Thursday, 12 March 2009

Giving fans and critics a voice online

The Government’s announcement that it is launching an online review mechanic for public services is an interesting move. It’s an eye-catching initiative, although providing customers with a voice in relation to very specific service experiences is a risky enterprise unless handled very carefully.

The key issues are:

Authenticity – Can readers be certain that the reviews come from bona fide customers of the service? Too many online review services are prone to manipulation, bias and blatant falsehood. What is required is a closed loop system that guarantees the authenticity of the customer. Reevoo is a perfect example of this type of service and is building a widely trusted brand.

Independence – Any review process that is not managed independently will be open to accusations that it contains politicised content.

Politicisation – By individualising criticism – bringing it down to a personal level for both the customer and the provider – there is a risk that it takes some of the most acute responsibility away from Government and places it on the desk of the individual provider. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in that it places greater scrutiny on local delivery and enables more rapid organisational response to failure, but it does potentially change the nature of political debate in relation to public service delivery in this country.

Reputation – There are two points here: (1)Research commissioned by Reevoo shows that reviews have several times more influence on purchasing decisions online than advertising. (2) The internet creates a context within which all of our decisions ought to be more informed.

Both make the case for the implementation of minimum standards in any review service. Recently, there have several incidents that have the potential to undermine the effectiveness or erode trust in online reviews. An electronics manufacturer was found to have paid for positive reviews of products and a popular listings site was found to have solicited payment from client companies in order to remove negative reviews.

There is a better way and my hope is that the Government will look carefully at process and make any review service that it implements watertight and unimpeachable. Enabling customers to mark your card is a brave and sensible move in the age of opinion. We just need confidence that we can believe what we read.

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