Monday 29 April 2013

Blowing our own trumpet - success for a London client - and fast!

Here's the story of a large London 4* hotel...

Over the 10 months prior to implementing Dialogue, they received 74 ‘poor' or 'terrible’ reviews and 186 ‘excellent' or 'very good’ reviews on TripAdvisor. 40% of their reviews were negatives.

You can imagine the impact this was having on their business across the board: from rates to direct bookings. At the beginning of February they implemented Dialogue, and this is what has happened: 

Note: the two TripAdvisor reviews we have used to illustrate this post were taken at random from the site, not from our client's listing! - they illustrate the kind of opinion that Dialogue is enabling hotels to successfully deflect.

In the 3 months since implementation they have received 51 ‘excellent' or 'very good’ reviews and only 6 ‘poor' or 'terrible’ reviews, a massive improvement - a drop in negative reviews of nearly 75% - reflecting how successful Dialogue has been from day 1 in re-routing negatives direct to the hotel itself.

All without any decrease in positive reviews being posted to TripAdvisor.

And all they have done is operate Dialogue efficiently, their staff have swung behind it (and imagine the positive effect on their morale) and it's working wonders. We're very proud of these results, so no apologies for 'blowing our own trumpet'!

Saturday 27 April 2013

View from the room - top 10 hotel guest gripes

Here we analyse our clients' reviews posted through Dialogue - the ones you see and the ones only we and they see. Fortunately, for our clients, the most interesting ones are those that don't get published. And that is the key issue we address here: how much easier, and how much more both parties benefit, if the complaint from a dissatisfied guest can be addressed in private?

We thought we ought to let everyone know the most frequently commented-upon failings amongst the thousands of reviews our moderators see every month. It may help you and your staff avoid the avoidable and develop strategies to manage the unavoidable...
  • Room size: approximately half of all the hotel stock in London is made up of Victorian housing converted to hotel use after WW2, most of which is listed grade 2. The rooms below ground floor or above the second floor were originally servants quarters, but try explaining that to guests used to purpose-built US hotels. Solution: Again, privately offer the guest a larger room when they return (you may want to make this conditional - on dates or advance booking, for example) or even an upgrade. Note: in a subcategory of this complaint come the following: lack of hanging space, small bathroom, no space for luggage etc.

  • Car parking and parking charges: Bad in major European cities, worse in London, hotels need to make sure that guests arriving by car know the limitations for their property. We have one client lucky enough to have parking for 30 guests, but they have 90% occupancy of over 120 rooms, so not all guests always get a space. The hotel charges, reasonably (from a commercial point-of-view) explaining (to us) that they would rather earn £X from a significant proportion of their guests than have to provide free parking and still have some disappointed guests. Solution: It's a question of communication. If you make everything clear on your website and then tactfully refer to this most guests will retract their complaint. 

  • No 'room with a view' (or a room with a view: of the air-conditioning plant). One of the less-publicised effects of the move away from direct booking is the reduced communication between guest and hotel that that imposes. The guest assumes they're going to get a perfect room (just like the one on the hotel's website) when we all know that there's an enormous variety of rooms in almost every hotel (one of our directors regularly stays in a 60 room hotel in Paris with an awful online reputation because he always books direct to ensure that he has one of their rooms that doesn't face the street - market sets up at 5 am five days a week - and is well-away from their conference centre that consistently blights two whole floors until 1 am). Solution: encourage direct booking 'next time' and, in order to head off similar complaints, encourage direct booking on your website (it stuns us that so few hotels do this)

  • Renovations: it's a brave hotel that 'does a Savoy' and closes completely for renovations. But we have yet to see a hotel website that warns guests that a team of Polish builders will be renovating the room next door to the honeymoon suite at 8 a m sharp! Solution: here's another example of where a private communication works for both parties (you're never going to offer free nights on TripAdvisor), simply offer an upgrade (away from the renovations) on the guest's next stay

  • Charging for wi-fi: we understand that you signed that contract that still has 18 months to run, but this causes more complaints than any other single thing, across all our clients who still charge extra for wi-fi.  Solution: this is a great example of where addressing a complaint in private enables you to offer a solution you wouldn't want to publish on TripAdvisor: a refund (ask yourself whether you would rather retain that guest's custom and deflect a negative review).

  • Star Ratings: universally misunderstood by the overwhelming majority of guests. Many complaints focus on star ratings, along the lines of "simply not what we expected from a four star hotel". It's unsurprising, given that the hotel industry has never universally agreed what constitutes an X star hotel. Star ratings are often viewed as an indicator of service standards when they relate to facilities. Solution: Explain the star rating in your response.

  • Unfulfilled promises: one of the most frequent 'low level' complaints, which simply refer to 'I asked the front desk for...(and was ignored)' or 'I was promised an upgrade (and didn't get it)'. This complaint easily escalates into what we call a 'loaded review' where the guest then finds fault with everything from the bath plug to the colour of the wallpaper. Solution: Unreserved apology, it's as simple as that. Again, easy in private, and it avoids the only other option: apologising in public (or using the old 'please contact me at your convenience' message we see so often on TA)

  • Cancellation (Not reading T&Cs): No better guarantee of a 1 star review. No-one reads the small print on OTA websites when they book, and the vitriol that flows when they don't get a full refund is a sight to behold. Solution: Every case ought to be considered on its merits; many hotels suffered during the Icelandic  'ash cloud' in 2010, but did one really have to enforce cancellation charges on someone who couldn't make his daughter's wedding? Treat every case on its merits and be wary of enforcing a blanket 'no refunds' policy - it will stand out in reviews

  • The disappointed regular: They didn't get their favourite room, a member of staff didn't recognise them on check-in. Solution: Unreserved apology, and a promise of future upgrade every time.

  • Not matching the website: a difficult one this, sometimes the guest has a valid point: the room(s) on the website show a sea view and are huge, the room allocated looked out over the refuse cans and was tiny; sometimes hairs are split. But, yet again, the question has to be: do you want to deflect a negative and retain the guest's future custom. If the answer is yes, then the Solution has to be to apologise, and depending on the scale of the (perceived) disparity, offer an incentive on their next stay 

It's so important to note that, while you might rightly assume that your potential guest can 'read through' the majority of published negatives, that the impact on your ranking (TA) or rating ( will be the exactly the same for a trivial complaint as a major one - a 1 star is a 1 star, whatever the nature. Dialogue is so successful at deflecting those negatives (it would almost certainly have enabled the hotel to privately manage at least 8 out of the 10 shown here), for everyone's benefit; it's one of its features we are most proud of.

Friday 26 April 2013

Hotels: Why we moderate reviews

As our clients know, all reviews posted through Dialogue are moderated. Here we discuss the rationale behind this, but first, read this article...

We all probably had a good laugh when we first saw this story (it has gone viral - worldwide), but behind it is a very serious point: if this can be done for a homeless hostel in Glasgow, how can anyone seriously suggest that consumers - your potential guests - should give credence to any hotel's listing on TripAdvisor?

Next to this article in the Independent is a link to a much more serious story about a hotelier who was very nearly put out of business by a genuine review leading to her establishment being red flagged by TripAdvisor.

It's why we properly moderate all our clients' reviews. Let's see what would have happened if both these had been HelpHound clients...

The hostel:

Aside from the fact that they wouldn't have been a HelpHound client in the first place, the chances of a single 'hoax' review getting through our moderation system would have been negligible - our verification process would see to that, end of story.

The 'red flagged' hotel:

Our moderators would have contacted the hotel and the poster for verification. It's quite common for guests to post reviews 'in hotel' these days, and why shouldn't they? In the article the hotel's owner states that she was forced to slash rates from £125 to £40 - that was in 2011 - they're still at £60 today, without the red flag.

In summary...

Moderation ensures your reviews are credible. Moderation benefits everyone concerned: your hotel and your guest. Displaying credible reviews on your website means that your potential guests have a reliable source of information where they and you need it most - on your site.

Estate agents: why we moderate reviews

As all our clients know, all reviews posted through Dialogue are moderated. Here we discuss the rationale behind this...

How does moderation benefit the consumer?
  • It ensures that the review (and the reviewer) are genuine clients of the business 
  • It ensures that any negatives are addressed by the business
How does moderation benefit the business?
  • It means that the reviews they are showing to potential clients are credible
  • It gives them an opportunity to resolve issues before any review is published

What would happen if we didn't moderate?
  1. Dialogue would be open to abuse - from all directions: competitors posting fake negatives, disgruntled ex-members of staff, and even stranger elements (see the comments this old unmoderated blog post on Estate Agent Today) and even fake positives from members of staff (it's been known)!
  2. Damaging negatives would be posted with no recourse to the business (except a public response). That may be fine on a 'product' review site, but where services like estate agency are concerned it's patently (a) unfair to the business and (b) less than helpful for the client (who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, wants his or her concern addressed by the business)
Let's take a simple example: 

This review was published on AllAgents today:

What would have happened if this review had been written through Dialogue about a client of ours?

  1. It would have been sent to the agent for comment
  2. The agent would have been able to ask their client for further details (date/name of staff member etc.)
  3. The agent would have been able to apologise (if that was the right course of action) or explain any misunderstanding, in private
  4. The client would then, and only then, been invited to post their final visible review
Certainly nothing like this could happen!

The outcome?

  • A client retained
  • A negative review deflected from a public site
  • No review posted on our client's site - less than 1% of reviews that enter Resolution™ result in a final published review
In summary...

Moderation benefits everyone concerned. The agent and their client.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Yelp - not so popular (with its own users)?

On the one hand, you have to hand it to Yelp: they don't appear to be filtering many negative reviews about themselves (which goes against the frequently voiced allegation by some business owners that they filter positives unless you sign up)...
And here's the breakdown of those reviews...

Interesting to see that you only have to climb fractionally above a 2 star average to rate 3 stars overall. Mine a little deeper and you find that there are little flurries of 5 star reviews by loyal Yelpers, often along these lines...

All of which may explain why Yelp has yet to gain significant traction in the UK: maybe we Brits are just that bit more cynical?

Wednesday 24 April 2013

More schizophrenia from TripAdvisor

This week TA launched their 'Rave reviews' widget.* So what do we make of it? 

Let's let Christine Peterson of TripAdvisor have the first word...

“TripAdvisor’s Rave Review product makes it quick and easy for business owners to showcase their well-earned, positive reviews to potential guests.”

And TripAdvisor's own website...

"These widgets feature a selection of up to 10 handpicked, real traveller photos and/or a rotating selection of the most recent rave reviews (that is, reviews that are rated 5 out of a possible 5) of properties in your location. Users can click to a pop-up to read more detailed information about the featured property."

Our take...

We think there may be a conflict of interest here. TripAdvisor unashamedly promote themselves as a consumer site. And here they are effectively saying to hotels "Pay us, and one of the benefits will be that you can show [only] 5 Star reviews on your site." Surely that's not in the consumer's best interest?

We have a feeling that this widget has been introduced because hotels were quick to see through TA's last effort - the widget that showed the last X number of reviews posted - a disaster if one of those was a 1 Star.

We think the previous solution was fair to potential guests, but unfair to hotels. This is the exact opposite - the elegant solution (as long as you're happy to have potential guests clicking away from your own site - something regular readers of this blog will know we don't advise) would be to combine the previous version with Dialogue.

*We cannot find a live example yet - on TripAdvisor's site or a hotel's site - as soon as we do we'll let you know.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

"Helpful"s let you know how you're hurting!

This was highlighted by a client in London with a pretty reasonable TripAdvisor ranking. In fact better than 'reasonable': top 100. We mined down into their TripAdvisor stats - and what do we find? 

That 86 people have voted one of the hotel's guests' negative reviews as 'helpful'.

What does that tell us? That at least 86 people were put off booking the hotel by a negative review (would you vote a negative review helpful and then book)?

Of course, it's much more than 'just' 86*, because very few potential guests bother to vote 'helpful' when viewing TripAdvisor reviews - so it is essential that hotels take all the action they can to minimise these negatives. 

To see how effective Dialogue is, have a look at the last two paragraphs of this post; negatives posted about this client have been reduced by over half in just two months.

At the risk of stating the obvious: if your guests' negative opinions are managed in private, they can't possibly put an potential guest off booking. And, on top of that, your ranking on TripAdvisor will rise.

*Needless to say, it's not just the people who are voting negative reviews 'helpful' who are being put off booking, but potentially anyone who reads them. We have lots of anecdotal evidence (from TripAdvisor) about the number of people who read a review compared with those who vote - in one such case there are 6 'helpful' votes where 425 people have read the review; that's 70 people 'reading' for every one who voted.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Hotels - Predict your ranking on TripAdvisor

Thanks to a lot of work by our researchers we can now predict, with a fair degree of accuracy, our clients' (and their competitors') rankings on TripAdvisor in a year's time.

How? It's quite simple really - we take the constituent mathematical elements of the votes cast by your guests in the past and apply our experience with our client hotels to come up with an estimated ranking for you in 12 months from now. 

An example:

Your TripAdvisor rank (if you're in London - it applies worldwide) is somewhere between 1 and 1079. We know how many 'poor'/'terrible' votes you have received in the past, so we then apply our success at reducing those for our existing clients to your current ranking; this gives us a realistic 'target' for your ranking in 12 months time.

It's not 100% accurate, because your competitors may be taking action as well (especially if they're clients of ours!) and service standards do change over time, but it is a very good guide. One thing we know for sure, it will be an improvement* - but it's even more useful for us both if we have a specific target to aim for.

Find out where your hotel will rank after a year with Dialogue™...

Just contact us and we'll do the sums and let you know the answer.

*Take the example of a recent (large central London) client: Over the 10 months prior to implementing Dialogue, they received 74 ‘poor' or 'terrible’ reviews and 186 ‘excellent' or 'very good’ reviews. 40% of their reviews were negatives.

In the 3 months since implementation they have received 6
‘poor' or 'terrible’ reviews and 51 ‘excellent' or 'very good’ reviews, a massive improvement - a drop in negatives of nearly 75%, reflecting how many fewer negatives are now being posted on TripAdvisor (with negatives coming instead through Dialogue for the hotel to manage in Resolution™).