From Zero to Hero - How to avoid damaging online reviews

Updated: Jul 2, 2018

When me and my business partners opened our new ice cream shop in Bali, the initial aim was simple, be the number 1 dessert place on the island. I mean, who could resist trying the #1 dessert outlet in the #1 tourist destination in the world right? An ambitious goal no doubt, but one we were confident in achieving. We had the product, the staff and a really relax and cool vibe. So the plan was set and off we went. I won’t go into detail now about what we did (that is for another time), but 5 months later, we hit #1.

Now before I go on, for those of you who know anything about addiction, it largely comes from the release of dopamine. If you have never seen Simon Sinek’s video on Millennials, have a watch. It’s not only extremely educational but a good laugh as well. 15 minutes well spent in my opinion. He talks a lot about addiction to mobile phones and social media. The release of dopamine we get when receiving a like or text message. It creates an addiction to those stimuli. Well, needless to say, this was me when we got another 5-bubble review, or climbed another ranking spot. It’s the only way I could explain my newly developed obsession with Tripadvisor rankings.

But I digress, so back to it. Like any great tragedy (think Tiger Woods type tragedy rather than the Titanic), any great rise comes with an inevitable fall. But what was truly disheartening was just how quickly our fall came. After months of planning, near perfect execution by our amazing staff, countless perfect reviews, and a steady climb up the rankings, it took just 2 days for our Tripadvisor party to come to an abrupt end. Two 1 bubble reviews was all it took to go from Rodger Federer to Dudi Sela. Who is Dudi Sela you ask? well that’s kind of the point. Nothing against Dudi by the way. He’s actually raked 67 in the world tennis rankings and I’m sure a very good player. But at a ranking of 67, not too many people would know him (a bit like properties ranked lower on Tripadvisor). Anyway, we fell quicker than a 500-kilo sky diver! 1 to 15 in just 2 days. It took multiple 5 bubble reviews to move up just a few positions, how could 2 reviews create such havoc?

Now, we didn’t want to be accused of impersonating an ostrich (for those who are unfamiliar with Australian slang – we didn’t want to put our heads in the sand and ignore what the reviews had to say), but we were slightly suspicious that immediately after reaching #1, 2 first time reviews rated us 1 bubble within a day. We’d barely had a rating below 5 bubbles, so it did seem odd. But the reality was it didn’t matter if they were legitimate reviews or a competitor engaging in sabotage, the reviews were published and our ranking plummeted! It was a valuable lesson early on. Negative reviews can be more impactful, and have a much quicker effect on your business than positive reviews.

Now I have spoken to Smergon, the Weasel, and the Russian about this, and all confirmed the majority of a properties efforts go into obtaining positive Tripadvisor reviews. Makes sense, right? This is why properties utilize Tripadvisor’s Review Express tool. There is an obvious advantage in this tool in that your guest doesn’t have to create a trip advisor account to leave a review (certainly a point of resistance in gaining more great reviews). But with the good comes the potentially harmful. In this case, the platform makes it just as easy to leave a negative review as a positive one. That is unless you are a certain serviced apartment group here in Australia. Have a read at . This business obviously understood the impact of negative reviews but chose to negate the impact using dubious tactics rather than addressing the issues head on. Always remember, Trip advisor are smart cookies, and trying to fool them is fraught with danger. Ultimately the High Court of Australia ruled this company had deliberately engaged in deceitful conduct and gave them a good wack with the naughty stick (on top of the inevitable wack they are sure to receive from trip advisor themselves).

I sent this same article to Smergon, and as the former head of customer relations in one of the biggest hotels in Asia, needless to say, he had some valuable insights. When asked about the Review Express tool he was unequivocal:

“We thought about using it for our hotel, but it would just open the flood gates. It’s also not personalized, it doesn’t address the guest by name or stay information. Properties shouldn’t pay big money in fines by trying to mislead the public. They should focus on real service encounters and utilize those”.

Giles Gordon-Smith wrote a great article for Hotelier on behavioural techniques to avoid negative reviews. Here’s the link, it’s another great read:

Ultimately, I think it comes down to 1 single question: ‘Do you care about me and my problem? If the guest feels you do, and are doing everything possible to rectify the situation, they are highly unlikely to leave a negative review. Because as Giles’ article suggests, it’s generally not the problem itself that annoys guests, it’s the poor handling of that problem that really agitates them. I found it ironic there was a healthcare reference in the article, as in my past life as a healthcare consultant, the number one patient question that we taught practitioners how to answer was ‘do you care about me and the issues I am having?’.

I know I know, you’re asking yourselves “that’s great, but how to I avoids these negative reviews in practicality?”. Well, the behaviours outlined by Giles are a great start, but ultimately you must action a negative customer experience to mitigate its impact. That means, taking the behavioural techniques and combining them with an actionable pathway.

Enter the SABA Hospitality recovery tool. It not only allows you to capture negative customer experiences in real time, but elevates them to the appropriate department for immediate recovery. It can turn a negative into a positive within minutes (not to mention demonstrating an unparalleled level of care by putting in place an actioned response in front of a guest’s eyes). It’s personal, has impact and creates results. Forget a generic email from your GM expressing regret, your guest will see right through that, it no longer works. You must make it personal, make it real and make it quick. The recovery tool is specifically built for this very purpose. Who knows, that possible 1 bubble review, could become a 4-5 bubble raving fan, and guest for life.

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