Sunday, 28 October 2012

Graduate opportunities and Partnering

HelpHound - with thanks to our clients - is growing fast, and we need help to spread the message...

Graduate Opportunities

We have vacancies on our graduate scheme for trainee business member advisors. If you know anyone who might fit the bill ask them to contact us, initially by email at We will then invite them to come and meet one of our last graduate intake so they can fully understand the exciting opportunity to be part of the HelpHound journey.


HelpHound partners with all kinds of organisations and businesses; some, like advertising/PR agencies and professional bodies are obvious, but we welcome introductions from all around the business world, from our clients - it's a great way to reward yoru suppliers and service providers (and you can write their first review) - and from others who understand the value of our services. 

If you would like a copy of our Partnership Terms please email

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Horror Stories 2 - United Breaks Guitars

Just how bad can a single customer service mistake be? An airline breaks a passenger's guitar - so far so (relatively - unless you like Taylor guitars) mundane. It's what the airline did (or didn't) do next that saw one video get over 12 million views on YouTube, spawn 2 sequels, numerous spoofs and spin-offs and, most important of all for United Airlines, causeduntold long-term damage to their reputation (and prompted a 17% fall in its share price):

If only United Airlines was a HelpHound client:
  • Dave Maxwell would have received an 'invitation to review' email 
  • He would have submitted his complaint - in private
  • Miss Irhlweg would have responded - through HelpHound
  • If her response had been inadequate - one of our moderators would have contacted United and made sure it was corrected
  • Mr Maxwell would have got his guitar fixed/replaced
  • No-one but United, HelpHound and Mr Maxwell would have been any the wiser (unless Mr M went on to post a review, which in all likelihood would have been what we call a 'positive negative': 'They broke my guitar but they replaced it - thanks United.')
  • United's share price would have been 17% higher!!

Testimonials - there is a better way

Here we address a question that crops up with increasing frequency - why not just show testimonials?

Firstly, let us be clear: showing testimonials on your website is a great first step, but there is a 'but', and that 'but' is all about verification and credibility. In order to be credible in the eyes of today's sophisticated consumer, testimonials must incorporate...
  • The customer's full name -  'Mrs J of Chelsea' won't cut it
  • The company's name - if it's a corporate testimonial
More importantly, the business must not be seen to be filtering or editing. There is plenty of evidence that businesses showing 100% positive testimonials (in tone and in content) create a 'credibility gap' in the eyes of the consumer. And it's one of the the reasons so many 'independent' review sites (from TripAdvisor to Yelp to AllAgents) have become so popular with consumers.

Where does Dialogue™ add value?

In the eyes of the consumer - first: the line 'we invite all our clients...without any selection or editing' is crucial. It's the main creator of credibility

Next: independent verification; thanks, in part, to the Sunday Times (and much other media coverage - the ASA ruling that TripAdvisor couldn't call their reviews 'trusted' is a high profile example) consumers have been made aware that testimonials and reviews can be manipulated by businesses.
For the business:

Because of Dialogue's 'promise to publish' the response rate (to the invitation to write a review) is over ten times higher than that for conventional in-house CRM. Put simply, Dialogue gets reviews.

Dialogue also takes a great deal of the effort (effort = time = expense) out of getting reviews. Clients respond to the invitation in significant numbers - bringing great reviews (as well as issues to be resolved in Resolution™) effectively and efficiently.

And ultimately - credible and verified reviews drive enquiries from your website and conversions at point-of-sale.

More Yelp!

We make no apologies for highlighting Yelp yet again - it poses a significant challenge to businesses in the UK now, and it is important for us to tell our clients about strategies for managing that challenge.

We have closely monitored the progress of Yelp in the US since it was a San Francisco fledgling. It now dominates the world of business reviews in the US.

Please read this post from business2community then read on...

Important points raised:
  1. 'Not just for restaurants' : it's a popular misconception that 'all Yelp reviews are of bars, restaurants and clubs'. The demographic of active Yelpers (18-30) means that there are plenty of those - but over 35% of all Yelp reviews are of other types of business, from employment agencies to accountants, from estate agents to doctors
  2. Yelp continues to do deals with the likes of Apple (Suri search on iPhones points to Yelp reviews) and Bing (Yelp results in search)
 What to do...

Claim your listing on Yelp (if you haven't already done so). But prepare yourself for a sales assault by Yelp's salespeople - we're not here to tell you whether or not Yelp's proposition in the UK will add value because Yelp is so much smaller in the UK (for now) than the US, and so there's simply too little evidence - a good strategy will be to keep and eye on businesses in your sector and then get feedback once someone else has taken the plunge.

Yelp and Dialogue

Now - it's more important than ever to make sure Dialogue works effectively for you. Invitation emails must be sent in a timely fashion (hotel clients might even consider sending their email before their guest checks out - estate agents and other 'service' clients must not cherry-pick* who they send the email to). 

If you don't follow this advice you will almost certainly find, sooner or later, you end up with a review on Yelp that you would rather had not been posted.

Here are the answers to some of the questions we are routinely asked about Yelp:
  • Can I get a review taken down? Here's Yelp's own answer: 'Colorful language and imagery is fine, but there's no need for threats, harassment, lewdness, hate speech, and other displays of bigotry' Which in practice means 'No' unless it's breaking the law.
  • Can I respond to a review? Only if your business has claimed its listing
  • Customers say they have posted positive reviews and they aren't showing. Why not? Yelp has a 'filter'. The way it operates is one of the mysteries of the 21st century - for comments from business owners read this
If you would like to speak to someone don't hesitate to email Karen ( or phone your business member advisor

*cherry-picking': the practice of only sending email invitations to 'happy' customers; risks the very real threat that the 'unhappy' customer will post negative comment elsewhere on the web

Friday, 26 October 2012

Our Charges - an overview

Dialogue has been working for clients for two years now - and we have had an immense amount of feedback on our charging structure. We are using this blog post to explain how this now works, but first a word of reassurance for existing clients - none of this will change the basis on which you became a client; we are enormously grateful to those of you who 'had faith' in the early days of Dialogue, particularly as it is you that have enabled us to prove its effectiveness!

The basis of charging for Dialogue:

As our existing clients know: Dialogue is much more than just a very effective 'piece of software', every post is read by one of our moderators and negative posts require intensive input from our client services team: they monitor both sides of the conversation between our clients and their customer. Input is often needed in both directions: advice form us to your customer on how best to phrase their concern, and advice to our clients on how best to respond. All leading to the incredibly high success rate of Resolution*.

The second 'tier' of advice we provide to clients is in proactively making the very best of Dialogue in their marketing. Karen and her team provide advice and support to all our clients on this - examples include:
  • effective placing of the Dialogue 'module' on clients' websites - e.g. on multiple pages
  • bespoke designs for the module
  • tailoring the questions asked
  • varying the email inviting the review to increase response
  • other techniques to increase response - e.g. follow-up
  • ways of incorporating Dialogue into the sales process
  • ways of incorporating Dialogue into marketing campaigns
  • ways of incorporating Dialogue into advertising
  • dovetailing Dialogue with your social media strategies
  • incorporating Dialogue into POS strategies
and, perhaps most important of all - sharing your fellow clients' experiences.

So - to summarise - there is the software that simply hums away in the background (which, in itself, is in a constant state of development and improvement) and the 'management, support and advice' provided by our client services team under Karen Hutchings.

So we have developed a charging structure that, as far as possible reflects our own costs in providing market leading software and ongoing support. This relates to the volume of work predicted - setting up, and ongoing management and support - in its most basic sense: 'the number of reviews we will be processing'.

For new clients:

We establish a 'guestimate' of the volume of work and then prepare an individual quotation. This consists of a one-off fee for design and implementation, a basic monthly fee and the standard charge for processing each negative (Resolution™).

This charging structure will be guaranteed for the first 18 months. For the first six months there is no contract, after six months we will conduct a client review with you: and the first objective of this review will be to establish that Dialogue has been a profitable exercise;  we will make suggestions for improvements (if any) to processes and the way you are using Dialogue and and ask you for two things:
  1. to sign a contract for the next 12 months
  2. to give us a review of your experience so far with Dialogue
We hope this helps - if you have any questions at all please don't hesitate to contact Karen Hutchings ( or your business member advisor.

 *Resolution - a success story all of its own: so far in 2012 over 97% of cases that have gone through the Resolution process have resulted in no final review being posted. Why? Because Resolution has enabled our clients to have an off-line conversation with their customer and resolve whatever issue has been raised. A win for the client, a win for the customer - and more often than not resulting in a customer who might otherwise have sought to move their business elsewhere (whether hotel guest or and estate agent's landlord client) being retained.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Yelp buys Qype - pay attention!

Why should that concern our clients?

First - Yelp is by far the biggest general review site on the planet. Second, because they have bought Qype (for $50m - that's $25* a review!) to boost their presence in the UK and Europe at a stroke.

The implications

So far neither Yelp nor Qype have made a big impression in the UK (although we're already seeing potential clients with damaging reviews on both). That won't last long! Yelp IPO'd on the NYSE this spring and now has a market value just short of $3bn - that's serious financial muscle by any measure. And now that financial muscle is being applied to get reviews in the UK - of your business!

Why do they need reviews of your business (and how do they get them)? 

Simple answer? So they can sell to you. Yelps sales staff (who are also inveterate reviewers) sell on the basis of page views - and every review is a page view.

You will see the Yelp 'Elite' button next to many reviewer's names. Elites are chosen on the basis of the number of reviews they write (and other subjective criteria). In return they are invited to 'events' at various watering-holes and eateries (and write reviews of them). So there's a big incentive for Yelpers to write as many reviews as possible of as many (kinds of) businesses as possible.

Bad behaviour?

Yelpers aren't all quite as nice as TripAdvisor reviewers (or even AllAgents reviewers). Yelp prides itself on 'freedom of speech' which all-too-often translates into 'freedom to pan' and woe betide the business that gets on the wrong side of Yelpers (their active 'community' can quickly gang up). Think of Yelp as 'Facebook for reviewers.'

Click to enlarge - a Yelper reviews his letting agent in London

Like TripAdvisor, Yelp has an algorithm for ranking businesses, and it's just as shrouded in mystery. Unlike TripAdvisor Yelp has a 'filter' and this has caused many a small business a great deal of anguish (positive reviews not being displayed, but negatives showing). 

This point is raised by the Los Angeles Times at 1 minute into this video...

Also, like TripAdvisor and AllAgents, anyone can write a review. ANYONE. Have a look at Qype's entry for Le Gavroche. Is it just us, or do we think maybe just a few of these reviewers have never set foot inside Le Gavroche (or maybe even in the UK)? 

In the past Yelp US has been the subject of criticism about its sales practices...

There's a similar report here

What action do you need to take?

Just as Dialogue defends our clients against the vicissitudes of reviewers on TripAdvisor, AllAgents and Google, so it will for Yelp/Qype. Make sure all your customers are invited to review you through Dialogue and you should be insulated. We will keep a close eye on Yelp's progress in the UK and keep you posted.

*Wow - that would value our sister site - - at $5m - thanks Yelp!

the 'Negotiator' Conference - a briefing

Some 500 of Britain’s top agents met yesterday at The Negotiator Conference. Branding, marketing and social media were the subjects of three of the discussion forums and HelpHound was there to meet with our clients and so we could brief those of you who were unable to attend.

Giles Redmayne, Business Director at Purpose, was refreshingly honest in his analysis of estate agents’ online presence. Commenting on the ‘general tendency to overuse adjectives’ (‘passion, integrity, professionalism’) Redmayne remarked ‘You guys all use the same type of language on all of your websites - if you claim it you have to prove it.
He acknowledged that ‘there’s a recession’ (‘I run a business too,’ he said) but argued that ‘establishing your brand and reputation, which need not be expensive, is the best way of surviving any downturn and emerging from it stronger.

Ian Laverty, an expert in marketing and business development, agreed with Redmayne’s comments on the ‘striking similarity of estate agents’ websites. He advised those attending to ‘start doing things that highlight how you are different and better’ (‘Don’t claim to be unique’ he added) and to ‘make sure whatever you do ‘is credible.’ 
Social media
Streetsmart’s Tracy Wood’s social media segment focused on ‘engaging with your clients, satisfied or not.’ Her message was a powerful one: ‘If you take your business seriously and want to be around in five years time you must engage with your clients.
HelpHound was delighted to hear Wood speak about ‘the need for structured and planned communication with clients’ and she stressed how a 'complainer with an issue resolved can be transformed into a valuable client.' ‘You need a means of settling issues through the web, but offline; public spats are never good’ she concluded. 
Clients will be reassured that HelpHound's Dialogue™ ticks all the boxes highlighted by the issues raised in these presentations
If you would like a more detailed briefing on any of this, please contact Freddie Manson at HelpHound or your business membership advisor. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Profit both ways - occupancy and rates

At HelpHound we recognise that our hotel clients face a very competitive marketplace: and that there is pressure in two main directions - occupancy and rates.

Occupancy and Rates

Keen rates can help here, but so can a great reputation. Guests will pay a premium for a hotel with a better reputation than its competitors on TripAdvisor and Some clients ask: 'We are happy with our occupancy, so why do we need Dialogue?' 

The answer is twofold: higher rates and lower commission payments. Guests are influenced by rankings on TripAdvisor and scores on A hotel that ranks well on TripAdvisor and scores well on will be able to charge a premium over the equivalent hotel with a lower ranking/score. 
This may be self-evident. But we meet hoteliers every week who are struggling to address their rankings and scores, and this is costing them dear. Not just in occupancy (sometimes we are proudly told 'We are full all-year round' by London hotels ranking well into the hundreds) but in rates and discounts.
The web is full of horror-stories from hoteliers, and they often stem from heavily discounted offers: here is one from a Bournemouth hotelier on Quora. So anything that can help you keep rates up without sacrificing occupancy has to be given serious consideration.

Dialogue for rates and occupancy

Dialogue, used effectively, can only benefit your hotel: it can only make your hotel look better on TripAdvisor, and all the other OTA sites - and therefore it can only help fill rooms and enable you to discount less or increase rates in line with the improvement in your ranking and scores.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Member - and proud!

Members have been displaying evidence of their membership for over three years now - so we thought it was high time for a re-design. Here are the results (click to enlarge):

And some ideas about where and how to display them:

  • Shop and Office windows /doors
  • POS - counter/reception
  • Letterhead/invoices
  • In advertising and on promotional literature (brochures/leaflets)
And, most important of all:

  • On your website
We can supply you with artwork in all the common (and some not-so-common) formats. Just speak to Karen or one of her team or email

Linking to external sites - a warning

Links - so beloved of web designers and especially SEO experts - are a double edged sword. Here we explain why.

The first rule of web marketing: 

"Once you have attracted  potential customer to your website do everything in your power to hold them there to [place an order/book a room/make an appointment]"

So far so good, but the second rule in some marketer's books seems to be:

"embed as many links to as many other sites as possible"

And the third?
"Link to external review sites"

We have no issues at all with Rule 1. Almost all of our clients' marketing spend is designed to attract potential custom to their websites. With the other two we would like to strike some words of caution:

External links

It is important to remember that for every visitor to your site that follows an external link, some will not return. How many less will depend on (a) how powerful the message contained on your site is (do you show independent and verified reviews, for instance) and (b) where that external site is likely to lead your visitor (potential customer).


Hotels commonly link to local sites that they feel may be of interest to their potential guest - sites of interest and local tourist boards are common. Here's a screenshot of Visit Devon:

Click to enlarge
Note the helpful links in the drop-down. Could you be sure you wouldn't lose a booking?

How about linking to TripAdvisor?

How absolutely sure are you that they'll come back? After all, TripAdvisor is a very helpful site: showing other hotels in the area and hotels that rank above the one being viewed (we met with a potential client in central London last week who ranked in the 300s on TripAdvisor and was linking to them on their home page, we cannot be sure but we reckon they were losing almost everyone who followed that link).

There are estate agents who send potential clients to see this kind of thing:

Which may be equally unhelpful.

So, link by all means, but always ask the key question "will they return?" before you do.

TripAdvisor - Playing the numbers game

This post is dryer than some, but we feel this subject is so important to clients that we would encourage you to persevere!

What do we mean by 'the numbers game'?

All review sites have algorithms. These are invariably secret (for good commercial reasons), but it important for us at HelpHound to do our very best to understand how they work. TripAdvisor's algorithm affects our clients. Here we will try and explain how:

TripAdvisors' algorithm is based on a formula which takes the total number of reviews for a hotel, factors in the hotel's size (basically the number of rooms) and then the proportion of the positives against the negatives. 

Let's address each of these in turn... 

  1. Total number: more = better for you. How do we know? We have compared hotels with exactly equivalent proportions of 'excellents' and so on, and the hotel with the most reviews wins
  2. Size: We know! You can't do anything about this. But you can punch above your weight: we know 50 bed hotels that manage to get more reviews than 200 bed hotels, and they're winning the size battle. We know hotels that get one review a day, we know some that hardly get one a month (and there's no excuse for that)!
  3. Positives/negatives: This is where Dialogue comes in - getting you positives and enabling you to manage negatives before they reach the web
So: to see your ranking rise:

  • Engage with your guests
  • Get as many reviews as possible
  • Ensure that your reviews are as good as can be 
'Simples' really (with Dialogue)

- as Aleksandr would say


At the recent Independent Hotel 12 TripAdvisor session many of the questions from hoteliers related to an increasing and worrying phenomenon - the guest requesting a discount "because you wouldn't want me to post a 'one star' review."

Alistair from TripAdvisor found this a difficult one to answer, because, as one hotelier pointed out: "You don't insist on verification [real name/date of stay] so we can't positively identify the 'blackmailer'."

We have encountered this with clients, and we have thought long and hard about the best way to deal with this that doesn't involve TripAdvisor. Our conclusion: let guests know that this kind of thing simply won't be countenanced. Nicely!


By displaying a notice something like this:

You will, of course, decide on your own wording, but the final statement that effectively says "Don't wait until check-out to complain - and don't expect a discount." is, we think, the key.

TripAdvisor - face to face

HelpHound attended the TripAdvisor business session at the Independent Hotel Show 12 at Olympia yesterday, and here's our report for our clients:

Alistair MacGregor, who heads up their Business Listings in the UK, spoke. No startling revelations, but his theme was consistent - "your potential guests are reading our reviews." Not just a few, almost all - even if they're not booking through TripAdvisor. At first, this might seem like old news, but we meet with dozens of hoteliers every month, and denial persists; there is a tendency to see one's TripAdvisor listing in a vacuum...

How so?

First, and most harmfully, the ranking tends to be ignored as long as the balance of the reviews is OK (plenty of 'excellents' and 'very goods' and few or no 'poors' and 'terribles'. This ignores human nature: there are some great hotels in London ranked in the 2 and 300s in London, There are some very good hotels (spotlessly clean and great value) listed in the 5 and 600s. But many potential guests ignore them because of their rankings.

Alistair was asked, obliquely, about ranking, and he made it pretty clear that it was done on a combination of the following:
  • The ratio of positives to negatives
  • The volume (with the size of the hotel factored in)
  • 'Old' reviews were heavily discounted
We know this, and we have designed Dialogue to specifically address this for our clients. Dialogue gives you:

  • A mechanism to get positive reviews to your website, and then to any open site of your choice - deals with 'positives' and 'volume'
  • A mechanism (Resolution™) to manage negatives before they are posted - increases the ratio of 'positives' to 'negatives'
  • A constant stream of 'fresh' reviews - means 'old reviews' can safely be discounted
What else did we learn?

The question and answer session was notable for its negativity. All the questions focused on two aspects which are a recurring theme: getting unfair negatives removed and dealing with 'blackmail'. Alastair's response was consistent, if not overly popular: "Contact the business centre'. The question of verification: "Why can't TripAdvisor make our guests identify themselves?" was met, in effect with a "50 million visitors can't be wrong" kind of response.

Keep an eye on the HelpHound blog: coming soon - detailed posts dealing with these two issues as well as one on 'how to play the numbers' game'.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Inviting reviews - best practice

Getting the addresses

For some clients - estate agents, for instance - this is not an issue. But for hotels it is more complicated. Depending on the booking route the guest took, the hotel may not have an email address prior to check-in. Many of our clients already have a 'collect email address' policy on check-in. But harvesting all guest email addresses is vital if Dialogue is to work at maximum efficiency:

Best practice
Why? For two good reasons: first, you want all your guests to know you care enough to ask for their opinion; second, you want Resolution™ to work to its maximum efficiency to resolve any issues your guests may have had with their stay, and avoid negatives being posted on TripAdvisor and the OTAs.

Which leads neatly on to the next point:

Sending the email in time

Guests can post to external sites at any time, but is usual to see reviews begin appearing from the day of check-out onwards. 

So - to be a really effective 'safety net' for both guest and hotel - the email should go out as soon as possible after the guest has checked out. We have plenty of experience of hotels 'hoarding' email addresses, and we strongly advise against this. An email in time has a very good chance of heading off a publicly visible negative.

So: two rules...
  1. Collect all emails 
  2. Send emails on day of check-out
...and Dialogue will look after your guests and your reputation.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Killer reviews

There are negative reviews and then there are 'killer reviews'. A simple negative is the kind of review that a reasonable person will overlook or discount, providing it is accompanied by lots of positive reviews. A 'killer' review is the kind that will put off a customer, however many positive reviews accompany it.


Types of killer review

For hotels: noise and cleanliness (guests will put up with almost anything but 'being kept awake all night by....[traffic/nightclub/clanking lift]), written by a frequent reviewer (especially in the case of sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp); for estate agents: lack of communication, staff attitudes. But there is an easy litmus test for any business owner or manager: it's the review that keeps you awake at night, the review that you dread a guest or client reading.


Strategies for managing killer reviews

The first thing, providing the site in question allows, is to respond (we are consistently amazed that businesses that don't). Apologise (even if you don't feel an apology is warranted - remember to keep the potential customer in mind), and explain why there will be no repetition of the event. Don't punch back, however tempting it may be.

If your website has a link to a site containing a killer review, seriously consider dropping it until you are sure it's not damaging your business.

And last but not least: get Dialogue working flat out so potential customers don't feel the need to go elsewhere for credible reviews.

Note: Whilst linking to external sites might seem like a 'great idea at the time' statistics consistently show that only a small proportion of visitors will return to your site afterwards.

Yelp - why estate agents need to be aware

Yelp - the biggest review site of them all - has, until now, focused most of its efforts on the US. Not any more: with its successful IPO this spring, Yelp is using some of its cash mountain to recruit staff to drive its presence in the UK.

Why should estate agents be on the alert?

The answer centres around Yelp users' demographic. They tend to be in the 18-30 age group, students and single young people. In a word: tenants!    

Click to enlarge

Yelp's SEO is excellent - Yelp reviews will appear right next to your own listings on Google (as AllAgents' do now) so it will be even more important to ensure that your 'invitation to review' through Dialogue is sent out on time - before they post to Yelp.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Dialogue for great hotels

One of us spoke to a potential hotel client in East Anglia today. It raised an issue which we thought we ought to post for everyone to see. It went something like this:

"We are No 10 out of 73 hotels in our area, and everyone checks us out on TripAdvisor before they book (we ask them), even if they have found us somewhere else and already visited our website, and we get a steady flow of business. So we don't see that Dialogue can help."

Here's our reply:

"We completely accept that you will always get 'a steady flow of business' if you remain in the TripAdvisor top 10 in [town]. But there is a 'but': You also say that after finding you, however that happened, 'they then went to TripAdvisor'. This raises two points: the first is 'Why?' and the second is 'what happened when they went there?'

Why? is the simplest to answer: they wanted reassurance from previous guests. And with your lovely hotel they are getting it in spades! Job done, we might assume, but there is a fly in the ointment:

What happened? This is a slightly more complex question. Right under your fantastic ranking is TripAdvisor's 'See Hotels' button:

This takes your potential guests straight to four online travel agencies (OTAs), none of which list your hotel. HelpHound has spent the last six years understanding, amongst other things, the behaviour of TripAdvisor users. We know that a percentage of people who first visit your website and then go to TripAdvisor go on to book through these OTAs. It's partly a 'trust' thing: they trust TripAdvisor, therefore they trust the OTAs TripAdvisor link to.

So: back to the question at issue: how can Dialogue help you? It will satisfy a lot of visitors to your site, so they don't have to visit TripAdvisor and get 'poached away' by their OTAs."

We could have gone on to make another crucial point: that for any given number of potential guests that visit TripAdvisor, a significant proportion will book elsewhere, whether the hotel subscribes or not.

We hope this helps you understand how Dialogue can help even the best rated hotels.