Monday 23 December 2013

Hotels - a useful insight into your competition

You may not immediately see AirBnB as a direct competitor (if you don't we suggest you read this piece in the Guardian, it also details AirBnB's phenomenal growth), but they are filling hundred's of thousand of rooms a month, and we don't believe those travelers would have simply stayed at home without AirBnB.

No matter: you should be aware of the aspects of AirBnB's offer that attract; the video we have linked to above does have relevance (remember we visit hundreds of hotels a year ourselves), and we would be very surprised if there was absolutely nothing to be gained from viewing it.

And there are lessons for us in there as well: in 2014 we will be introducing a forum for our members. There you will be able to interact and discuss topical issues - including ways to get the very best from your membership of Dialogue.

While we're on - note that AirBnB has proritised 'reviews' over 'description' "because we think they're way more important": second only to images (see 55.15 in the video).

Meanwhile, please do comment on the posts in this blog!

Saturday 21 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to all our clients...

Click to enlarge or go here to see the original

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Google for Businesses - why it's SO important

We call it 'Google Denial'. It's where we Google a business and find they have no (or very little) presence on, and control over, their Google Business page.

Now, we know that Google for Businesses can be a trial if you aren't used to its idiosyncrasies, but this blog post is intended to show you just why it's so important to actively engage with it.

When did you last Google your own business?

First and foremost: Your Google business page is being shown to everyone who searches for your business. Like this...

To the right is the Google carousel (first introduced in the summer); you will notice that (apart from the business details and directions) the only other thing Google is showing there are (a) any reviews - on Google or anywhere else Google can find and (b) a button inviting anyone to write a review.

Here's a very interesting 'heat map' that shows just how dramatically user behaviour has changed since Google introduced their carousel:

The red hot spot shows how much Google users are already focusing on the carousel (for those of you who would like to see just how radical this behavioural change has been just search 'Google heat map' to see historic search patterns). This is a massive change - away from natural listings and ads.

Once you have 5 reviews Google introduces star ratings:
Which, if you haven't enagaged with Google is more likely to look like this:

With reviews like this: 

Some businesses have been very slow to appreciate the effect this will be having. Like it or not consumers want and read reviews (that's why Google is showing them). They also believe them (rightly or wrongly) - detailed studies by both Harvard and Cornell universities have proved this beyond all doubt.

The Good News

Google wants to become the No1 'go to' resource for consumer reviews. Why is this good for businesses? Because it enables you to simplify your strategy; if your potential customers don't need to search for reviews on specialist sites, you can focus on Google.

We're not saying that sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp (and small specialist sites like AllAgents and AllinLondon) will immediately wither and die, but they are bound to suffer by comparison with Google. After all, Google is the gatekeeper, your potential customers have to go there first.

Implement a strategy

Someone within your business, however large or small it is, should have responsibility for your Google Business page(s).

Everyone in your business should be focused on getting clients to write reviews to Google.

Help from HelpHound

We are here to help and advise. Dialogue can automatically invite your clients to post reviews to Google; we'll then work together with you we will make sure you have a great rating (and a steady flow of great reviews as well).

An important added benefit

Once you have an established presence on Google, other ratings sites will become less and less important - your prospective customers won't go to them if you have enough reviews on Google.

Ruth Watson Means Business

Ruth Watson's new series 'Ruth Watson Means Business' is currently showing on Channel 4. Although the series is not solely focused on hospitality over half the twelve programmes feature hotels.

So why are we blogging about it?

Because - unlike recent series like the Hotel Inspector on Channel 5 (who sometimes seem to go out of their way to find 21st century equivalents of Fawlty Towers), these hotels only have one problem: negative reviews. The hotels are all well-run (given their respective markets), but they aren't perfect (is any business?) and of course they get some adverse feedback. Here's the hotel from episode 5, Fawsley Hall in Northamptonshire:

After going through their complaints with the hotels, Ruth takes the reviewers back to see how the hotel have taken them on board.

The core comments that were repeated by every hotelier was how seriously they took negative reviews; how personally they took them, and how much they affected their businesses.

While some of Ruth's suggestions (that breakfast for wedding parties was separated from that for other guests, for instance) were valid, we think that there is a deeper issue at stake here, which is having control over communications with your guests. All of the hotels would have gained more direct feedback and been subject to far less negative reviews if they were using a system like Dialogue. As Ruth says on her blog: "You'll always have the cowards and bullies [who will hide behind anonymity]." But reasonable guests will use Dialogue rather than posting to TripAdvisor.

Interestingly, one of the guests was challenged by the hotel's marketing director: 'Why did you post a review online, rather than ask to speak to management?' her answer was 'That's what we do these days'. We're sure she would have been more than happy to post her review, and a have the hotel's response, through Dialogue.

"This hotel looks like a prison"

It's one thing to read damaging negative reviews about your business on an independent website - quite another to show them, or link to them, on your own website.

Our headline is a quote from the feed on a hotel's own website (as are the other two shown here). Now we all know that consumers want reviews, but we cannot think of a single positive benefit to be gained from showing reviews fed by external sites. 

Even if your business looks great today, are you sure the review posted tomorrow is not going to be a 'killer'?

We can see the initial attraction, but given that a single adverse review can put off customers in significant numbers, we always advise our clients against this strategy.

Is there any way of quantifying the effect?

The straight answer is 'No', potential customers are not going to contact you to tell you they have been put off using your business, but you might like to try replacing the feed with Dialogue for three months and measure the change!

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Resolution - working for you and your customer

Resolution™ is a key component of Dialogue, so it's vitally important that all our clients understand exactly how it works; so first some background...

Why do consumers write negative reviews?

Sites like TripAdvisor and Google Places would like to think it's about warning others to avoid the business in question. Our experience dictates otherwise: they think it's the easiest way to get the business's attention

The introduction of Resolution

We brought in Resolution so that businesses and their customers could raise and discuss issues before a review was posted. So there would be an easier and fairer way to 'get the business's attention'.


Because running (and choosing) a business is just as much about how a company addresses issues where an element of their product or service has gone wrong. Reviews that simply highlight problems are often unhelpful to both the business and their potential customers. 

We realised that a service that allowed them both an opportunity to resolve (hence the name) whatever issue had arisen would be helpful.

How, exactly, does Resolution work? 

Let's itemise the steps:
  1. The customer writes their review
  2. HelpHound's moderators read the review, posting positives straight away, but sending any reviews that contain issues to the business
  3. The business responds - through HelpHound
  4. This process is repeated until the customer is happy
  5. The customer is invited to post a new review*
*This last point is critical. We sometimes meet potential clients who have seen what we have achieved for their competitors and assume that we have some magic formula that makes negative reviews go away. 

That (enabling our clients to select or edit reviews) would mean that Dialogue (and all the reviews its shows) would lose all credibility.

Now let's look at results

HelpHound processes thousands of reviews every month, for all kinds of businesses, and this gives us very accurate feedback (remember that we see both sides of the conversation, and we speak with the business and their customer independently as well):

  • For every 100 reviews posted through Resolution less than 1 results in the customer taking up the invitation to post a 'final' review. 
  • That review often reads along the lines of "I had a problem but ABC business resolved it."
  • Less than 1 in 500 feel the need to post about their experience anywhere else on the web

And how we achieve them...

Our moderators work very closely with our clients to ensure a positive outcome for every review that enters Resolution. They effectively 'mediate' between our clients and their customers.

And the effect for the business:

  • Very valuable feedback
  • Increased customer retention
  • Improved online reputation

Resolution is seen by our clients as a valuable addition to their customer service efforts, and one that would be very difficult, whatever their resources (both human and financial) to replicate in-house, because it is HelpHound's very independence from the business that makes it work so effectively.

Remember: our reputation is at stake alongside your own!

Monday 2 December 2013

Hotels: will reviews like these help you?

The three reviews below were all written in the last four days...

They were all posted by first-time reviewers

They were all written as a direct result of the invitation embedded in the hotel's Dialogue module

...and they were written during the first week of the hotel's membership of HelpHound