TripAdvisor and Customer Service

Everyone is a critic. And now, with sites such as TripAdvisor, everyone can be a restaurant or hotel critic. This turn of events can be a boon for a high quality business. Professional critics visit places rarely, usually only once. Most restaurants or hotels never appear on the radar of reviewed places regardless of the quality of their services. Others appear once: it could be an off day, leaving an indelible mark on their reputation. Now, lots of people can review places, famous or obscure. A restaurateur in our small town of Wolfville, NS, credits such reviews as producing a welcomed bump in his business in the past year.

The process holds risks. One bad review can hurt a business. It moves its overall ranking down the list of local options. It leaves a widely available written record of someone’s disappointment. The impact can be softened by having a large number of reviews, minimizing the impact of an unusually bad review.

For readers of reviews, it is important to keep in mind that they are reading the reviews of amateurs. The qualities that define a great or terrible experience may be unique to that individual. Or they may be one-off events out of the control of the business and unlikely to have relevance for other customers. I have read bad reviews of hotels that hung on the fact that the writer was bothered by being next door to a noisy group. It’s important to consider whether the issue in question is important to you as a customer.

It is important for readers to view positive reviews with a critical frame of mind. For example, we read very positive reviews of a hotel in Sirence, Turkey. The writers were taken by the rural charm of this mountain village. We were less enthusiastic, having found the setting very charming, but were put off by the fact the village had evolved to focus on selling wine and olive oil to people arriving in bus tours. This place was far from unspoiled charm. Similarly the hotel that was glowingly recommended was long on quaint charm but completely lacking in any practical consideration for travelers. There was nowhere to even hang a coat; there certainly was nowhere to put a small suitcase. The shower lacked hot water and the room was cold. These qualities were apparently not relevant to our hardy predecessors at this hotel, but they were important to us. It was especially irritating that the room came at twice the cost of an adequately designed hotel room in a nearby town. So, while I agree that there is a place for inns with minimal comfort and maximum charm, the potential customers should understand the possible implication of these words.

As with any exercise in giving performance reviews, civility plays an important role. Readers know when they see a rant. The important point is that the comments will be widely available to those being critiqued as well as potential customers. Others who have been pleased with the location may be miffed if review appears to challenge their pleasurable experience. As with work-based performance reviews, the best practice is to note specific issues—e.g. the absence of anywhere to hang your clothes—rather than making a global pan of the establishment. In that way, a review may be part of a process of improving the business as well as guiding fellow travelers or diners.

In any case, writing reviews on line is a good way to practice writing to a broad audience. It also could make a contribution towards moving customer service from the empty mantra it is for so many businesses to a reality in our lives.

Do you write reviews?

What have you learned from the experience?

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