Online reviews were once heralded as ushering in a new era of customer service, where every good business received the kudos it deserved and every poor performer was forced to shape up or ship out.
However, as anyone who’s ever checked out a restaurant or hotel online will know, reviews will often vary wildly, with lavish praise juxtaposed against harsh critiques so that you can scarcely believe the two writers are talking about the same place, much less make up your mind who to believe.
One kiwi startup is looking to find a better way to manage online reviews, in the form of a website called 2review.
Mark Thomas, founder of 2review, says the problem is finding a way to verify reviewers, to make sure they know what they are talking about and are real customers, not managers of competing businesses or even of the business being reviewed.
"The basic functionality of the thing is... for people to be able to trust that these people are really customers talking about this business,” Thomas says.
"We want people to trust that these reviews are the genuine article.”
To achieve this, 2review verifies all of its reviewers, requiring them to submit a receipt, time of purchase and description of the product or service that was bought for each review, and putting them through a more in-depth critique process than simply writing a short comment and rating the business out of five.
In exchange for this additional labour, for each full review the reviewer will receive a $10 credit that can be redeemed at participating businesses.
The money comes from a registration fee that these participating businesses pay in order to benefit from the customer insight and exposure. Businesses have five tiers of involvement, each offering varying degrees of support.
"The site benefits customers of businesses, and it benefits businesses,” Thomas says.
"This is a good way for businesses to have their customers do the talking about their business rather than them doing the advertising. They’ll use the voice of the customer to distribute information about their business to their friends and to the public on our website.”
As part of the review process 2review checks the reviewer’s expectations prior to purchase, to make sure that people are comparing apples with apples.
"If you go into the Ritz hotel you’re clearly expecting five out of five,” Thomas says.
"At the same time if you go to your local chippie you’re going to expect something else. It’s about the difference between what people expected and what they got.”
Negative reviews must be constructive, so the business can take the criticism on board and work to improve.
"We have to realise that reviews are important things to businesses, they can help businesses, and they can cause angst if there’s something about the review that isn’t kosher.”
After several years in development, Thomas says the site will finally be ready in a couple of weeks, following a few revisions to its look. Once that’s done his team will be soft-launching and looking for partners to help attract businesses to sign up.
"We’ve got several hundred businesses that have been reviewed and are in the system. We haven’t asked those businesses for money at this stage ’cause we’ve been in development, but they’re in the system and they’ve been reviewed.
"We’ve been around for a wee while.”
Go here to check out the 2review website.