By Robert Reitknecht, Hospitality Leader and Guest Experience Expert
In Dec. 2017, a story ran on VICE titled, “I Made My Shed the Top-Rated Restaurant on TripAdvisor.” The author explained how, as part of a curious experiment, he successfully turned his backyard into London’s top-rated restaurant.
Online reviews were written by real people on different computers to evade the company’s anti-scammer technology. The author turned down every reservation inquiry, saying “The Shed at Dulwich” was fully booked for the next six weeks. Then, for one night only, the backyard was transformed into the tout ed restaurant where customers were served frozen dinners cooked in a kitchen microwave.
“I invited people into a hastily-assembled collection of chairs outside of my shed, and they left thinking it really could be the best restaurant in London—just on the basis of a TripAdvisor rating,” the author concluded.
Of course, this story is not a good example of how to bolster recognition or create genuine customer relationships (business owners should strictly prohibit such deceitful tactics). It does, however, perfectly demonstrate the power of guest reviews; no amount of industry research or satisfaction reports can compare.
The Indisputable Influence of Reviews
There is nothing more telling than hearing in a guest’s own words how his or her experience was, nor nothing more influential for prospective customers. Over 90% of people read online customer reviews, with 84% trusting them just as much as friends. In today’s experiential age where relationships matter more than service, reviews are a critical representation of a brand’s quality and core values. In hospitality, a shining review loyally advocates for a property. A bad review, on the other hand…well, I’m sure you get the picture.
This was a topic of discussion at Medallia’s Experience ’18 conference, which I attended May 15-16 in Long Beach, CA. Guests today are quicker than ever to penalize companies for negative experiences and reward them for positive ones: 47% say they have avoided a company because of its online reputation or negative reviews. For the hospitality industry, where 45% of guests believe organizations do not exceed expectations, reviews hang in the balance.
So, what can hoteliers do to increase the effectiveness of their ratings? Believe it or not, there’s more to this than simply improving quality of service.
What Makes for an Amazing Guest Review
Perhaps the best way to impr ove reviews is to assess those with excellent ratings to identify commonalities or patterns. A recent study published by Cornell based on TripAdvisor review analyses recommends looking for lengthy reviews that “focus tightly on just a few issues.” The study found that the details in these reviews are “generally more accurate than the numerical ratings the reviewer gives,” and tend to be most useful for implementing effective changes. In other words, the content of reviews (i.e. sentiment, quality of writing, themes) can vary substantially from numerical satisfaction ratings. Often, the most helpful information will not be quantifiable.
Here were other key findings from the study:
• 70% of reviews discussed the guest experience
• Reviews with higher numerical ratings tend to be shorter and broader in topic, whereas reviews with lower ratings tend to be longer and specific to certain issues
• For TripAdvisor specifically, negative comme nts carry more weight in a guest’s rating than positive ones. This means a simple average of positive and negative numerical scores may not provide a clear view of guests’ opinion of a hotel
Meanwhile, a separate TripAdvisor analyses conducted by independent travel industry research firm Atmosphere Research Group found that highly engaged hotels perform best on the review site. These properties take several steps to reach this distinction, including:
• Publishing at least 10 management photos to their TripAdvisor listing
• Responding to at least 25% of guest reviews
• Adding direct contact information to their TripAdvisor page with business listings
• Registering themselves in the TripAdvisor Management Center
As a result, these hotels:
• Received nearly four times more page views on TripAdvisor than competitors
• Enjoyed a 63% higher average popularity ranking, enabling them to be seen by two of every th ree travelers searching their market
• Saw 30-40% more traveler interaction with revenue-driving products like business listings
In the end, it seems the best goal that hotels (or any organization) can strive for is consistency: “It is better for hotels to provide guests with a moderately good overall experience than a hotel stay that is extremely good in some regards and terrible in others,” the Cornell study states.
Reflecting on my 30+ years of industry experience, I’ll leave you with some last key takeaways:
• Always acknowledge the good and the poor guest experience; don’t ignore a poor review for fear of what might happen. Be present and outcome-oriented.
• Work to deliver same-day responses to poor reviews; it’s one of the most important things you can do to let dissatisfied guests know you are present and listening.
• Respond just as diligently to positive reviews. These guests can be defined as “promoters ” of your business, and you really want them to tell as many people about the genuine care and comfort you created for them. Thank these customers for their loyalty, invite them back, and acknowledge any associates mentioned who helped create an amazing experience.
• At the end of the day, the only two words that matter in hospitality are “guest experience.” Whenever responding to guest reviews, be sure to pepper in the experiences you’re creating.
• Try to see things from the guest’s point of view; do your best to take off your supervisor lenses.
• Always ask guests to return to your property, whether a positive or negative review. Remember: the guest is feeling an emotional connection to your brand, good or bad, when a review is written. Your goal is to either encourage or course-correct.
With guest reviews directly impacting business performance and revenue, it would benefit any property to improve their ratings. Here’s to ensu ring a constant stream of positive reviews that produce unlimited opportunities!
Hospitality Leader and Guest Experience Expert