Thursday 31 July 2014

Pubs and reviews - strategic thinking in 2014

This article was prompted by a tweet....

Fair enough, you might think; well done for encouraging trade. But wait: this pub is right slap bang in the middle of one of the most popular tourist cities on the planet...

So we embarked on some research: we visited a dozen pubs in the area at lunchtime and the results came as a major shock: they were all experiencing the same marked lull in trade. We spoke to managers and they all confirmed that it 'was the same every summer'.

Let's recap...
  • 12 pubs within walking distance of major tourist attractions (museums/art galleries/shops)
  • All great pubs (great atmosphere, good food offerings)

So what are pubs doing wrong? 

It can't be the prices or the hours lunch is available that's putting them off

Not on Google or any of the pubic sites

On a Thursday in July we sent our researchers to all the 'dining' pubs within 500 metres of the Science Museum (an area which also happens to contain the V&A, the Natural History Museum, the Albert Hall and about 12,000 of London's hotel rooms). What we found was profoundly shocking: in the pubs surveyed - all between 1 and 2 pm - there were an average of 5.4 people dining; and from pubs with dedicated dining facilities with seating for an average of 50. That's the potential to feed over 700 people at a single sitting, and they were feeding less than 60. Nearly all of the pubs surveyed keep their dining rooms open 12pm-10pm, so we have to assume they are actively looking for lunctime dining trade.

To make the point in another way: all the pubs between the Kings Road in Chelsea, through South Kensington, right up to Kensington Gore are feeding less than 100 people for lunch on a Thursday in July.

If we assume that tourists are not specifically avoiding the great London pub, there has to be another reason (the chain restaurants in the vicinity of each of these pubs - and in the same price bracket - were packed out). 

Imagine for a moment that you are a tourist: you have just staggered out of the Victoria and Albert Museum (or one of the dozens of hotels within walking distance) and you want lunch. You have heard of that great British institution, so into your smartphone you type 'pub South Kensington', let's see what you get...

We did the same exercise for 'pub Oxford' and the results were so similar as to be indistinguishable, so it's not a problem unique to West London

The average Google score for the top six pubs listed is 3.7, which in terms of any subjective judgement of rankings is truly awful*. It is enough to put any self-respecting tourist off, even before they persevere far enough to read some of the prominently displayed negative reviews...
The top six reviews - would you eat there? We visited this pub, it was nearly empty at 1 pm on a Thursday, and there was nothing wrong with either the service or the food. The mistake this pub is making is allowing its online reputation to be dominated by half-a-dozen dissatisfied customers

The solution

Pubs have some wonderful resources when it comes to getting great reviews...
  • Regular customers 
  • Diners

Both these categories are fertile ground when it comes to getting reviews. Invite regular customers and email diners. If you aren't already collecting email addresses, start today:

  • Get their email when they book over the phone
  • Hand them a card at the end of the meal and ask them to fill in their email address and collect it before they leave
  • DO NOT hand them a card asking them to write a review - it does not work
  • When you have their email address send them an email including a link to your G+ page (or TripAdvisor page once you have enough reviews on Google*, 50 is a good first target) asking them to write a review

We are not saying this is ALL of the solution (pubs could try introducing menus in popular tourist languages** for a start - we didn't find one), but it must make business sense.

And finally: TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Urbanspoon, Yelp (for anyone doubting that tourists want 'the London pub experience' just check Karla S's reviews) and other specialist sites:  focus on these after you've cracked Google; it's Google that comes up on phones and all research shows that if a business doesn't look good there very few people will bother to research it any further.

*To be really successful at attracting trade you should be aiming at a Google score of 4.7/4.8. Anything less than that will mean you either lose trade to competitors (and these can be any other business in a similar price range, not just a better ranked pub) or the the prospective diner will feel the need to mine down into the individual reviews, where you run the risk that they will be put off by an individual negative review (see above).

A score of 4.5 - 4.7 is a good initial target, but anything less than that (and certainly anything under 4.0) and trade will drop off considerably.

**Most foreign tourists (with the exception of Germans at 64%) do not speak/read English (34% of Italians, less than 1% of Chinese). The top non-English speaking tourists are: French, Germans, Spanish and then the Italians.

Hotels - are you getting your four a week?

This arrived by email from TripAdvisor today...

Sounds a lot doesn't it? Until we remind ourselves that there are currently 1073 hotels listed for London. So that is 3.4 reviews per hotel.

If you are getting less than four reviews a week you need to look hard at your Review Management. For three key reasons:

  1. Numbers (volume of reviews) matter. Read this article
  2. If you are not proactively inviting reviews you are leaving your reputation in the hands of dissatisfied guests (who are far more likely to write a review unprompted than satisfied guests, by a factor of 15:1)
  3. For larger hotels the numbers need to be proportionatly higher. We estimate the average London hotel has just under 100 rooms, so if your hotel has 300 rooms your benchmark needs to be 12 review a week

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Using Facebook to engage with guests - a cautionary tale

Those in hospitality thinking that Facebook may be a viable alternative to TripAdvisor might like to delve deeper into this story (Warning! Not for the faint of heart or those offended by bad language):

Points to remember:
  1. Facebook is a recurring two-way street, unlike TripAdvisor the 'reviewer' can comment multiple times
  2. Anyone else can join in: friends of the 'reviewer', any online passers-by
  3. Stories like this have a habit of spreading backwards to more conventional media, in this case to TripAdvisor
Somewhat bizarrely, despite all this, there are still 7 'Speciality lodgings' in Glasgow ranked worse than Bluesky! 

Our (narrow) take on Facebook and other social media...

If you want to attract gushers and ranters, then social media is fine; if you wnat to know what your serious customers think, then you need to give them a channel where they can comment in private (and be assured of getting a response).

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Dialogue™ - welcome consumer feedback - all the time

Or this?

We all welcome customer feedback, don't we? Do we really welcome all the customer calls that we get? Well let's have a closer look...
  • The one that interrupted that crucial meeting?
  • The one that made you late for your child's first school play?
  • The one from 'Mr Angry' - every day for a week?
  • The one that means you have to skip lunch - again?
Now, we know just as well as you do that 'every customer's opinion is vital' and 'there's no such thing as unwelcome feedback'. But what if we could show you a way that would manage customer feedback that would...
  • be actively welcomed by your customers as an improvement on your current system(s)
  • be cost-effective
  • be welcomed by your customer services staff
  • work 24/7 and 365 days a year (including Christmas Day)
  • be used by every category of customer 
  • be able to be infinitely tailored and varied - to be used to gain real-time feedback on product/service enhancements, for instance 
There is a reason why some businesses feel that they have to bury the 'contact us' button on their websites, or channel uninvited feedback through multiple-layer phone systems. And it's not because they don't want to provide great customer service; it's because they haven't found a customer feedback solution which, if promoted to the top of their site, won't cause them logistical headaches (jammed phone lines, harassed staff).

There is now

Dialogue performs all the functions above and more; enabling real-time communications in both directions; it's the modern way. Dialogue combines all the best aspects of customer service and best marketing practice.

Dialogue enables your customer...
  • to contact you when it suits them (after normal working hours/at weekends, in fact whenever they choose)
  • to be immediately reassured that whatever the nature of their communication, it will be dealt with promptly and professionally
 Dialogue enables you...
  • to openly invite customer feedback all the time, irrespective of capacity or office hours
  • without employing more staff or outside agencies
  • to manage response flows: giving essential communications priority
  • collect data whenever you want - at the touch of a button 
  • to survey customers at will
  • to publish verified feedback and results that will drive more business
And let's just dispel one myth: the one where the consumer says "I much prefer dealing with a real-live human being." What they're really saying is "I much prefer getting whatever issue I bought to the business resolved." Did you really object when your GP or garage introduced online appointment booking? Or did you prefer hanging on for a 'human being' whilst listening to musak?

Dialogue will make sure your customer services staff are available to make and take the calls that really matter (and it will feed leads to sales); and it will revolutionise customer feedback in ways that you could only dream of before.

The really probing questions answered

The question that lurks unspoken behind almost all the following questions is "Does our business really need Dialogue?" After you have read these answers we hope you won't need to return to that question again.
  • How will our customers react to Dialogue? Very positively indeed, because its obvious that it's there for them; to make their experience of your business better. We have never had a single complaint about Dialogue from one of our clients' customers - ever. Think of the last time you had a mediocre experience with a business, possibly a business that you would ideally have used again, wouldn't you have relished a mechanism like Dialogue?
  • Customers should complain direct to us:  A fair enough comment, but in the real world people are increasingly conditioned to online communication (Google and the review sites). Your customers will, in the main, use the avenue that makes it easiest for them; and you should want some control over that avenue. We had the example of a London 5* deluxe hotel that protested that all their guests were checked out 'in-room' where they were asked if there was any tiny little thing that the hotel could have done better during their stay; we then showed them their TripAdvisor listing where over one in seven of their guests had posted a negative review
  • Why does Dialogue have to be on our website? Because you want more business and one of Dialogue's key functions is to drive business through your website. There are very few businesses who don't always need this - if you think you fall into that category then we would respectfully direct you to the next question
  • Will it work if it's not on our website? Some businesses don't want new customers (they simply don't have the spare capacity) but they do need to retain their existing customers, for them Dialogue can work 'blind' (without being shown on their website) 
  • Can we get something similar elsewhere for less? Currently HelpHound is the only business providing this service; there will doubtless be imitators in the near future, but we aim to retain our clients by maintaining the lead we have already established and continuing to provide a great service that delivers. Don't confuse review management with reputation management

  • What is the difference between review management and reputation management? It could fill a small book, but the basic difference is that review management is all about promoting the positive and reputation management is about suppressing the negative (which often means flooding the web with selective positives). With effective review management the negatives will be brought to you in private so you won't ever need reputation management
  • Why do we need to ask our customers to post to Google? Everyone who looks up your business online is shown Google reviews (if you have them). They are also shown your competitors reviews; you simply need to look good by comparison
  • Then why not ask our customers to post direct to Google? For two very important reasons, first you need those reviews on your own website (to drive new business and provide early warning of customer dissatisfaction) and second, you cannot be 100% sure you will be inviting happy customers to post to Google unless you select who you invite and any selection means filtering which erodes that credibility which is so essential in driving new business.
  • Early warning of customer dissatisfaction? One of the first responses received by a recent estate agent client (a landlord) said 'Many thanks for inviting me to write this review, I was thinking of changing agents..."
  • What will happen if we delay introducing Dialogue? You'll save our fee! But, seriously, you risk losing new and existing customers and falling behind your competitors online
  • Not many people look at our website - is Dialogue relevant then? If one person looks at your website and is influenced to contact you by Dialogue and then becomes a customer, Dialogue's done its job. If, like an estate agent we spoke to recently you haven't checked you analytics recently (they said "We're the only people who look at our website, the analytics, when they checked them showed 3000 visits a month).
  • We already survey our customers, do we need Dialogue as well? Dialogue is all about driving new business and retaining existing customers; of course, the feedback it generates can be hugely useful (and may make Dialogue look like a customer survey tool) but it is secondary to Dialogue's primary role in directly driving revenue to your bottom line.
  • We already have a company reporting what our customers say about us on the web, do we need Dialogue as well? It is essential to know what's being said about your business on the web, but we would argue that it's even more important as a business to give you customers a channel that they will actively use in preference to other review sites so they say what they think (especially if it's sometimes not entirely complimentary) to you before they say it on the web.
  • Why is it important to have Dialogue (as opposed to something of our own) on our website? Dialogue enables your prospective customers to read verified reviews. These have credibility - the essential ingredient that drives prospective customers to make contact, whether by picking up the phone or enquiring through your website
And now for the 'big daddy of them all...

  • How do we know Dialogue will make our business money? It is easy to quantify whether or not Dialogue is working for you as long a your staff are focused on understanding your sources of business. All our clients alert their staff to ask this question at first contact. It's also one of the reasons that our own client retention and satisfaction rates are so high. The answer may be subtly different for each type of business (for hotels: the effect on their rankings and scores, for estate agencies: the minimising of online complaints form tenants, and so on) but the overarching promise we make to all our clients is that Dialogue will impact on their bottom lines.

Monday 28 July 2014

Responding to negative reviews - a template for hoteliers

Even the Ritz!

The one- or two-star review - one of the many banes of a hotelier's life. If you are a client, these will have reduced by about three-quarters, but they still pose a key question: how to deal with them? 

With our experience of reading and responding to many thousands of reviews a month on behalf of our Feedback Manager clients, here is our advice:


All negative reviews will fall into two categories: those who have already complained in-hotel and those who did not and instead waited to post [on TripAdvisor/on Google etc.].


Do your utmost to discover which category the reviewer falls into. There are always clues: in the username, in the date, in the photographs and in the content of the review.


Use the relevant template (altering at least one line to personalise your response):

Complained whilst in-hotel: 

Dear 'Username'*

Thank you for taking the trouble to post your review on [TripAdvisor/Google] and for allowing us the opportunity to apologise here for the issues which made your stay with us** less than perfect.

As [name and position of staff member] discussed with you during your stay [here address ALL*** the specific issues raised, explaining politely why each event happened, and, most important of all, what action has been taken].

I hope this clarifies matters; we do try very hard to make sure all our guests' stays exceed their expectations. If there is anything else I can do please do email me or telephone me; both my email address and direct line are available at reception****.

We very much look forward to welcoming you back* in the near future.

With best wishes


Complained post-stay: 

Dear 'Username'*

Thank you for taking the trouble to post your review on [TripAdvisor/Google] and for allowing us the opportunity to apologise here for the issues which made your stay with us** less than perfect.

[here address ALL*** the specific issues raised, explaining politely why each event happened, and, most important of all, what action has been taken].

I hope this clarifies matters; we do try very hard to make sure all our guests' stays exceed their expectations. If there is anything else I can do please do email me or telephone me; both my email address and direct line are available at reception****.

We very much look forward to welcoming you back* in the near future, and if any issues arise then please do ask for me by name.

With best wishes



*1 Not the guest's real name, even if you know it, and not 'Dear Guest'

**1 (not with XYZ hotels - you don't really want this spidered by Google and returned in searches)

*** 'ALL': so many responses on TripAdvisor simply include a generic apology but fail to address the specific issues mentioned in the review. Besides being seen by the individual reviewer as 'lazy' this runs a significant risk that a potential guest will see that a point that concerns them (e.g. air-conditioning faulty) has not been addressed.

**** Don't give out your email address or direct phone number in a response, they are a gift to spammers.

***** How often do we see 'JimB' (or, worse: 'GM' or 'FoH') and no position? It's partly because responses on TripAdvisor are automatically assigned to the first person who registered the hotel, make sure this is current and conforms.

A very important postscript

To answer the question that must be in the minds of many readers (after all, only one in twelve reviews on TripAdvisor is responded to): 'Why bother at all?'

And this for a review of a tiny establishment, half way up a mountain in the middle of nowhere!

Interestingly enough, the review of the Ritz at the top of this page is as good an example as any:
  1. Reviews ARE read (see above), negative reviews are read MORE (the average traveller consults seven websites before booking)
  2. Many (if not most) reviewers see the review as a direct communication to the hotel, not a 'review' to inform others. If it were an email (or a letter) we are sure the Ritz would have responded. We recommend to all our clients that they respond to all reviews, without exception
  3. All negative reviews have the potential to deflect business. If the reader only sees the guests' side of the story, then the hotel will lose business as a result
  4. The reader doesn't know that the guest writing the review was wrong; if you don't correct misapprehensions, whether they be about price or 'lack of air-conditioning' then they will stand as fact
  5. You will never know if you have lost business as a result: no-one is going to phone a hotel and say "I was going to stay with you, but..."
  6. TripAdvisor's own research states that people favour hotels who respond to reviews
  7. Guests are less likely to write a negative review if they know they will receive a response

Sunday 20 July 2014

Review Management defined

Over the past handful of years Review Management has emerged as a professional branch of marketing. Here we define this new (but essential) tool, by describing just what it is and, just as importantly, is not.

Reviews - some history

There's nothing new about reviews. They have been around since the dawn of journalism - whether the subject under review was the latest play, the local restaurant, then everything from holidays to washing-machines. In your daily paper, on TV.

Occasionally consumers might even be consulted (by polling or phone-ins). But then came the web.

The web and reviews

Reviews on the web were initially simply web versions of other media reviews, but then new technology emerged (it was called Web 2.0) that allowed consumers to answer back, and to voice their own opinions.

Initially using the 'forum' format that continues today, soon specific review sites began to emerge. These allowed anyone (often anyone at all) to post a comment (a review) about a business. Any comment about any business. Or any comment about a specific kind of business.

Initial impact

Consumers loved the concept, they wrote reviews and, more importantly, they read other people's reviews. Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, written off in their infancy by professional marketeers as 'the rantings of the rabble' grew exponentially. 

Engaging with business

Some of the very early sites (like Angie's list) reckoned that they added so much value for the consumer that the consumer would pay to read their reviews.

Others realised that businesses would pay for two things:
  • Site traffic - if X,000 people visited the site, then businesses would pay to advertise on that site
  • Leads - if the reviews attracted potential customers, businesses would pay for those leads
As these businesses grew and matured the correlation between the number of reviews they were able to host and the business's worth (share price) became defined. The drive for reviews was well and truly ignited.

It was put smack bang on top of my competitor's listing!

The double-edged sword

This was clear from day one; businesses love reading positive consumer comments but dread negatives. But does the review site really care? The answer, in the overwhelming majority of cases is a resounding 'No'. 

If it were otherwise then the review sites could very easily build in a mechanism to allow consumers to interact with the business offline when they have an issue that needs addressing or an outright complaint, but no, the review gets published, however unfair or damaging to the business.

Why? For many important reasons: first, the 'volume' issue explained above; every published review is another cent on the share price. Second, people love reading negative reviews, so the sites recognise that negative reviews drive traffic - and the review sites can sell that traffic to advertisers; third, and most contentiously, many review sites' sales pitches are thinly veiled blackmail: 'pay for our services and we'll see if we can do something about the negatives'.

So where are we today?

Review sites are here to stay. Most important of all, since Google realised the extraordinary consumer demand for reviews back in 2008-9, they have been refining and boosting their own review offerings, first in natural search and second (and probably most fundamentally important of all for the medium to long term) through their own review mechanism.

Business reaction

So far businesses have reacted right across the spectrum from outright denial (ignoring reviews completely) to engagement (responding where they can) to adopting proactive review management strategies.

We should examine all three of these strategies in more detail:
  • Denial: is not a viable long-term strategy. Not engaging with reviewers is tantamount to not listening to your customers; but, worse than that, it is effectively saying, out-loud and as publicly as can be "We don't listen to our customers. We don't care what they are saying." Reviews must (where the mechanism exists) be responded to, at a minimum
  • Engagement: is a great first step. Simply responding to reviews, politely and professionally, will show your business in a much better light than standing aloof and allowing comments to go unanswered
  • Proactive strategies: the next logical step; seeing a customer writing a review in exactly the same light as a customer sending your business an email or contacting someone in your customer service department has to be the first step in establishing and effective review management strategy

At this stage we expect most readers are nodding in agreement; so the question is "Why have less than 1% of UK businesses adopted that course of action so far?

The answer is a combination of two things: fear of the unknown and resources.

To (probably mis-) quote Milton Friedman: "The business of business is business." To adapt this to our own ends we see this as meaning that if you run a hotel your business is looking after your guests, if you run an estate agency your business is selling houses and if you are a doctor your business is treating your patients.

So is it any wonder professional services exist; very few of any of the above file their own accounts, litigate on their own behalves or self-insure; so why would they want to do their own review management?

The answer, in the main, has been because until now there just haven't been the review management professionals to do the job for them. This eliminates the 'fear of the unknown' and makes concrete the issue of 'resources'.

What will a Review Management professional do?

The simple answer is: 'everything to do with reviews', let us break this down:
  1. Get your business the reviews it needs
  2. Enable you to promote those reviews - credibly - to prospective customers
  3. Enable you to manage any negative reviews in private
  4. Advise on strategies to maximise the effective distribution of those review across the web
  5. Advise on individual strategies to address specific damaging or unfair reviews
Numbers 4 and 5 could (and often do) include drafting individual responses.

Professional review management is one of the most effective new business drivers available to businesses today. All recent research indicates that it will pay for itself many times over in lead and new business generation as well as existing customer retention.

What is not Review Management?

Sometimes it looks, at first glance, like review management (you may even have googled 'review management' and been served it in results), but it is not...
  • Testimonials: they're not reviews - they haven't been independently verified and they've probably been filtered (whoever saw a negative testimonial?) so they will lack credibility in the eyes of your prospective customer
  • Reputation management: can get you loads of reviews, at a price, but does not address the core issue - effective (credible) feedback from all your customers
  • DIY: however effective in-house systems may be (and some are great) they will always lack credibility without independent verification

The next steps

We don't meet a prospective client without conducting a Review Management Audit these days. This will include:
  1. Identifying current review coverage (or lack thereof)
  2. Recommending an initial strategy to address lack of (or gaps in) coverage 
  3. Recommending a medium to long-term strategy to enable the business's management and staff to rest easy in the knowledge that they have a robust solution in place
We look forward to a long and mutually rewarding relationship - after all, we wouldn't want you posting anything less than a 5* review about us!

  1. The impact of reviews on consumer decisions
  2. Google's own take on reviews
  3. Wiki: Review Sites
  4. Wiki: Web 2.0
  5. Wiki: Reputation Management 
  6. Wall Street Journal: beware of reputation management
  7. Survey: Reviews v. Personal Recommendation
  8. Fake reviews: the Guardian
  9. Harvard Business Review: "User reviews are front and center"
  10. Bad reviews are costing businesses millions 

Hotels and TripAdvisor - why numbers matter for your ranking - and RevPAR

One aspect of the research we do for you, our clients, involves looking very closely at the numbers, in this case the numbers of reviews written about hotels, to see if there is any correlation between this and their ranking on TripAdvisor.

In the table that follows we have taken hotels that rank across the spectrum, established the number of reviews each has and then divided that by the number of rooms. This gives a figure that enables us to fairly compare any hotel with another. 

Ranking       Reviews per room per year 

Top 10          7.4

Top 25          4.3

Top 50          2.2

75                 1.4

100               1.1

250               0.7

500               0.5

750               0.3

The key question is: can we draw any conclusions from these numbers?

Yes. The more reviews you can get the better your ranking will be.

For every hotel? Yes. in one of two ways:
  • You can invest in better facilities and staff training and invite reviews, or...
  • You can invest a fraction of that amount in a professional review management system and invite reviews
Dialogue will:
  • get you more positive reviews to TripAdvisor (at least 25% more - based on results for our clients)
  • enable you to manage at least 75% of the negative reviews you are currently receiving before they are ever posted to TripAdvisor
So, without any radical restructuring in-hotel, you begin to get more positive reviews per year per room, and your ranking begins to climb.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Review Management - Apple getting it wrong

For a company that makes great products, Apple sometimes also makes a great job of alienating some of its customer base.

Here's Apple's iPhone 4 Bumper:

And here's what owners are saying about it:

Bear in mind that all these people own an iPhone; and that Apple currently find themselves lagging some of their competitors in the smartphone market. Also bear in mind that owners of this phone will be prime targets for Apple's marketing when they launch the iPhone 6 later this year.

You would think they might choose a review mechanism that would enable them to maximise customer loyalty, rather than this one-way vehicle. 

What should Apple be doing? 

In a word: responding. Saying sorry. Explaining the next product upgrade. Correcting misapprehensions.

Bear in mind that Apple employ over 80,000 people worldwide, what impact would an extra 100 to engage with their customers have on their $170 billion revenues?

The lessons:

  1. Don't just copy the 'big boys' when you are deciding on your company's review management strategy - they don't always get it right
  2. Don't pay lip-service - maybe in 2004 having a 'rant-board' for you customers was cutting edge. things have moved on in the last 10 years
  3. Your customers know that - and they expect better

Why your business needs Dialogue - Restaurants

Today another restaurant was ritually slaughtered by Giles Coren...

"My steak was being made to eat one's own tongue."

"[my companion] had the hake. He virtually cried." 

"Quite inedible, of course..."

"Esther's rabbit wellington was also rubbish."

"I simply do not know what they were thinking."

There is more, much more, but those of you without access behind the Times pay-wall (or amongst the Times's 1.2 million readers) will have got the gist by now. 

You know just how damaging a review like this can be. There have been cases where similar reviews have closed businesses. 

So we checked online to see a) what the web was saying about them and b) if they were taking any action to defend themselves.

Here we go...

6 Google reviews in 3 years

224 reviews in 5 years
And these for restaurant specific sites:

This story is an illustration of just why review management has developed from something businesses either ignored or paid lip-service to into a fully-fledged professional service that has become a 'must have' for all businesses.

So what has the business done?

They have...
  • Focused on public relations; their website contains pages of PR (interestingly under the heading 'reviews') and, just as interestingly, the last article posted is from 2010.
  • Won many awards, national and regional
  • A great website

What have they not done?
  •  Harnessed the power of customer reviews
Their restaurant averages less than 30 customer reviews a year; that's less than one a week (take TripAdvisor out of the equation and that falls to a pitiful 3 reviews a year).

And the quality (and content) of those reviews is not great.

What should they have done?

Asked* their customers for their opinions.
  • Not left reviews to chance
  • Had a mechanism like Dialogue in place
Then, if they only had only managed to get ONE or TWO reviews a week, they would have hundreds of reviews to counterbalance Giles Coren's piece (and their not-so-great Google reviews).

And lessons for our clients...
  1. However great you think you are, there's always the chance that someone, somewhere will come along and disagree - publicly
  2. Don't take your customers' opinions for granted, work for them continuously
  3. Plan ahead. Google is becoming more influential by the day - get reviews there
  4. Get reviews to where they matter most. Just because you look at a particular website make sure that the reviews are going to the site your customers read
  1. The order in which we have shown the various review sites is intentional; it's the order in which Google shows them; however much you may think that consumers are wedded top a particular site, the overwhelming majority will read the reviews they are first shown by Google (providing you have them there).
  2. None of this involves any 'extra work'; every business should be harvesting customer email addresses as standard marketing practice anyway.The 'invitation to review' is standard and easily automated 
  3. If anyone has any doubts over whether or not TripAdvisor reviews are read - here is a review posted in the last week of a tiny restaurant in Spain by a HelpHound staffer:

*Restaurants should hand each customer a card and a pencil and ask them for their email address (if it has not already been gathered when the customer booked) and then send them an email thanking them for their custom an inviting their review.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Estate agents - instantly changing your image with Dialogue

In less than 24 hours!

From this (Monday 14 July)...

To this (Tuesday 15 July)...

In natural listings

Interesting to note that Google is now the only referencing being offered 'above the fold' - click to enlarge


Up until recently Shepherds' secondary invitation in Dialogue had been asking their clients to post their reviews to a small 'open' estate-agency-specific site.

On our advice* Shepherds decided to re-focus those efforts towards Google, and to kick-start that process we emailed an initial batch of clients who had already posted a review through Dialogue. 

*Our advice was based on a combination of factors: feedback from our client saying that the influence of the site in question was on the wane (partly as a result of its results ranking ever-lower in Google search) and our conviction that Google will be the dominant player in business referencing for the foreseeable future.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Getting reviews to Google – should your clients be asked to post direct or via Dialogue?

Here’s a recent group discussion on Linkedin. The question posed to the group was:

“How important is an estate agent’s online reputation?”

Here we are going to highlight some of the comments, and share some of the lessons…

Dean Oakes at XanderMatthew estate agents... 


Good reviews might not always win you new business, but bad reviews can certainly lose it.

I think reviews have greater value for relatively small independent agents, just as a point of reference when cold-calling vendors or landlords. Everyone has heard of KFH, Foxtons, Winkworth etc. If I speak to a customer and tell them I'm calling from XanderMatthew, sometimes the immediate reaction will be "Who?!?" It's always useful to direct them to Google reviews.”

Robin Bruce (our CEO)…

“…other sites are increasingly being driven down (or, worse, onto page 2) by Google's own results (and in the main they also require the agent to link away from their own site - an absolute no-no). We focus on the agent's own site first and foremost and then on Google. That way any negative feedback can be managed in private.”

Note: The main reason more agents have not focused on Google and getting reviews posted there is not that they don’t think it’s a good idea (they do) but because they are terrified of the power of negative reviews: they see inviting reviews as just too high risk. The Resolution™ mechanism built into Dialogue allows our clients to rest easy on this crucial point.


“Dean makes a very good point about negative reviews - and they're certainly not restricted to the so-called cowboys. Anyone with a lettings agency is bound to attract some negative online reviews from disgruntled tenants who 'shoot the messenger'. So it is important to counter those by encouraging positive reviews.

He also quite rightly says they should be seen as part of a comprehensive marketing mix, but it should be borne in mind that every time anyone googles the agency reviews will be shown - even if the person googling is not specifically searching for reviews.”

It sometimes helps to sit outside the loop and ask oneself: 'if I were looking for a business to use, who would I be most inclined to believe - the business's own marketing or the opinions of its clients?'”

Dean again…

"On that last point Robin - isn't that precisely why getting reviews on your own website is largely worthless?

We copy and paste ours directly from Google+ and post them to our website just to keep content fresh. But if I were "outside the loop", and they weren't available anywhere else, I'd be sceptical about whether they give a true reflection of the business' service. As you said earlier, "negative feedback can be managed in private" that way.

If an agent is confident in their service then they have nothing to hide. The occasional bad review is inevitable, be it due to exceptional circumstances, an honest mistake, or the nature of the industry where the middle man (the agent) is automatically made the scapegoat! Do I have a problem with one of those popping up for every 50 five star reviews? Not at all. If nothing else it shows the reviews are genuine."

Note: Dean is absolutely right when he suggests that filtered/cherry-picked reviews on your own website are virtually ‘worthless’; for reviews to be effective in driving new business you must be able to demonstrate a) that all your clients are invited to review you and b) that any client who wants to write a review will have that review published.

Dialogue gets reviews published on the estate agent’s website and then gets the reviewer to repost it to Google (as well as giving the agent the chance to address any negative reviews in private first). 

The client can still opt to have the negative review published if they want to. Most (99.3%) don’t (why would they if the agent has resolved whatever issue it contained?). It is too late - the opportunity is gone - if a business asks a client to post direct to any third party website, including Google. 
RB again…

"You've hit the nail right on the head Dean - credibility is everything with reviews. If potential clients suspect the agency is filtering reviews in any way that credibility goes straight out of the window (there is one review site, for instance, that allows agents to choose which reviews are shown first).

But, and this 'but' is crucial: inviting clients to write reviews and then having a transparent mechanism to manage negatives is welcomed by everyone. It doesn't prevent the client writing a publicly visible review, but it does give the agent and the client an opportunity to resolve whatever issue there is before a review is written. Everyone wins: the client gets his issue resolved, the agent defuses a potentially damaging review.

The real clincher for us are the lessons learned from TripAdvisor: so many of the issues contained in negative reviews could easily have been resolved by having a chat with the hotel management, but the culture of 'complaint by TripAdvisor' has become embedded. Estate Agents won't want to replicate that experience."

Nilesh Patel (who originated the discussion)…

"…if a business just had great reviews only, you would still think twice. Also replying back to negative reviews is a must. You see a lot of bad reviews with no reply from the business, which makes you think do their care? Negative reviews are an opportunity to see the weakness in your business or staff and improve it."


"We have a lot of experience with businesses thinking (at first) that nothing but 5* reviews will challenge their credibility in the eyes of potential clients. In practice this is not the case, as long as the source of the reviews is credible.

Perhaps we should ask Dean (whose business has a flawless 5* record on Google, where any disgruntled client can post a review at any time - so: 100% credible) whether he would be overjoyed to see a 1* review appear to 'add credibility'?"

Dean Oakes…

"A fair point, Robin, perhaps I wouldn't - certainly as reviews tend to be ordered according to recency*. A scathing review coming up first wouldn't be welcomed just for the sake of credibility.

The reality is we have only actively pursued reviews from customers we know are very happy with our service (and I'm pleased to say that seems to be the vast majority). Anyone can leave a bad review if they wish, but we're not going to go chasing them for it! That being said, we now distribute online surveys to customers immediately after every appointment where we include a link to leave reviews, so the onus is on us to deliver on our word and impress them.

Incidentally, we also have reviews on, with an average of 4.5 stars out of 5. Most reviews are 5 star with three 1 star reviews - one is from before my time and seems justified, another is a case of the middleman taking the flak, and the other is a fake review from a competitor, which can't be removed and just highlights how some review systems are open to abuse. We deal with these as Nilesh suggests, by replying and stating our defence/apologising as best we can. It's then up to the potential client reading it to decide who is in the wrong."

Note: *Google’s default setting is ‘most helpful’: if someone connected to you by social media has written a review, that review will show first.


"@Dean - I think you've got a great strategy there; miles ahead of most of your competitors. Your experience with the three negatives mirrors our experience, with only one of the three being a genuine complaint where the agent may have been at fault.

I stress 'may', because with anonymity, unless the reviewer quotes specifics it's almost impossible to identify the client and therefore respond in anything but the most general terms to the issue raised. There's another issue with some of these sites, of course: the fake positives!

We think it's important to have a system that works equally fairly for both parties, and that's why we insist on our users identifying themselves (in private) before we forward their complaint to the agent. You would be surprised (maybe not!) by how many times the complaint is easily resolved because it initially arose because of a misunderstanding (an obvious example is the tenant blaming the agent when it's the landlord who is at fault - we see those daily, misreading invoices is another). Posted publicly that affects the agent's ranking or score, whether posted to Google or an agent-specific site.

One thing to bear in mind: once a client has posted a negative review that's publicly visible, however unfair or misconceived, it's very rare that the relationship will be repaired to the extent that they will remain as a client or do business again; it's simple human nature: they're embarrassed (often even more so if they were in the wrong). If it's all done privately the relationship remains intact in the overwhelming majority of cases (we see comments like "I'm so glad I complained so you could put me straight" all the time).

One last point: this system allows agents to invite ALL their clients to review: that way you identify the most important category of client of all: the one who was just about to slip away. How much is a review (in private) that says "I am considering removing my X rental properties from you because...." worth?"

RB (for the last time!)

"@ All: I apologise if the above post is a little indigestible; but we are concerned that what is currently seen by many agents as a 'nice add-on' at best and an irritant at worst has the potential to do real harm if agents don't find the right solution.

We constantly meet agents who have been hurt by just one single Google review; partly because they have neglected to invite positives for all the right reasons (they were nervous of attracting negatives), but mostly they were unaware of just how many of their potential clients were seeing that Google review, until one mentioned it.

Think of it: if you are searching for a business to use, do you read a review that puts you off a business and then contact them to explain why you're not going to use them? Of course you don't.

Every potential client sees your Google reviews (they are served first - always, and always will be). And Google give them prominence because they know that their customers want them.
An agent said to us the other day: "I'm looking three to five years ahead; Google will only dominate the space more and more, so that's where I want my reviews." We couldn't agree more, so we'll focus on getting them reviews from all their clients, allowing any negatives to be managed in private, posting the positives to their website (client response to them there is great) and then do what it takes to get them re-posted to Google."

If you have got this far: thank you for persevering, we hope it was worth it. 

In summary 

There is a solution to reviews…

  • They are a massive force for good, for the agent and the potential client
  • Your clients will write them
  • They will drive business
  • They will enable you to retain clients
  • They do make you look professional
  • They are welcomed by your potential clients