Has your favourite restaurant or pub ever been on the receiving end of a devastating fake online review? Business editor DAVID NOWELL finds out what one entrepreneur is doing to combat this rogue trade
Ever seen a suspiciously bad (or good) review of the food or services at a venue you are familiar with?
Sometimes when you read an online review about a venue you know, you may wonder if the author is talking about the same place or simply making up the review with dubious motives.
It’s a growing problem - and one which spurred on Preston-born businesswoman Melanie Joseph to launch an “at table” product called HowYa where the review is filed on the spot by the customer before they leave the premises.
Melanie, who attended William Temple High School in Preston and trained at Blackpool and Fylde College, got so fed up with fake reviews that she launched HowYa, to protect hospitality businesses from the type of damaging comments that she has seen contribute to businesses closing down.
Recently Lancashire law firm Napthens reported a rising number of calls from businesses in the Lancashire leisure industry who fear they have been the victim of fake online reviews.
It is for this reason that we chose to fill that gap with HowYa, our ‘at-table’ ratings system that captures accurate customer sentiment before they leave the restaurant, pub or hotel
Melanie, co-owner and head of sales and marketing at HowYa, believes the long term solution lies in posting significantly more genuine customer feedback online to balance reviews and blow fake ones out of the water.
Melanie said: “The gap between the increased consumer desire for reviews and the lack of trust in the current way reviews are obtained is huge.
“It is for this reason that we chose to fill that gap with HowYa, our ‘at-table’ ratings system that captures accurate customer sentiment before they leave the restaurant, pub or hotel. HowYa ratings are designed to ensure honest and genuine reviews that benefit both consumers and the hospitality industry in general.”
Earlier this year the Competition and Market Authority found some companies were breaking the law by writing flattering posts about themselves to boost their rankings and in some cases, rival firms were posting disparaging remarks to put off potential customers.
But HowYa captures customers’ views while still in the venue via a simple to use tablet offered with the bill, something Melanie hopes will tackle fake reviews.
The ratings survey takes less than three minutes to complete, less than half the time of the average bill to be processed at the table. An enormous 92 per cent of customers completed the feedback survey during trials across over 50 venues.
The product is already being used in venues up and down the country with regular updates to the system based on HowYa clients’ feedback.
Melanie, who splits her time between Lancashire and the firm’s base in Brighton, said: “The product is also good for the consumer because it gives customers the opportunity to let management know if things aren’t quite right with the tablet alert system, issues which can be fixed there and then. Our clients use the results to train staff and improve the customer experience so everyone is happy.”
HowYa also allows for a staff performance incentive scheme to ensure staff are rewarded for outstanding service.
The back office management system also monitors social media including negative and positive reviews and allows the venue to fully analyse their feedback.
Having left the hospitality industry back in the mid-1990s Mel has used her 20 year financial career to take her business management skills back to the restaurant and hotel sector. Melanie is hoping to see her innovation used in more and more local venues.
She said: “I still spend 50 per cent of my time here in Lancashire with my family so it would be great to walk into a restaurant using our system and know that I’m contributing to building the reputation of my home county.”
Kelly Mather, solicitor in the litigation team at Napthen said: “Online reviews have become one of the most relied upon sources when consumers are deciding what to purchase, for instance when booking a hotel room or a table at a restaurant.
“Although it can be an extremely beneficial tool to share positive testimonials and help to promote a business, it can also be easily abused.
“If such a review has a negative impact on a business, then it may be possible to claim damages, which will vary depending on the level of damage judged to have been caused.
“We have seen a number of enquiries about such practices, and businesses with concerns about this worrying trend should contact their legal advisor for guidance.”