know goes on a lot in the window industry, but the problem is that it’s now very easy for an upset home owner to go online and leave a poor review for that supplier, even if it’s not even their fault. That supplier then has to deal with the mess, when it really should be the installer copping for it.

You can see that sort of thing on most suppliers and fabricator’s reviews online. Fabricators have nothing to do when it comes to installation. Yet, the review system we have online leaves them completely open to unwanted abuse.

Personally, the current review platforms are weighed far too heavily in favour of those writing the review and does not give enough protection for the company being written about.

So, what could be done about it? I would like to see a couple of things be done which would help give those being written about some tools to combat the false information, but whilst keeping the platforms open and unrestricted. First, I would like to see a much improved challenge policy from the likes of Google and Facebook. When a company challenges a review that they believe to be false, it needs to be dealt with quickly but in detail too. Perhaps contacting both the company and reviewer to get a picture of what happened to cause that review, and then produce a more amicable way to settle the challenged review. Second, I would like to see either a pop-up warning or a more detailed “false review” policy enforced on all sites that host review services. This is to challenge both positive and negative fake or false reviews. Something which clearly says to that person before leaving the review that if what they are posting is found to be rubbish, then that review would be removed and they risk not being able to post on that platform for a certain amount of time. Say 3 months for example.

The online review system is a good thing when it works. It’s generally been a good thing for the window and door industry. But at the moment there seems to be a growing number of people with very active fingers who are unfairly taking aim at companies, and with it, reducing the credibility of the whole system.

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