Thursday 26 February 2015

Hotels - the benefits of Dialogue in 2015

Here we highlight the long-term benefits of Dialogue for hotels...

Dialogue on your own website:
  • Gives your guests the reviews they crave, without leaving your website
  • Gives your guests a channel to use if they are less than satisfied, so they don't feel they have to post a negative review where it will harm you

The effects of Dialogue on your online reputation:
  • An instant and sustained uplift in the number of positive reviews where they matter most to you: TripAdvisor or Google (or both)
  • An instant and sustained fall in negatives posted anywhere (TripAdvisor, Google,, other OTAs, Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else on the web)
Leading to:
  • Improved scores and ratings everywhere: TripAdvisor,, Google and the rest
  • Harder rates
  • Improved guest relations
  • Improved management and employee morale
Recent changes...
To see the full article go here

Google makes hundreds of changes each year and most pass unnoticed, but some are fundamental. In 2104 the biggest single change impacting hotels was the introduction of the 'local 3-pack' in the USA. The UK and Europe will not be far behind. See this article for full details.

There are shifts in the overall review landscape. Although Yelp has yet to make a major impact in the UK, it certainly has the financial muscle to do so; Google is rapidly reaching critical mass as an influencer. We keep track of the number of reviews hotels have on Google and gone are the days when they were counted in low double figures. 

Take the Ritz as an example: in the last month they have passed the 100 reviews mark on Google. How many reviews does the average guest need to see before they don't feel the need to go to TripAdvisor? Probably only those on page one and the negatives (we all look at the negatives, right?), but they will be looking for critical mass in terms of total number of reviews, so probably a hundred plus. 

While we are on the subject of negatives - even a hotel as famous as the Ritz can benefit from review management. They cannot be happy with two out of the three reviews that took them over a hundred:

To Summarise:

Our role is so much more than 'just' review management; we will keep you abreast of any developments that impact your guests' perceptions of your service, and we will provide the best solution in every case.

We are here to help you present your hotel in the best possible light, driving new business and enhancing guest retention; Dialogue has become an essential tool for the modern hotel marketeer.

And when you understand that HelpHound's service has the flexibility to seamlessly adapt to your hotel's individual needs and integrate with your systems (independent or group) then there's even less reason to hesitate!

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Estate Agents: A very interesting survey

Some of you will already have seen the Property Academy's 2014 Home Moving Trends Survey (for those who have not, it's here). In this article we highlight those findings that are relevant from the review management standpoint.

The top two (reputation, marketing/brand) combined rank as over a third of the chosen influencers. Reviews support both your marketing and your brand and should be incorporated into both. Note that social media's ranking is negligible (that's an area that agents are spending considerable resources on, we'll have to wait and see what next year's results say). Worrying for NFoPP and RICS is the ranking of professional bodies. Online recommendations and reviews will only rank when agents begin to take these seriously. Currently only HelpHound clients have reviews (as opposed to testimonials) on their sites.


Hosting reviews on your site will drive up your chances of being the one (24%), or one of two (29%) or three (35%) agents the potential client invites to appraise/value.

These are great numbers. Between 'I visited their website' and 'I called them' 79% of sellers are exposed to our clients' reviews: 42% by directly visiting their website and 37% by googling them for their phone number (where they would have seen their Google reviews. And importantly: seen those reviews in generic searches ([estate agent] + [area]).

This makes a very strong case for including reviews in printed literature to aid conversion.


There is no doubt that great reviews help maintain fee levels.

A great comfort for any agent who is wary of inviting reviews!

Maybe divert just some of your resources from video to reviews?

How would anyone answer this question without understanding exactly what the respective competitive offerings were? Reviews help agents differentiate themselves and their offerings.

'High Street' estate agency v. 'Online' is missing the point

Your customers only care about the difference between 'good' and 'not so good'. It's called differentiation, and the profession as a whole is not very good at it.

What makes your agency better than the competition?
  • Local knowledge?
  • Range of services?
  • Negotiating skills?
  • Experience?
  • Brand?
The most popular answer by sellers surveyed by the Property Academy* was:
  • Reputation

Interestingly 'Online recommendations and reviews' come right down the list at 2% - that is because so few agents have engaged with reviews yet. 

So: How do you demonstrate your reputation (and differentiate yourselves from the competition)? Be that on your website (to encourage more enquiries) or face-to-face (to aid conversion). The answer, of course, is the YOU don't (because you cannot), your CLIENTS do it for you.

And to be sure your client reviews have complete credibility and you don't fall victim to unwarranted negatives you use Dialogue:

For even more commentary on the Property Academy's survey, go here.

*Over 4500 people were surveyed - a significantly representative sample from across the UK.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Mobile search results on Google Maps

This is how your search results will display reviews on Google Maps (the Map app of choice for most mobile users):

First the screen shows the map, your location and your review score:

 Scroll down and there are the reviews and the 'Rate and review' function:

This is important for the following reasons:
  1. Everyone who is searching for you on mobile (for whatever reason - location, phone number etc.) will see your score and reviews
  2. They will automatically be invited to write a review
  3. Increasingly, searches are being made on mobile (smartphone or tablet) in preference to desktop or even laptop: see the results of Google's own research into real estate consumer behaviour in the USA, published today, here

Who is going to win the race to be No. 1 in YOUR area (on Google)?

Or: What will happen when A, B, C, D, E, F and G become 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th?

As business people we all know about medium to long term planning. And to enable us to do that we need a combination of hard research and common sense. Such is this prediction.

We predict:

That Google will replace the current (almost random, SEO driven) seven local businesses in organic search with the 'top' seven in each area.


To establish how Google will choose the top seven (and to make sure you're right there), let's first look at how they are currently selected. It's mainly geographic: post code and any address details from Google Maps and G+. Key words in the business's G+ page also help. 

And this is where Google is looking for reviews. It's one thing to return a plumber in your area, it's quite another to return the best plumbers - and the only way Google can do that is with reviews.

But they can (and will) get them, every day tens of thousands of new Google reviews are written, and businesses are struggling to understand how to manage them.

The issue at hand

Businesses should be engaging proactively with Google reviews, so why don't they? Why do most Google searches look like this:

These seven businesses are not averaging just one Google review each because they don't think great Google reviews (and the great score that goes with them) won't drive business - on the contrary, they know they will. But they just haven't found a mechanism which will enable them to confidently invite reviews without running the risk that an unhappy customer will use that opportunity to vent and do them harm.

And what will search results like this look like soon?

In this example - a snapshot of the future - Google have ranked the businesses according to their scores (note the numbers in the stars). The top four businesses have engaged: they have a significant number of reviews, most of them great, and have good scores whereas the bottom three have not (we call it Google denial - there's a specific article about that here) and as a result they don't look great at all. 

Also, bear in mind that there are many more estate agents in Southampton who do not even feature in the top seven.


Play by Google's rules
  • Get reviews
Retain control
  • Get reviews with Dialogue*

*This is important: a big part of Dialogue is Resolution™, the function whereby negative reviews are first channeled to the business for response. At first clients may be tempted to bypass this and invite reviews direct to Google, but they soon understand why Resolution is essential when they are criticised (in private) by that client they were 100% sure was 100% happy!

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Ongoing review management - it is SO important

In your first weeks of operating Dialogue your business has gone from no reviews on its own website and no (or very few) reviews on Google to 'lots' on your own site and 'some' on Google. What happens now?

To get the right answer to that question it is important to understand how consumers use reviews. There has now been plenty of academic research in that field and all of it points to the following:
  1. The pure number of reviews can either boost or dilute the impression you create online. Put simply: a business with 100 great reviews looks bigger and more successful than a business with 50 (and much more so than one with none). The message here is loud and clear: never take your foot off the throttle.
  2. Recent reviews matter: If consumers see that the last review was written months ago that runs the risk pf creating the impression that it was written by the business's most recent customer. Then some will draw the conclusion that you are not a great force in your marketplace.
  3. The content of reviews is important: it is used by Google to create the three 'rich snippets' shown in the Knowledge Panel (the box that pops up to the right in search containing all your business details - see illustrations below), so encouraging customers to make content detailed and relevant is a good idea. Simply explain how important this is to your business and your customers will respond with great content.
More detail:

Pure numbers

Remember that four reviews a month will add up to fifty by this time next year (and how many of your competitors have anything like that number)? Perseverance is the key here.

Recent reviews

If you build the fact that you will be inviting reviews into all your dealings with your customers they will be upset if you don't invite them, rather than the other way around! That's the way to keep your reviews fresh, as well as the numbers steadily growing.

Rich snippets*

Rich snippets are one of the most important aspects of the Google Knowledge Panel - there for all to see, every time you feature in search results. Negative rich snippets can do untold harm. Here's what one client's looked like when they joined at the end of last year:

And here's what they look like now (less than three months later):

And for anyone wondering about this business: they are a large well-established lettings agency with a very positive and proactive attitude to tenant relations. But with thousands of tenants it was all too easy for the disgruntled minority to dominate what was being said online, so the impression being given was heavily skewed towards that tiny (but vocal) minority's opinions. Dialogue has redressed the balance for them (and will continue to do so).

And one last thing...

There's much more to our role, but clients refer time-and-again to the 'discipline' element, by which they mean that Dialogue ensures that they are always up-to-date as far as reviews are concerned; that they are consistent in requesting (and therefore getting) great reviews, month in, month out.

*Rich snippets: Google software analyses the content of all your reviews, looking for the three predominating themes, it then chooses a phrase from a review that relates to those themes and displays all three as illustrated above.

Monday 9 February 2015

OnTheMarket - our take

One advantage we may have at HelpHound is that we are not industry insiders, but we do meet a lot of people in the industry. This sometimes gives us a slightly more detached and objective view (we hope). So what do we see when we look at all the comments flying around about OnTheMarket?

For the last three months we have been conducting a straw poll accross every client or prospective client we have met, and the results were enlightening (to us, at least). There were definitely two ends to the spectrum: some used every portal they could lay their hands on and swore by that strategy, others virtually ignored portals and claimed that their clients simply were not interested in the 'how' as long as the 'when' was right. 

There were a large proportion who had no problem with the OnTheMarket 'one other portal' rule as they were only using one (usually, but not always, RightMove or Zoopla). Where were they going post launch? If there was a pattern it was independents for RightMove and corporates for Zoopla.

But the main message was 'don't let all the fuss-and-bother about portals give you the impression that they are the be-all and end-all of estate agency'.

Let's stand back and look at estate agency...

From the consumer's point-of-view:

  • Sellers want the best price possible, usually (but not always) in the shortest time frame
  • Landlords want the highest rent possible with minimum voids
Do they really care how these are achieved? No. Do they know the difference between RightMove and Zoopla (or OnTheMarket)? Not always. Do they want to know? Mostly: not a lot.

So what do they want to know? They want to know that their agent is good at what they do, is professional, is responsive, has great local contacts and knowledge (and all the other good stuff we wrote about here). From the web point-of-view, when their property is listed they want to see it returned in search. Any search.

Find them a buyer/tenant (at the right price) and they're happy, often very happy.*


Want the right home, with the right facilities, in the right location, at the right (keenest) price. They really don't care where or how they find it (or who sells/rents it to them). They have little or no loyalty to any agent, let alone any portal. 

They can be, however, grateful almost to the point of irrationality to the agent who finds them the right property.*

Our conclusion... that some agents risk making far too much noise about portals when they should be thumping their own drum - promoting their own expertise. Acknowledge that portals have a role to play, but major on the service aspects of your role. 

Use reviews to demonstrate that you are great at what you do, not because you say so (or that carefully selected clients say so) but because your clients say so (and they're all invited to do so).

Why the asterisks above? Because those are the people who are going to sell your service for you: happy buyers and sellers, happy landlords and tenants. They are going to write great reviews for you and we bet they never mention a portal when they do!

Thursday 5 February 2015

Dialogue for the Professions - getting off to a great start

The professions (in this context: medicine, the law, financial management, estate agency and the like) come to Dialogue with one (small and eminently surmountable) disadvantage and one massive advantage, compared with, say, those in hospitality.

Whereas hotels and restaurants have numbers in their favour when looking for customers to write reviews (a hundred bed hotel is likely to host upwards of 15,000 guests a year) the professions have an asset that more than makes up for their lack: the customer (client) bond is profoundly greater, and this can be employed to great effect.

Your objective

Your aim will be to get as many great reviews to your website as you can, and get as many of those posted on to whichever external website matters the most (for the purposes of this article let's call that Google). 

To do this effectively you must make the most of this bond. You must optimise the ratio of clients who respond to your invitation to a) write their review to your website and b) go on to copy that review to Google.

Optimising response

In an ideal world every client would respond (to both the invitation to your site and to Google). But we all operate in the real business world, where time is at a premium and emails, despite best intentions, go unanswered.

So our advice to our new clients (born of over eight years' experience) is as follows:
  1. Build the fact that you will be asking every client to write a review into every aspect of client contact. Mention it when you first meet ('We invite all our clients to write a review...') and clients will be actively expecting your email when the transaction is completed.
  2. Make sure all client-facing staff reinforce the message. For instance, clients will often thank staff over the phone or by email, if staff are trained to say 'Oh, please do remember that when you are asked to write your review' the message hits home.
  3. Don't just email (the invitation to write the review) and hope. Most important of all, follow up with a brief phone call.
The crucial phone call 

It takes less than a minute, and it should go something like this...

“Just calling to say that the review you’ve been asked to write is really important to us. Once you have posted your review you will be asked to copy it to Google, this helps us create local awareness, so I’d be really grateful."  

Everyone has their own words to communicate the same message: 'please don't ignore the emails'.

What we do know...

Is that if you do this, you will get reviews, great reviews to your website and great reviews to Google. 

And before you know it, the phone call will become second nature, part and parcel of your customer service regime. 

Click to enlarge or email for your very own copy

Tuesday 3 February 2015

The Times thinks houses should be bought and sold by 'an algorithm' - just like booking a hotel room or insuring your car

Behind the pay-wall the Times (Online and in print) continues: "A sector...where bang for buck has fallen almost every year since 2000. That sector is real estate.

"...output per worker falling by 18 per cent since 2000.

"One possible explanation is that [estate agency] has not experienced the same kind of internet revolution that we've seen elsewhere.

"The internet is at its most powerful when it cuts out the middleman. AirBnB connects those wanting to rent out a room with those wanting a place to stay; Uber [for] taxis.

"In almost every other field we are streamlining the connection between buyers and sellers - yet we still pay estate agents sizeable fees to do something that could quite easily be done by an algorithm.

By now you are getting the gist. And Ed Conway is not alone in thinking that buying and selling your major asset can (and should) be done by 'an algorithm'.

Before we examine this contention in depth, let's look at his two examples, insurance and travel. All types of personal insurance, from motor to household contents to pets is overwhelmingly bought over the web, so is travel, from flights to hotel rooms. But, and this is a significant 'but', they are straightforward purchases. You want to insure your car? Get quotes, pay the premium. You want a hotel room? Decide where and then use TripAdvisor. Job done. Or is it?

On the surface: yes. But let's look at some of the pitfalls. When was the last time you had a complicated claim with an online insurer? Who fought your corner? Have you seen the levels of dissatisfaction amongst those trying to resolve less than straightforward claims? Maybe, just maybe, an insurance broker is worth the extra (in terms of peace of mind, if nothing else)?

Now travel: Do you how much TripAdvisor and the online travel agencies are earning from your booking? Eighteen to twenty-eight per cent is usual. Do you understand that hotels use the online travel agencies as a way of allocating their less than desirable rooms? Do you understand that you cannot 'get a bargain' by booking with an online travel agency (the rate's the rate)?

So: online, maybe not the bright shining light after all? Or at least not quite as obvious a choice as might at first appear. Now let's look at estate agency: it's a slightly more complex transaction than arranging car insurance or booking a hotel room. Who is involved?

  • Seller
  • Buyer
  • Estate Agent
  • Solicitor 1 (seller)
  • Solicitor 2 (buyer)
  • Surveyor 1 (buyer)
  • Surveyor 2 (lender)
  • Mortgage company 1 (seller)
  • Mortgage company 2 (buyer)
  • Bank (not always the same - bridging, for instance)

We're all familiar with the age-old expression 'many a slip...' - there are ten 'cups' and 'lips' listed above. We have absolutely no bias towards either high-street or online estate agencies, but we do have a bias in favour of full-service agencies. Whether the transaction is for £100,000 or £10 million, we reckon everyone needs an experienced full-service estate agent.

So why don't some people (the Times amongst them) agree? It's partly because estate agents themselves fail to make the case for putting a value on their services. And a big part of the reason for that is that no-one wants to highlight what may go wrong when pitching for business, so this is where Dialogue comes in...

Let your reviews do the talking for you

If you read any of our clients' reviews, the same words and phrases keep popping up:
  • 'professional'
  • 'dedicated'
  • 'reliable'
  • 'went the extra mile'
  • 'saved the day'
  • 'resolved issues'
  • 'kept the transaction on track'
  • 'above and beyond'
  • 'honest' 
  • 'our interests at heart'
But the kind of review we really like to see runs like this...

If anyone has any doubts (especially along the lines of 'Will they earn their fee?') before they see our clients' reviews, we sincerely hope they will have been dispelled once they have read them.