President Obama has signed into effect a new law that stops US brands from punishing its customers for leaving bad reviews. The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 makes the practice whereby businesses hide non-disparagement clauses in their terms and conditions illegal.
The aim of the bill is to stop companies from imposing penalties on consumers who would leave negative comments on websites.
The bill comes at a pertinent time when online reviews have been in the spotlight, not only in the US, but across the globe.
For several years, a number of US businesses have taken extreme measures against customers who give them less than a stellar rating, including serving lawsuits and fines as retribution.
Most recently, Amazon has put a limit on the number or reviews that shoppers can leave on its site. The change is part of efforts to clamp down on people selling positive comments.
The bill certainly demonstrates the significance of online reviews, and highlights the importance people place on other’s views and experiences. In today’s mobile and social landscape, it’s vital to give consumers the opportunity to share their frank views and opinions on any brand product or service without the repercussions of being sued for sharing it.
But for brands who fall victim to potentially irrational or unsubstantiated reviews that they may feel are underserved, it can be hugely frustrating.
Handled properly, issues can be resolved quickly
However, when handled properly these issues can often be resolved and lead to a stronger relationship with that customer. In fact, 95% of unhappy customers will return if an issue is resolved quickly and efficiently, and today’s well-informed consumers are in fact less trusting of a business that doesn’t have any negative feedback.
But what is genuinely more frustrating for any business is to have reviews posted by a member of the public, or in fact a competing business that is not genuine and verified.
The problem arises when the rogue reviewer hasn’t actually bought a new pair of shoes, or experienced the service at the five-star resort, but is still able to leave a disparaging review for that business.
Therefore, while this latest bill is a step in the right direction for the industry, to truly address the freedom of the rights of the public, there should also be some responsibility to make recommendations to protect businesses from suffering from unfounded negative attacks and reviews.
Big influence of negative reviews
When you consider that 92% of consumers now read online reviews (BrightLocal 2016), the influence is very clear. Indeed, negative reviews have a significant economic effect on a business which in turn effects turnover, investment and subsequently jobs, provided by the very companies that employ people who want the freedom to share their opinion liberally as they should.
So, when it comes to regulating the consumer reviews space, the industry needs to continue to embrace the benefits of showcasing honest, real and verified reviews, but work harder to combat fake reviews.
Steps should now be taken to put in place better processes and technology, which already exist, to help eradicate this damaging practice.
Only when this is achieved can we truly protect people’s rights to share opinions and be heard while also affording brands the opportunity to listen, respond and make effective changes based on feedback from real customers.
This will enable businesses to utilise the real power of customer opinion and ultimately drive growth in this very challenging economy that will no doubt continue into 2017.