Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Yelp reviews and reviewers - they ARE different

Yelp is much more of a 'community' than TripAdvisor (or any other review site for that matter). A significant part of the responsibility for building and maintaining that community rests with their 'Elite' Yelpers, who are renowned for writing very thorough reviews, here's an idea of the length of some of their reviews (this one is one of 34 of a London business)...

A cursory glance at any Elite Squad reviews will yield similar results - they see a major part of their role as setting an example for depth and quality of review.

And they have lots of 'friends'. Some notes of caution for those businesses in the UK who have yet to be reviewed:
  • Yelpers get a lot of kudos for being 'first to review'
  • Once you have one Yelp review, you are highly likely to be reviewed by that reviewer's 'friends'
  • Yelp reviews are shown prominently in Google search
Make sure that your review management procedures take account of Yelp.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Do you remember Bebo?

Or: 'Take Google reviews seriously - NOW'

Another corker of a prediction that the Daily Mail would probably prefer we forgot

No? Don't worry, because they ceased to be a major player many moons ago. So why do we bring them up here? Because it's only natural for businesses to engage with whatever appears to be the major opportunity (or threat) at the time. 

That's where HelpHound comes in: because we concentrate on review management all the time, we are fractionally better placed to have some idea of when the review equivalent of Facebook is going to arrive. Or, in this case, has arrived.


Yes - and it's called Google. This will ring a bell with regular readers of this blog...

We've been banging this drum for a while

But we are still encountering quite a bit of understandable 'Google denial', so we thought it might be a good idea to examine it in detail here.

The majority of savvy marketers now accept that consumers want reviews, reviews of everything they need or want: from doctors to accountants to hotels to the latest smartphone. It's because of this demand that so many review websites have sprung up over the last ten years (believe it or not, there weren't any before 2005). 

We're all familiar with TripAdvisor, but there's a site out there catering for every market you can think of...

And the list goes on. And before anyone says they're all 'mickey mouse' - Yelp (which has yet to hit the UK in big way) is currently valued at $5.8 billion.

So, first, why Google? Then, back to the reasons why some businesses have yet to take Google seriously.

The obvious answer would be 'sheer size': at $397 billion Google has the cash to do pretty well whatever it likes, and what it likes most is to dominate the world of search. So if people are searching for reviews you can be absolutely sure that Google will want to be supplying those reviews (some of you will be asking - looking at those numbers - why didn't Google simply buy Yelp? The answer is they nearly did, until they realised they didn't need to, because they could do it themselves - and they have).

Google didn't need Yelp

Why might some businesses not take Google [reviews] seriously?

We have a pretty good take on the answers to this one - because we hear them every day; here goes:
  1. We don't have any Google reviews
  2. We have reviews on another site
  3. We are afraid of inviting reviews
 These bear individual examination

'We don't have any Google reviews'

People are looking for reviews, but your business doesn't have any Google reviews? Unless that's because of point 3 (which is an eminently valid point - deserving of a response all of its own, see below), I think we all know the answer to that one: find a way to get them, and get them now.

'We have reviews on another site'

It's better than nothing, but, given that Google now controls where those reviews will be shown (always below - and with less prominence than - their own) you should definitely be looking to populate your Google reviews. Hotels will say 'We have 500 reviews on TripAdvisor and everyone reads TripAdvisor reviews'; quite right, for now

We're not saying abandon your efforts on TripAdvisor, but our prediction is that even the mighty TripAdvisor will eventually go the way of Bebo, unless it finds a way to make its offering much more powerful.

Every business needs great Google reviews - now.

 'We are afraid of inviting reviews'

And so you should be. All the evidence available points to the fact that even a very few negative reviews on the web can do seriously harm to businesses. Especially if they mean that you look worse than your immediate competition.

And that's where Dialogue comes in: enabling our clients to invite reviews, manage negatives in private and get the positives posted to Google (as well as your own website); we work with you, your customers and Google for everyone's benefit.

Turn this:

Into this:

With Dialogue™

Silly season story No 3 - and (we promise) the last for 2014

Maybe if you're going to critique people on your blog you shouldn't forget the question mark? But the point is well made (and taken).

But seriously: this blog (not for the faint-hearted or easily offended) manages to highlight some of the weaknesses of an 'open' un-moderated review site like Yelp.

It reinforces a message that we will never tire of hammering home: that the kind of people who write reviews out of the goodness of their own hearts (without being invited or prompted in any way) can be quite an esoteric bunch.

To make sure your business is represented by all your customers you must find a way of inviting them that works for you both. Welcome to Dialogue.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Dialogue for new clients - it's a 2 stage process

Very few businesses look like this when we first meet them!

With Google reviews ever in the ascendancy the day is fast approaching (maybe even for hotels!) that your Google rating is going to be the only one that matters.

This simplifies both our jobs, and it makes life hugely easier for your potential customers: Google is house-training them to look for reviews in one place, and one place only*.

For our new clients that neatly defines our mission into two distinct phases:

Phase 1: Get the business a [great] Google ranking and star rating

Many (most?) of our clients begin with nil...


Or predominantly negative reviews...

This is because people really don't write reviews in any volume at all unless they are asked to, or (and this is an important 'or') they are unhappy. That's why so many businesses look so bad on Google.

We address this first phase on the day you join; you should see the results overnight (literally) - you will go from looking like one of the above to this:

Or this:

Phase 2: Maintain that ranking and rating

To continue to drive new business and enable you to manage complaints in private. To get your business from Phase 1 to complete security on Google and complete peace of mind where reviews are concerned. To show those reviews on your own website and on Google so prospective customers...
  • book your hotel
  • instruct your estate agency
  • dine in your restaurant

Oh - and one post script for those out there that still doubt Google's influence: it's increasing by the day. Your prospective customers don't have to look for reviews on Google; Google are showing them even when someone just wants your phone number or address. 

Potential customers put off by negative reviews won't tell you (but they might tell us and your competitors) so it's difficult to directly quantify their effect, but considering that Dialogue takes up less than 5 minutes a day, why take that risk?

*We have alluded to this before: we predict that independent review websites, whether they be small independent sites specialising in single markets or large and currently influential sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp will wither and fade because they will not be able to compete with Google. There won't be room for two sources of reviews and Google, as the gatekeeper to the web, will always win.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Dialogue for Hotels - as simple as 1-2-3

We are the first to admit that we can make Dialogue look over-complicated (partly because it can be used in so many ways); a recent discussion on Linkedin highlighted this, so here's our response...

Dialogue will:
  1. Increase positive reviews on TripAdvisor by at least 25%
  2. Reduce negative reviews on TripAdvisor (and everywhere else) by at least 75%
  3. And, as a direct result, increase your relative ranking

It is (and can be) as simple as that; for those preferring a visual description, here are 'before' and 'after' charts. 

First, a large 3* hotel in central London:

Second - a smaller 4* establishment:

Although the products (the hotels) are about as different as can be, in both cases Dialogue has had a remarkably similar impact: absolutely in line with our 1-2-3 above.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Another week - another London restaurant gets roasted

But 'What has this got to do with HelpHound?' we hear you ask...

If we make a pretty safe assumption: that this restaurant (and all the others that Gill, Coren and their compatriots earn their living reviewing week-in week-out) is doing its level best, then wouldn't it have been much better if they'd had Dialogue working for them?
  • If people had criticisms, they would have been delivered straight to the restaurant, privately
  • If people liked the restaurant, they would have been able to say so, on the restaurant's own site and on Google
In the first instance the restaurant would have been able to react and make changes, hopefully before this killer review was written, in the second it would have at least been in the position of knowing, for sure, that A A Gill was in a minority.


Very simply: ask each and every diner for their email address and tell them you will be inviting them to go to your website and leave a review (you could even hand them a card with the bill, but be sure to collect it before they leave), and HelpHound will do the rest.

Dialogue: know what your diners think, react to each and every comment (privately for negatives) and be comprehensively reassured that your customers love what you are doing, even if the press don't always agree.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Google reviews - beware the 'novice' trap

Our post 'instantly changing your image' on Google a fortnight ago prompted quite a response, and now that Google reviews have established themselves firmly as the primary resource for potential customers (for most: the only) we will be blogging about them with increasing regularity.

One response in particular raised a very important point: "It's all very well for businesses in the enviable position that Shepherds found themselves in (with four 4*/5* reviews) before Google gave them a star rating, but what about those of us with three or four one and two star reviews?"

Let's look at a real-life example:

Damaging? - you bet! But much more so once there are five: then the star rating will show in search

Suppose their next review was a 5*? Their star rating would be 2. Not helpful in the short-term. Suppose it was another 1*? Overall rating 1.2 (would show as 1 star).

So what to do?

The solution is both simple and urgent. Urgent: because the next review could be posted at any time, resulting in an awful (and importantly, influential rating). Simple: how so?

What HelpHound's Dialogue will do for businesses in this position - a 5 step plan:
  1. Get Dialogue embedded in their website ASAP
  2. Email each and every customer asking them to write a review to the business through Dialogue
  3. Manage any negatives in private
  4. Invite all published reviewers to re-post their reviews to Google
  5. One hour later - check Google star rating
One hour? Yes, it really does happen that quickly - people don't flag the email to follow up later, they either post the review straight away or they don't.

Why invite all our customers?

For these reasons:
  • You need the credibility: you want to be able to say to cynical prospective customers that you invite all your customers to write reviews
  • You need to know which of your customers are less than happy: so you can rescue their custom
  • You won't have to worry about them publishing a negative review: (on your website or on Google): because you will have had the opportunity to resolve whatever issue they had brought to you in private, inside Dialogue

And just two last points for those businesses reading this who have no reviews on Google:
  • You're missing out on one of the most effective new business drivers there is
  • Remember that consumers are on average fifteen times more likely to write a negative review, and you could have five by this time next week (unlikely, but possible. Why run the risk?)

Dialogue: every business's solution to review management.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Stop using Testimonials. Now.

to read Dave Linabury's full post click here

We make no apologies for the age of this blog post - because it couldn't be more current. In fact it's more current now then it was when it was first posted.

Why? Because consumer behaviour has moved on:
  • They've become more 'review savvy' - they can tell a testimonial from a genuine review at a glance
  • Their thirst for reviews has increased
  • Google are now delivering reviews top and centre for every business search
Dialogue delivers those reviews: to your own website and to Google*. Job done.

*OK, if you're in hospitality, we'll get them to Google and TripAdvisor

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Silly season story No: 2 - the hotel that charges if you post a negative review

The silly season just got sillier.

Maybe the time this article was posted is material?

There are lessons to be learned, even from a non-story like this one. Read the article in the New York Post here, their Yelp page here and their TripAdvisor page here. Here we go...
  • If you have a sense of humour, keep it offline. Yelpers (especially) and some TripAdvisor reviewers are bound not to share it
  • There are some angry people out there with a lot of time on their hands - and they can do serious harm to your business. Just check out the 'helpful' votes that the last review has garnered...

  • Don't respond to reviews online as you would person-to-person, just apologise, explain and invite the reviewer to return (by the time we'd read the third excuse for their dogs getting loose, even we were convinced that their guesthouse was shortlisted for a re-make of American Werewolf) 
  • Don't rely on guests 'reading the small print', not if you value your online reputation. If there's anything they need to know make absolutely sure they've read it, to the extent of getting them to confirm that they've done so and agreed in writing
And Facebook works both ways as well (to be frank, neither TripAdvisor, Yelp nor Facebook come out of this saga smelling of roses)...

Or you can get Dialogue working for you and get back to running a great hotel.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Google - it's SO unfair (for larger businesses)!

Don't believe it? try this simple test:

Choose the best business based on the following information*:

Business number 1:
  •  Has seven reviews averaging 4.4 (out of 5)

Business number 2:
  • has 28 reviews averaging 3.6

The best business? Everyone we showed these statistics to agreed: Business number 1. But they were wrong, everyone was wrong. Why?

Because they were missing a crucial piece of information: the size of the business. 

Business 1 is a small family business. They asked half-a-dozen friends to write reviews. 

Business 2 is a large multi-branch operation. They have simply ignored reviews until now.

Lessons for businesses

You will need a proper review management strategy to look like this

On Google, size counts against you: the larger your business the more likely it is to get negative reviews, not because it will be a lesser business, but because statistically more people are likely to write reviews, and, of those people, more are likely (unprompted) to be writing a review because they have a negative experience to air.

The larger the business, the more important it is to have an effective review management strategy in place. It's important for small businesses too (because reviews are a great tool to help them battle larger competitors) but at least the pure numbers are in their favour.

*Important: 'Choosing a business based on their Google reviews' - many millions of people do this every day

Paris - 20,000 AirBnB-ers in one day

£400 a night

That's over 10 stays for each and every hotel in Paris.

So when are hoteliers going to start taking notice, and, even more importantly, reacting?


Here are some of the things hospitality professionals are saying about AirBnB:
  • They are downmarket
  • They don't provide the level of service we do
  • They are in the wrong area
  • They are not covered by the same insurance as we are

...and we are not going to argue those points here, just let the numbers speak for themselves.


The truth of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of AirBnB-ers (who are no longer student backpackers - the average price for a night in Paris is over 80 euros) are choosing to stay at an airBnB because they like the experience. how do we know this? Because AirBnB gets them to write reviews.

AirBnB hosts know they will only get a great review if they go the extra mile, so they do. They provide a great concierge service: they tell their guests about local restaurants, site-seeing opportunities, transport and nightlife, and they make sure the rooms are prepared to their guests' specific requirements.

How to compete?

Hotels must become more guest-friendly. banish the days of 'a nod from the doorman and keys handed to the guest with nothing more than a smile.' Greet your guest, spend time to understand their requirements, help them to get the most from their stay.

Hotels that do this will have nothing to fear from AirBnB, but those who continue in denial will suffer.

This year's silly season story - hotel minimum charges

And bottled water on the 'Cigar Terrace' was going to be how much?

It was the Wellesley, but it could easily have been any one of London's hotels. The Times broke the earth-shattering news that a guest had been charged £75 for three bottles of water at the beginning of the week, and since then some other journalists have piled in with their own 'horror stories'.

This illustrates precisely why it is SO important to build review management into your overall everyday business plan - so you aren't blown away by flame trolling like this

So why are we blogging about it?

...because underlying this pretty thin story are some very common complaints that reoccur almost monotonously in reviews. Here we examine the '13' highlighted in this piggyback article in the Telegraph and suggest responses which will show you in the best possible light to future guests:

  1. Wi-fi: If we see another comparison with Starbucks! Honest answer: 'Either we charge for Wi-fi or we put all our rates up!' As a response to a review: 'We would love to give all our guests free wi-fi, but this would mean building the overall cost into our room charges. We have spoken to many of our guests about this and the majority are happy to have the lower room cost and to pay for wi-fi if they need it (many have alternative access to the internet on their mobile devices). We know it's not ideal, but it does enable us to provide very good value accommodation by comparison with nearby hotels."
  2. Mini-bar prices: Some groups are doing away with mini-bars altogether, simply because of the volume of negative reviews that focus on them. 'We find most of our guests understand that the minibar is an added service, on top of the hotel bar and restaurant and, of course, the many local bars. Our minibar prices are frequently checked against other local hotels to ensure they remain competitive.'
  3. Room service: 'Room service is an option that we know is appreciated by many guests; demand for room service often peaks during the later hours and we therefore have to maintain staff in the hotel to cater for that demand.'
  4. Tea and Coffee: In-room (not having): 'Extensive research with our guests has indicated a preference for room-service over in-room facilities.' Cost of formal afternoon: 'We find that many guests appreciate taking tea in the hotel, it is often mentioned as one of the highlights of their stay, and many non-residents come especially for it.'
  5. Breakfast: 'We pride ourselves on the quality of our breakfast, using only the very best ingredients, and many of our guests comment very favourably.'
  6. Spa treatments: 'All our spa staff our trained to the very highest standards and we find that demand for their services is very high and feedback from those who use the spa is universally positive.'
  7. Resort fees: 'You booked the wrong hotel.' No, seriously, some people don't read anything about the hotel before they book (often as not through an OTA, based on price alone). This complaint should be dealt with, along with many other price-related complaints, with a polite reference to 'our website' or 'the menu' or 'the notices prominently displayed'.
  8. Late check-out/early check-in: The bane of every hotelier: some people simply don't understand that the room wasn't purpose built for their stay, and their stay alone. 'I'm sorry we have to make a charge for [early/late] but our housekeeping staff have a very short space of time in which to thoroughly clean and prepare the room for you [and our next guests]. If, next time you stay, you would like to notify us of any special requirements in advance, we will do our very best to accommodate you.'
  9. Hidden VAT: 'All taxes are made clear on all our menus.'
  10. Charitable donations: We think the Telegraph are starting to scratch around here; it's always optional, no-one is forcing anyone to donate.
  11. On-demand films: You pay Sky, you pay the hotel, simples!
  12. Laundry fees: Whenever was laundry free?
  13. Towel deposit: 'We need to maintain a stock of towels sufficient for all of our guests, we introduced the deposit because we found that we were losing so many towels that the cost was beginning to impact on our room prices.'
The following (not included in the article because they are not cost-related) are some of the most frequent complaints we see coming through Dialogue:

  1. Room size: 'All room sizes are detailed on our website and we have various sizes to suit all our guests; please email me before your next stay with you requirements and I am sure we will be able to accommodate you.'
  2. Air-conditioning (too hot, too cold, lack of): 'Next time you stay please tell us immediately if your room is too [hot/cold] and we will address the issue immediately, whatever the time of day or night.'
  3. Street noise: 'Some of our guests prefer to have rooms on the street side of the hotel as they are unaffected by [London's] night-time sounds, equally we appreciate that some prefer our quieter rooms; please email us direct before your next stay and I am sure we will be able to accommodate you.'
We hope this helps; as all our clients know, we are always only a call away, so if you are having trouble responding to criticism in a review, just pick up the phone or email us and we'll make suggestions based on our moderators' extensive experience.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

What can we learn from Sir Dave Brailsford?

Marginal Gains

He's the one without the sideburns

It's the mantra that Dave Brailsford and many other top trainers and coaches live by. Don't attempt the impossible (certainly not all at once) but see where small improvements can be made across all the board. What can we learn from this? After all it's taken British Cycling from insignificance to world domination and British athletics from a single gold at Atlanta (26th in the rankings) in 1996 to 29 at London 2012 (3rd).

For us, in review management, it has to be to not attempt to 'build Rome in a day'. To strive for sustainable marginal gains. What does this mean in terms of detailed strategy?
  1. Don't set impossibly optimistic short-term targets (100 reviews to Google, up 100 places on TripAdvisor) and then give up when they're not achieved
  2. Set realistic medium (3-6 month) and long (3-5 year) term targets and stick to them. Remember that even one review a month adds up to 36 over a three year period)
  3. Embed review management into your overall business and marketing strategy, don't see it simply as an in-vogue add-on; plan and budget for it
  4. Target and reward teams and key staff (sales, client services, front-of-house, reception) based on the volume of reviews they attract
  5. Review progress every three months (any more often and the statistics won't be meaningful, any less frequently and you run the risk of slowing progress towards you goals) 
  6. Speak to us, as often as you can. We are learning by the day, and one of our most important jobs is to pass on the fruits of that learning to you, our clients

Review management for the financial services industry

Of all the professions you would choose which might value independent and credible reviews, you would be forgiven for thinking the financial services industry, struggling under the dual burdens of massive regulatory cost and negative publicity about the quality of advice given by some of the major players, would be in the forefront.

So let's see where we are...


Yes - two of the biggest banks and one of the remaining independent building societies - seven reviews between them; and what reviews. Here's the world's largest bank, their reputation in Kensington in the hands of three disgruntled customers...

We had to do a specific search on Metro Bank, who at first looked to be doing what they claim in their marketing: 'Breaking the mould' - but, unfortunately only at their Southampton Row branch (and only 11 reviews at that)...

Wealth Management/Stockbroking

There are wealth managers within a mile of Kensington, but unfortunately anyone searching for more than their website or contact details is going home empty-handed

How many potential clients has Nicolas Pastor deflected from St James's Place in the last seven months?

Independent financial advisers

Wexdon look quite impressive, until you click through and realise that only one client has reviewed the past 12 months. Holder & Combes had a blitz in 2013 and only one review since.

Mortgage brokers

One reason to have reviews on Google is to confirm to potential clients that you are the kind of firm they need: not much help here then.

Insurance brokers

 Obviously so awash with business that they don't care at all!

To Summarise

These businesses are not engaging with their customers because either a) they don't care or b) they are afraid. We think it's the latter, after all, just one negative review can do serious harm, so why run the risk of inadvertently inviting it?

The solution is to operate Dialogue with the ultimate aim of getting critical mass on Google. Dialogue will first get reviews to the business where negatives can be managed in private and then reviewers can be asked to post to Google. It's working for clients in other professions, it will work for financial services businesses (and, as a bonus, the regulators will love it).