Sunday, 21 December 2014

The big boys - make 2015 a better year for everyone

Just before Christmas the Scottish Courts rejected an appeal by the owners of a Highland guest house who had unsuccessfully sued TripAdvisor over two negative reviews. We won't be commenting on the whys and wherefores of that judgement here, but we will be highlighting some aspects of the case that have wider implications for us all.

First let's look at two separate issues, the one with TripAdvisor and another with Google.

Here are the two reviews on TripAdvisor which the hoteliers claim are false or fictional...

TripAdvisor should ask the reviewer for proof that they stayed - invoice or copy of credit card statement
And here is another review on Google...

This review (and the millions like it across Google attributed to 'A Google User') should be deleted, both for this reason and because it refers to the establishment under previous management

Points we have for TripAdvisor and Google (given that neither company is short of the resources to employ extra staff)...
  1. Please become more responsive to businesses. At least listen (with an open mind) to issues they have with individual reviews. Be prepared to question the validity of reviews
  2. For TripAdvisor: Do something about making sure that reviewers are real people; we are all heartily sick of reading reviews by 'MickeyMouse123'
  3. For TripAdvisor and Google: Get rid of out-of-date reviews. If there has been a change of ownership then lose reviews written about the previous management. If the review is over two years old: archive it (and don't include it in whatever secret algorithm you use to calculate the business's ranking or score). A three-year-old review is of little use to a prospective customer
  4. For Google: recent reviews (which are attached to some form of Google account) have credibility, those written anonymously - 'a Google User' - under the old Google Places do not, delete them

Friday, 5 December 2014

Hotels and Google - the urgent need to re-focus

We have been predicting it for quite a while - and now it has happened; Google has made a major change in the way it returns hotels in search. It is live now in the US ( and the UK ( won't be far behind.

First - pre-change:

Now the new:

The impact:

A massive boost for Google reviews (you can just see the TripAdvisor listing at the bottom left-hand of the screenshot).

Action to be taken:

It is now more important than ever for hotels to ensure a steady flow of positive guest reviews to Google. Dialogue will do this - if you have any questions please speak to your business membership advisor.

In detail:
  1. Log into your Google My Business account and make sure your listing is 100% complete and verified
  2. Update your Google+ profile on a regular basis. New posts from Google+ can enhance your hotel’s listing and will have a positive impact on SEO
Google AdWords and Google My Business Integration

If Google My Business is new to you (it launched in June this year) read this first.
Google My Business integrates Google+, AdWords, and maps.
Last month Google AdWords location extensions began using information pulled from Google My Business accounts, making it more important than ever to ensure Google My Business profiles are 100% complete, verified, and accurate.
This will provide the most accurate location information to AdWords, meaning geo-targeted paid search listings are more likely than ever to be served.


Link Google My Business with your AdWords account. This is a simple process that allows your hotel location information to appear with your ads and informs AdWords location extensions. 

Ensure your location information is accurate in My Business, including the position of the marker on Google Maps. This will ensure AdWords location extensions are working in your favour, and also helps Google give users accurate driving directions and location information.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Seen on the tube - Yelp are advertising in London

As most readers of this blog know, we follow Yelp closely. It is the biggest single review site on the planet, and it is a massive influence on consumer behaviour in relation to medium and small businesses in the US. The question for us and our clients is: will the same happen here in the UK?

Well, we know Yelp have made a big investment here, but there have been few outward signs. Until now...

Eliza D is a real-life Yelper - Eliza Dropkin, living in San Francisco, working for Move Loot, who spent a year studying at SOAS in London and has written over 100 reviews of everything from the London Eye to a Chinese deli in Soho, all from October to December 2012.

What next?

We have no reports of any Yelp salespeople pitching client businesses - yet. But we know what you can expect; the Yelp pitch is simple:
  • An advertisement - sponsored listing - at the top of search results
  • Sponsored advertising on your competitors' listings
Here is Yelp's own description.

You may expect an email something like this...

...and there's a report of their sales pitch and pricing here. Entry level appears to be around £200 a month. For those who would like to delve even deeper there's a purported voice recording of a (US) Yelp sales pitch here and their Glassdoor listing here.

If experience in the US is anything to go by they will target businesses with reviews as a first priority.  If you are approached we would suggest that you contact us before making any commitments.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

TripAdvisor - is it a bellwether for all review sites?

The shine has come off TripAdvisor's share price recently...

The question we are asking ourselves is 'Is the market beginning to realise that independent review sites may have had their day?'

We are not asking this for any other reason than to be able to take an educated guess about the future influence of these sites on behalf of our clients. 

Let's look at Yelp (the biggest general review sites on the planet - market cap $4.2 bn):

And the oldest review site of them all, Angie's list, now quoted, and off a frightening 53% since listing (and an even more from its peak of nearly $20 in February) :

Our view... that independent sites will struggle against the might of Google. Yelp and TripAdvisor (at $10.4 bn) look massive until we remind ourselves that Google is currently capitalised at $369 billion.

And this 'struggling' may lead them to do some interesting things to placate their shareholders. probably in terms of increasing commissions and fees. We will keep an eye out.

For now...

We are advising all our clients to take Google reviews seriously. Businesses cannot afford to ignore the power of Google reviews: to drive business or deflect business. A positive presence there is, in our opinion, bound to become more and more influential as the months pass.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

HelpHound for Hotels - the Dialogue™ effect

One of the reasons hotels appreciate Dialogue is the effect it has on the way they are portrayed on TripAdvisor. Here we examine that effect in relation to properties which rank differently in their given locations.

Top hotel in your area / Top 30 hotel in London

Dialogue will get you even more great reviews - to enable you to consolidate your position on TripAdvisor. 

The fact that we can guarantee that more of your guests will write great reviews with Dialogue enables us to confidently make this promise.

It will also enable you to retain the custom of those guests who were not unhappy enough to post a review anywhere on the web, but who may not otherwise have communicated that they might not return. The option to have reviews displayed on your own site to drive direct bookings can also be key.
Top 10 Hotel in your area / Top 100 Hotel in London

As above, with the added bonus of the potential to both consolidate your position and move up the rankings. More great feedback and enhanced guest retention. Less OTA commissions. 

Mid ranked hotel / 100 - 400 ranked hotel in London

Providing the product* is right, Dialogue should enable you to steadily improve your relative ranking and score. and this will happen from day one. Here is an extract from a chart of the performance of a client hotel:

While this chart shows the actual results for a single client, they are replicated across our experience for all clients. The chart illustrates Dialogue's proven ability to generate more positive reviews (5 and 4 star) and less negative reviews (3,2 and 1 star).

Some of you will read the caption and question why we include 3 star reviews under 'negatives' when TripAdvisor call them 'Average'; it is for two reasons: first, TripAdvisor penalise 3 star reviews reasonably heavily when they calculate the CSI so you don't want them for that reason alone and second, most three star reviews are actually pretty damning (and therefore damaging) in their content.

This hurts your ranking as well as bookings

Struggling hotel

Hopeless basket cases excepted, if the will is there then Dialogue will help your TripAdvisor ranking reflect the improvements you are making. 

If you have recently refurbished or made other significant improvements then Dialogue will see that investment reflected quickly.

And finally...

There is not a hotel on the planet that will not look better online with Dialogue. This we absolutely guarantee!

*...the product is right:  If rooms or service have enough issues to leave a significant proportion of guests dissatisfied then we suggest you address these before considering Dialogue. We will be happy to advise if you have any doubts.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Reviews and Restaurants - a 'Sorry' story

Last night one of our staffers and his significant other paid a visit to a highly recommended new local Italian (by the Times' A A Gill, no less).

This morning he related their experience:
  • Location: Great - walking distance
  • Decor: Good - bright, modern English with an Italian twist
  • Welcome: Good - from two young and enthusiastic staff
Now for the food:
  • Him: delighted - service was 'bright and cheerful', they were 'happy to bring tap water', 'olives, parmesan and three kinds of excellent bread were brought while we waited', main course was 'as good as you could expect outside Italy' and 'recommended wine was good value'
  • Her: everything as above until it came to the main course: 'Pasta on the uncooked side of al dente' and 'lukewarm' but 'not a big enough deal to send back or complain'
So far, so ordinary, you are all thinking. So why the subject of an article here? Because of the punchline:

'We won't be going back'

Now, before everyone launches in with 'Give them another chance' and 'Why didn't they complain when they were in the restaurant?' let's explain why we're relating this tale here...

There is a better way!

What we did not say before is that the restaurant was empty except for our couple. In central west London. At 8.30 on a Tuesday night.

This restaurant needs help, urgently. And it cannot risk letting custom like this slip away into the night. It needs to engage with its customers in a way that will work better than simply asking them 'Did you enjoy your meal?'

It needs to formally invite feedback. And not just to hear that the kitchen occasionally sends out undercooked pasta. Much more important than that, it needs to do it so it can reclaim the custom of people like the couple above.


They should ask their customers for their email addresses*. As a matter of course, when presenting the bill. They could (should!) have a card specially printed which explains why they need the email and how they will use it.

They will then send customers an email asking them if they enjoyed their meal. If the answer is in the negative they can then do whatever it takes to entice the customer back to give them another chance. 

You know what they say in marketing: 'There's only one thing better than a happy customer, and that is an unhappy customer you have made happy.' But to achieve that you have to identify the 'unhappy customer' and invite them to become 'happy'.

And that is just what Dialogue is all about. It will enable your customers to tell you what they might not otherwise tell you face-to-face; on top of that it will take their positive comments and post them onto your website and then get them on to Google - where your potential customers are looking**.

*When we first advise businesses to do this we get all kinds of objections, usually along the lines of 'Our customers won't do it because...' Well, we've been able to prove otherwise: customers will do it, and they will do it with a will. 

** To date 50,308 people have seen this restaurant in search - and it has only ONE Google review showing there.  

Yelp - 'hostage' reviews

When one of your business practices has a term coined especially for it by your customers it's probably time to question that practice.

The term in question? 'Hostage reviews'.

The CEO of Yelp, Jeremy Stoppleman, braved Reddit to answer questions. To give you a flavour here are the top comments...

The Yelp 'filter' is unique; that means one of two things: they're geniuses who have found a solution (in this case to 'dodgy' reviews - reviews written by competitors or the business in question, in the main) or the idea is flawed.

We think there is a solution, Mr Stoppleman. One that is fair to the businesses you are trying to sign up and equally fair to the businesses who politely decline your salespeople's offer.

Our suggestion

Yelp is a community. Instead of the 'filter' (oh! - sorry, since 2013 Yelp don't use the term 'filter' any more, it's now calling the 'filter' 'recommendation software' - see here), allow anyone in the community (including all businesses) to flag up a review that they think is somehow flawed or tainted. Then employ moderators who can contact the reviewers and the businesses concerned to make a reasoned judgement. 

Junk the 'filter' (sorry - 'recommendation software' is just such a mouthful) and replace it with human beings. You can afford them, and businesses are just too important to the economy to be randomly discriminated against by software that appears to be influenced by the need for Yelp's thousands of salespeople to have a ready bargaining chip when they phone small businesses.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Yelp - right up there for reviews of Doctors - and Stepford Wives

Two medical related reasons for Yelp to be in the news today. First: they are now sharing the lead in online reviews of the medical profession with a specialist site (Healthgrades):

Read full article here

Second: A Kansas City orthodontist has again raised the question of a patient's right to free speech online: by threatening to sue the poster of a three star review on Yelp. 

See the full story here

This case also brings into question (again!) the Yelp 'review filter' - there have been 95 reviews of this orthodontics practice and 90 - yes, ninety - have been filtered. We had a long hard look at both filtered and unfiltered reviews to see if we could divine any logic. Let's have a look...

First the five unfiltered reviews:
  1. Five star - the reviewer has written 19 more reviews and has 13 Yelp 'friends'
  2. Three star - the contentious review. The reviewer has written 70 more reviews and has 27 'friends'
  3. One star - a troll who has written no more reviews and has no 'friends'
  4. One star - another trolling review. Has written fourteen more reviews and has three 'friends'
  5. Five star - 73 more reviews and 43 'friends'
Now the filtered ones:

Most, both positive and negative, are singletons (that is: they are the only review posted by that reviewer).

Now, we would understand the logic behind Yelp's filter if the two blindingly obvious trolling reviews had been filtered. But they have not. Here they are so you can judge the value they give to the Yelp community (and anyone searching for an orthodontist):

We fail to see why anyone would vote either of these 'Useful' but 13 Yelpers have to date

The message for UK medical professionals

All of this kind of comment is unhelpful to medical professionals. Sites like Yelp ought to do more to ensure the reviews they publish are written by people with first hand experience of the business being reviewed. But they are seemingly reluctant to push too far down this road for purely financial reasons. Instead they appear to be focusing on lobbying state legislatures to toughen up freedom of speech legislation to allow any 'genuinely held opinions' to be submitted and published. They seem to be blissfully unaware that the same people who write their reviews are the kind of people - the 'Stepford Wives' of Shellie W's review - who will lose their jobs when, in turn, their own employers fall victim to unfairly damaging reviews.

In the meantime businesses (and medical professionals should see themselves under this heading for the purpose of reviews - they are treated no differently) owe it to themselves and their patients to find a better way of engaging with reviews.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A single 1* review - how damaging can that be?

Or: Why engage with reviews NOW?

Just one tiny one star review? A question we are getting asked more and more - and our answer is becoming more definitive by the day. But first let us look at what businesses say to us...
  • 'It is only one review'
  • 'We have hundreds of happy clients'
  • 'It is not representative'
So far, so good. But now let us look at the reality...
  • It is 'only one review', but it is the only review showing, and it is showing on on Google. Everyone who searches for this business is being shown it; to date over 5000 people have had the opportunity to see this review. They were offered it by Google - just a click away
  • None of this agent's happy clients has written a review on Google - yet. Because they have not been invited to. When they are, they will see this review before they start writing. That has been proved to be unhelpful by no less an institution than Harvard University, who showed that subsequent reviewers' opinions are influenced by previous reviews.
  • 'Not representative' - whatever the review says and whoever the reviewer may be it still counts as a 1* review towards your score. You know it is not representative, we know it is not representative, but it remains the only impression your prospective clients are getting from Google
  • It will count (one fifth) towards this business's first Google score. If the next four reviews are 5* then the business will score 4.2. If the next review is another 1* then that score will fall to 3.4
This last point is the one businesses need to take on board NOW. Even if they do not have any Google reviews; in fact, more so if they do not have any Google reviews. 

Planning for a great Google score

Being sure of looking great on Google requires planning. Just doing a great job and hoping will not work. Why? Because happy clients do not write reviews. They have to be invited.

This is where Dialogue comes in: besides giving you a way to show credible reviews on your own website Dialogue incorporates two crucial mechanisms:
  1. Resolution™ - where reviews from dissatisfied clients are sent to you in private so whatever issue that has been raised can be managed (again, in private)
  2. An invitation for your client to post their (great) review to Google
But we do not want to run the risk of inviting negative reviews

This means that you need no longer hesitate to invite reviews for fear of encouraging negatives. The following birds are killed with one simple stone (Dialogue):
  • Great (credible) reviews showing on your own website - to drive business
  • Less than favourable comments managed in private - aiding client retention
  • Great reviews (and scores) on Google - to drive business
The sooner you start, the sooner you will look great to your prospective clients - and the risk of attracting that damaging 1* review will have been diminished.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Reviews - made simple

Once we understand the modern consumers' attitude to reviews, all becomes clear. Let's start with the facts:
  • Consumers read reviews - more and more
  • Consumers rely on reviews - more and more
  • Great reviews drive business - consumers are influenced by them
  • Bad reviews deflect business - whether fairly written or not
  • Google reviews are first to be seen - always
  • Other reviews are read - especially if you do not have Google reviews

Your Google+ page shows you just how many people 
seeing your reviews - but only if you have them!

Now we can begin to plan a strategy; let's take the points above one at a time:

1. Consumers read reviews (consumers demand reviews)

So let's give them the reviews they crave. And remember, we're talking reviews here, not testimonials. Let's display them prominently on our website, and let's get them where our prospective customers are looking for us: onto the web (Google in the main).
2. Consumers rely on reviews

As above. Denying potential customers the reviews they instinctively look for has the effect of making your business look as if it were established yesterday.

3. Reviews drive business

So let's show them where they will drive business the most - on our home page and on Google.

4. Bad reviews deflect business

So let's do our best to resolve any issues our customers have before they feel the need to write a negative review. 

5. Google reviews are first to be seen

And now often the only reviews to be seen. So let's employ a mechanism which will get great reviews to Google.

6. Other reviews are read 

So, after we have got great reviews to Google, let's focus on the less prominent sites.

Now: what Dialogue will do to address the points above...

  • Dialogue will enable you to invite reviews - effectively and professionally, to your own website and to Google
  • Dialogue will display those reviews for you - with credibility - on your own website
  • Resolution - a key process within Dialogue - will enable you to manage any issues or complaints your customers may have before anything is posted publicly
  • Dialogue will get reviews to Google
  • Dialogue will get reviews to other sites that matter

Professional review management

Overarching all of this you will be a HelpHound client. We will advise on strategy and keep you up to date on changes at the search engines and major review sites. We will be proactive in contacting you when we consider a change is necessary and will always be on hand to help you make the very best of Dialogue.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Google reviews - a glimpse into the future

This article is about a new phenomenon: Google denial. If it takes root it will cause businesses considerable harm.

Google denial usually takes one of the following forms:
  • Google reviews do not matter (to our business)
The business has no (or less than five) Google reviews. So no star rating is showing. Therefore Google is not influencing your potential customers, so it does not matter.
  • Other review sites matter more (to our business)
There are some very influential review sites out there; Yelp, with nearly 200 million reviews; TripAdvisor and dominant in hotels, FourSquare for restaurants. Smaller sites in niches for every business under the sun.

And currently your business may feature more (or only) on these sites.

The answer to both these 'denials' is:
  • Google matters - even if you currently have less than the five reviews that get you a star rating
  • Google matters more - because Google's reviews are the first your potential customer sees - always

Let us first look at a real life example (we've chosen 'estate agent' in 'Southampton', but this example applies across the board for any search on any type of business):

Today's result:

Three agents have reviews, four do not. None have sufficient reviews for the all-important star rating. The seven reviews break down as follows: 3 one star, one 2 star, one 4 star and two 5 star. An average of 2.7 stars. 

Here's what this search result will look like at some stage in the future:

First (and incontrovertibly): there will be more reviews; second: some businesses will have more than others, some none at all (for the moment); third: some businesses will look better than others. The point is that there will be a pattern emerging.

Then, further down the line:

All businesses will have reviews, some more than others, some better than others. How will not really matter (to Google or the consumer). What we do know for sure is that the businesses with lots of great reviews (and scores) will prosper and those with few reviews and poor scores (or no score at all) will suffer.

Review management will have a significant role to play, providing professional advice to businesses and in terms of the mechanics of ensuring a regular and steady flow of reviews that accurately reflect the levels of service provided by those businesses to their customers.

Delay will be costly, and not just in terms of lagging the competition: there is significant evidence available already that shows that once a pattern of reviews is set (both positive and negative) subsequent reviews tend to conform to that pattern. If the initial pattern is negative (deserved or not) that pattern will work against the business.

The message must be: don't delay. Don't leave the first (and often only) impression created in the mind of your potential customer to chance. Engage with review management today.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

BBC Radio 4's 'The Bottom Line with Evan Davis' tackles Review Sites

Subtitled 'TripAdvisor etc: The sites that can make or break a business' Find the podcast here.

 This makes interesting listening. Three big hitters in the world of reviews are featured:
  • Steve Kaufer - founder and President of TripAdvisor
  • Kevin Byrne - Founder and CEO of Checkatrade 
  • Colleen Curtis - Vice President of European Marketing at Yelp
Evan is his usual friendly self and asks the questions his listeners are asking themselves. if there are any surprises they are in the 'omissions' category. But these 'omissions' are important to understand, both for our clients and for consumers in general. As Evan quite rightly points out, it is all about trust, and without complete trust these sites may (even inadvertently) be imperfect in their ability to lead consumer towards the right conclusions.

Let's begin by commenting on the answers to Evan's specific questions.

"There are quite a few listings websites...what makes Yelp special?

Colleen "Locals, writing their local opinions about their local businesses.'

Were not so sure here, the vast majority of reviews written on are written by US nationals. We're not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, but it would be misleading to describe the reviews as written 'by locals'.

To Steve: What's the deal? 

Steve 'It's an advertising model...we earn a small commission.' 

We don't think consumers have any idea just how much of the cost of their holiday or hotel room is taken by TripAdvisor or the OTAs. If this was the financial services industry both would undoubtedly be forced to disclose their 'small commissions'. Just how many consumers would revert to booking direct then?

Evan: "The absolute key, totally at the heart of it...that you trust the reviews."

To Colleen: "How reliable are your [Yelp's] reviews?" 

"Our Elite reviewers... are the most trustworthy reviews we have on the site." "They are not paid." "Our recommendation software...shows the 75% we believe to be most trustworthy."

So the 'average' reviewer's opinion is not as valued as the Yelp insiders'? We can see how this might work in the consumers' favour if it were not for the fact that Yelp Elites were originally rewarded with free food and drink at what have been called 'Yelp-fests' (or, less politely, Yelp Elite 'invasions') where Elites gather at the 'invitation' of the chosen hostelry. This model patently appeals to the younger consumer, which may have resulted in the college/twenties profile of most Yelpers and Yelp Elites. It has also meant that the focus of Yelp reviewed businesses is very much centred on the types of business frequented by that demographic.

"That is de-recommending [love that word!] ones that may be fake or biased."

This is a massive bone of contention for small businesses who have had positive reviews 'de-recommended.' They all accept that having great reviews on Yelp (or TripAdvisor) drives business through their door; it is just that power that means that everything these businesses do should be open and transparent. Neither the way they are remunerated nor the way they 'manage' their reviews is.

Evan: "Steve, how reliable are your reviews?"

Steve: "We have, you know, dozens of people, an entire department frankly, set up to focus on automatic detection of reviews that are suspicious. We have enough reviews so that there's this image of honesty in numbers. No-one is going to pay the review that is all terrible."

"Having a variety of opinions enables the consumer to believe the good ones and the bad ones."

We see these two statements as contradictory. And contradictory to the detriment of both businesses and their consumers. Negative reviews hurt businesses - full stop. Maybe not Hilton or Marriott (businesses with strong brands) but they can hugely hurt independent businesses. See what Kevin has to say:

Kevin : "One third of negative complaints are bogus."  "These businesses are frightened, they know that if they get one bad review then, for the next month, their phone is not going to ring."

There follows a discussion of Pimlico Plumbers' law suit against Yelp. It surrounds one negative review. There is much joshing along the lines of "They have a four-and-a-half star rating, why should they worry?" 

They are worrying because that single review is harming their business.

Evan says to Kevin: "You are conflicted." 

TripAdvisor and Yelp got off lightly here: just like Checkatrade, they make their living from the businesses.

Evan: "Do businesses care?"

Steve: "Businesses care a lot [his stress] about their ranking on review sites."

And quite rightly. The problem is not that review sites don't drive business, it's that they have the reverse ability: to unfairly drive business away. This is partly due to a phenomenon that Evan just barely touched on when he said "Who are the nutters who write reviews?"

All the evidence is that the people who write the reviews (and unwittingly control our opinions of businesses) fall into two distinct categories:
  • Habitual review writers. These are in a tiny minority (for instance: only one guest in 1500 reviews a hotel). They are not necessarily 'eccentric', but they are unusual
  • Unhappy consumers: all of us can be provoked into writing a review if our experience of the business is bad enough (a high proportion of TripAdvisor reviewers who have only written one review have made that a one, two or three star review) 

To summarise

Businesses must take reviews and review sites seriously: consumers are influenced by them, both positively and negatively. But we are still in the 'Wild West' phase as far as the individual sites are concerned. there is a lot of power without responsibility hiding behind the 'freedom of speech' mantra that was trotted out again in this broadcast. 

Businesses have a responsibility to themselves and their customers to take control of as much of the review management process as they can - and to engage professional review managers like HelpHound to help them. Then their customers will not be driven into the arms of review sites because they are the only solution offered.

Why do business with a HelpHound member?

 This may seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer, so first: our answer...

Because you will be able to trust them

There, did you expect that?

If you did: congratulations. If not - read on...

All HelpHound clients promise to respond to any (and all) criticism

If you have an issue with a HelpHound client, any issue at all, they promise to respond to you. They will explain what happened, apologise if they were in the wrong, and make suitable restitution if that is warranted.

And the effect of that simple promise?

All HelpHound members are great businesses

Not perfect - but is any business?  They have agreed to be bound by our terms and conditions - by which they explicitly promise to engage with all their customers.

In our book that makes them great - a great business is one that may occasionally get things wrong, but always does its very best to make good when it does.

There are businesses that do not make the HelpHound grade

Our members effectively self-select. If a business knows that by inviting comment it will be overwhelmed by complaints it will not join HelpHound in the first place. If we can identify this as an issue early in membership negotiations we will halt the process and advise the business to put its house in order before reapplying.

Does this make HelpHound reviews more valuable?

We would say it does. If you see HelpHound reviews on a business's website you will know...
  • That the business welcomes feedback from all its customers
  • That the business responds to all issues raised by its customers
  • That their customers are free to comment at any time
So were back to that single, but vitally important, word again:


You can trust a HelpHound member - to provide great service and to communicate, even when things don't go right all the time. It almost means that you can safely ignore all those lovingly written reviews, until you realise it is they that underpin the whole concept!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Dialogue™ for hospitality - whatever your objectives

If you run a hotel (and/or a restaurant) there will be certain key points of focus, and they are not the same for everybody. Whatever your individual priorities, Dialogue will help you address them.

Occupancy - higher and more profitable

Negative reviews (or a lack of positive reviews) will not help fill beds (or put bums on seats). Even if occupancy targets are being met, are you sure that this is not at the expense of rates?

Dialogue will mean that you have to make far less sacrifice in terms of rates to ensure that those occupancy targets are met. Dialogue also means more direct bookings through your own website, saving OTA commissions.

Rates and revenue - higher

Looking great online means that you can charge a premium; whether that be for a room or dinner. Dialogue will get you at least 25% more positive reviews to TripAdvisor (or Google) and deflect at least 75% of the negative reviews you might otherwise have.

You won't need us to tell you how this feeds through to revenue and profitability.

Feedback - accurate, not misleading

We all need feedback, but it is easy to be misled. If seven guests complain about the bed being too firm on TripAdvisor, do you replace your beds with softer mattresses? Only if those complaints are statistically meaningful. If they are seven guests out of a hundred, then maybe, but seven guests from ten thousand?

Dialogue will get you more feedback from guests who would not normally write a review on TripAdvisor (remember: only one in 1500 hotel guests leave a review there) so you will have the right kind of feedback upon which to base crucial decisions. You can even insert additional questions to 'survey' guests on a specific point and for a defined timescale.

Competitiveness - looking good, relatively

We all have competitors, and looking great by comparison is important. We monitor all our clients' rankings and scores against their designated competitors, so you can see just how well you (and Dialogue) are performing.

Staff: morale and recruiting - higher and easier

Looking great online means better staff morale and is an aid to recruiting. No-one wants to work in an environment where there is a constant drip of criticism (even if much of it is demonstrably unfair).

In summary...

Dialogue will help you:
  • Enhance occupancy - at rates that make you money
  • Drive rates and revenue - enhancing profitability
  • Gain accurate feedback 
  • Look great against your competitors
  • Enhance staff morale

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Sarah Beeny and The London Standard - all in the same 24 hours

We hold no brief for either conventional estate agency or the online variety, but we are surprised by the conventional side's reluctance to emphasise the value for money they provide for their fees.

First: Sarah Beeny

The programme stressed the savings vendors could make by going online. Somewhat surprisingly, for a mainstream terrestrial channel, very few caveats or warnings were given. 

Prominence was given to fee savings:

The risks were pretty well glossed over. The advantages of using a conventional agency were listed but limited to the old familiar three:
  1. 'Local market knowledge'
  2. 'Accompanied viewings'
  3. 'Help in closing the deal'
Sarah's sellers made her job (and responsibility) easy by making comments like 'How much value can an agent really add?' and 'We know our house better than any agent'. 

Now in today's Evening Standard 

Again - only the savings are highlighted. Nowhere is it mentioned that a conventional agency with the right contacts might get the vendor closer to £20 million (in May a flat in No 1 Hyde Park was sold for £140 million, less than 500 yards from the house in question, and we're sort of betting it was not bought online). 

The point we're making... that these assertions (we particularly like it when the vendor quotes a price, whether £400k or £15.5 million, as if houses were currency, with a published price) are going unchallenged by the overwhelming majority of agents.
Where are the case histories? Where are the reviews from clients praising and thanking the agent? Nowhere to be seen on the agents' websites (sometimes we see testimonials - they are better than nothing - but these days consumers want independently verified reviews).

Do you think this kind of thing might just help next time someone questions added value...?

These are just two examples of the reviews that Dialogue gets for our clients, posted on their websites and then to Google.

Dialogue - working with professional estate agents to help them demonstrate the value their service can add.

Update 23 October: according to our Linkedin connections the Sussex property featured in Sarah Beeny's How to sell Your Home is now on the market with a conventional agent at a more realistic price.

Reviews - coming late to the party

We all remember the feeling from our teenage years: we arrived half way through a party by which time everyone else had broken the ice and were well on their way to having a great time.

Well, it is the same with reviews. But it is surprising how many businesses don't see it that way. If you are one of the many that think you have plenty of time before you need to start worrying about reviews, please read on.

People are much more inclined to write negative reviews

We have clients across the spectrum, and we know how consumers behave.

Take a simple example of two types of business: hotels and estate agents. A 50 bed hotel turning over £500,000 will typically host 7500 guests in a year; an estate agency turning over a similar amount might only be dealing with 100 clients. If 5% of the hotel's guests write a review, that's 375 reviews, by comparison the estate agent can only expect 5!

We know from extensive research that the average consumer will be at least twenty times more inclined to write a review if they are unhappy (for anecdotal evidence of this, just see how many people who have only written one review on TripAdvisor have written a one or two star review).

Where does that leave the hotel and the estate agent? It leaves the hotel with about 12% of its reviews being negative (TripAdvisor's own figures). It leaves the estate agent with a massive chance that nearly all its reviews will be negative.

If a business has even one negative review, it will put customers off

Read the following review...

Would you stay at this hotel?

Now we know that a percentage of the people reading this will say "I would always take a review like this with a pinch of salt" but some will be put off. It's statistically certain. Twelve people have taken the trouble to vote this review 'helpful', and we're sure it wasn't for 'helping me decide to book this hotel'.

The other reason we are certain that this review has affected business is because it contains two 'killer' comments, referring to the room as 'tiny' and being 'woken in the night'. Both are fundamental issues that everyone takes into account when choosing a hotel, and readers of this review have no reason to think that this guest was making them up.

It is all the more harmful for being one of a very few negative comments about today's number one hotel in London. Trust us, if the hotel could pay to have this review deleted there would be three zeros on the end of the amount!

If the first reviews are negative, the business will struggle to attract positive reviews

Recent research by Harvard University has proved this. This research says that future reviewers are drawn to the mean value of existing reviews. In plain English this means that if all your reviews are 5 star, the next review is more likely to be 5 star, but if many of your reviews are 1 or 2 star, the next reviewer, however happy they may have been, will subconsciously 'mark you down'. They may even decide against posting any review at all that 'swims against the tide'.

The other end of the spectrum

We all know that hotels and restaurants have historically attracted the bulk of reviews. That's a factor of footfall. Other businesses are starting to attract reviews now, and that puts significant influence into the hands of their few reviewers.

If this were the only review of your business, anywhere on the web, and showing up in every search, would you be happy?

This review runs the risk of creating (one or all of) the following impressions:
  • That the reviewer is right - wouldn't the business have responded if they were not?
  • That the reviewer is right - wouldn't there be other reviews contradicting this one if they were not?
  • That the business is very small - wouldn't there be more reviews if they were not?
  • That the business does not care about what is being said about it by its customers
To summarise

Google reviews only matter more as time passes. Great reviews drive business your way, negative reviews have the opposite effect. You need to look good when consumers search for your business by name, and, just as important, you need to look better than the competition in generic search: [type of business] + [location].

If you care about the image your business presents online, you have to take reviews seriously. By getting them written to Google in significant numbers, by responding to all of them and by keeping them up-to-date.