By: 15 September 2021
How important are review sites?

Utilised well, online customer review sites provide an outlet for satisfied customers to rate great experiences, and an opportunity for law firms to learn from those that are legitimately dissatisfied, writes Andy Cullwick, head of marketing at First4Lawyers

Customer reviews are everywhere these days. Make an online purchase and you’ll often receive several follow-up emails asking you to review your experience or the product. Brands feel that customer endorsement is the highest form of flattery, and are keen to collect reviews that show them and their products or services in a glowing light—but just how much can we rely on them?

Law firms often baulk at their use, concerned that negative reviews will hamper business and worry that customers who may not have had the legal outcome they desired—although received a great legal service—will take to review sites and harm hard-won reputations.

However, the sector does need to embrace review sites for a number of reasons. Firstly, consumers are savvy purchasers. In the same way that people would use review sites such as Tripadvisor and Trustpilot for researching holidays and products, they now use them for researching service providers as well. Sites such as Checkatrade provide a certain level of comfort to the everyday consumer when looking to engage the services of tradespeople. They now look for similar when looking to engage professional services.

Secondly, the Legal Services Board (LSB) is considering the idea of forcing law firms to sign up to comparison websites in order to try and increase transparency across the sector. Why? The LSB feels that the profession’s response to the Competition and Market Authority’s (CMA) call in 2016 for action to aid consumer choice has been underwhelming, and is looking at ways in which it can address this. The CMA and the LSB both view comparison websites as the way forward in assessing a legal service provider’s level of quality.

With firms now legally required to publish details of price and service standards to help consumers compare and shop around, the focus is now moving on to how quality can be reviewed.

In contrast, the insurance industry, once notorious for burying its head in the sand and being somewhat digitally ‘shy’, has enthusiastically embraced the world of online reviews. Nearly every consumer-facing insurance brand solicits feedback and reviews from its customers these days.

Review Trackers 2018 found that 94% of consumers say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business and 80% of consumers say the star ratings they trust the most are 4, 4.5, and 5 stars. In 2017, only 14% said they were likely to leave a review after a positive experience with an insurance agent. In 2018, that number rose to 18%.

But it’s not just the presence of online reviews that consumers want to see, it also needs to be verifiable. Hence the popularity of sites, such as Trustpilot, where consumers are reassured that reviews have been verified. Simply tweeting, or posting on your website glowing reviews by ‘Mrs Smith’ isn’t going to win anyone over, or fool anyone. Consumers are savvy, and unverifiable reviews can cause more damage than good. People smell a rat.

We’ve seen some less than scrupulous claims management companies hosting their own 5-star testimonials, yet when you scratch beneath the surface—ie, look at LinkedIn—the reviews are clearly from their own employees!

We deplore such activity which is clearly designed to dupe the customer. We place a high value on transparency and on the importance of digital comparison tools, which include online customer review sites. Utilised well, they provide an outlet for satisfied customers to rate great experiences, as well as a space for negative reviews that offer opportunities for growth and improvement. As long as negative reviews are responded to in a timely fashion and that steps are taken to address the complaint, they can be a positive experience for both business and consumer.

Those who continue to bury their heads in the sand, will see savvy purchasers moving on to companies and firms whose services they can verify and quantify. Those who try and find a way around engaging properly with review sites by posting unverifiable reviews will face a similar outcome.