The last week has been an interesting time in the online travel review world with some serious questions about the reliability and honesty of customer reviews being raised.
First an English hotelier threatened to sue the hotel review site Tripadvisor over a negative review and then the same site sanctioned an Irish hotel for obvious fake positive reviews. Today, the travel site Orbitz has announced they’ll allow user reviews from people who’ve never actually used the service.
There’s no doubt these sites are important to businesses. In hospitality, customers check the online reviews of cafes, restaurants and hotels before planning meals or holidays. Smartcompany has previously listed a range of sites where customers review businesses in other sectors.
So given the value of positive reviews on these sites, how do we ensure our businesses get positive coverage?
Sue the critics
You can always lawyer up and threaten the bad guys. If you can identify the malicious reviewers, a “nastygram” from a your solicitor may shut them down. This is expensive though and high risk if the bad reviewers goes public with your threats.
Also, experience shows that restaurants who succeed in the courts usually don’t do well in the marketplace. Most litigious proprietors find their establishments out of business long before the judge or jury vindicates them.
Bribe your customers
Quite a few businesses do this by offering freebies and discounts to customers who write nice reviews. This can work well but be careful you don’t put these offers in writing as the sites themselves frown on this behaviour.
Write your own reviews
As politicians and spin doctors know, the best way of controlling the message is to create your own narrative. You’ll need to be anonymous and you have to establish credibility by having more than just a single gushing review of your own establishment. So it’s worthwhile visiting your competitors and writing mildly complimentary reviews about them before submitting the sparkling review of your premises.
Listen to your customers
Even the best establishments have the odd crook day and if even yours doesn’t there will be some customers who are never happy. Use the ‘social’ part of “social media” and engage with them. If you are honest and upfront you’ll find a polite reply will actually win customers from a bad review.
Online review sites can also be thought of as a free customer feedback service. Consistent poor reviews on a specific area such as food or stroppy staff are sending you a message that something needs to be fixed. The Clare Hotel, the Irish establishment referred to above, clearly has a problem which all the rigged reviews in the world aren’t going to fix.
Deliver a great service
Ultimately these review sites are about lifting the game for all businesses. It means we have to all have to make sure we’re delivering our best product because people are talking about us and sharing their experiences. If we do a great job, that will be reflected in the majority of our reviews.
Review sites are important and they are changing the way our customers find us. But in many ways there’s nothing new about these services, they’re a modern variation on word of mouth marketing which is the most basic and fundamental way of attracting clients.
We need to keep in mind that ultimately the flashiness of our websites, the slickness of our marketing or the bling of our fitouts really don’t matter – it’s the quality of our product that matters.