The first is that if a fish and chip shop can make the time and take the effort, so can any business. It is now accepted fact that consumers will choose a business that responds to review over one that does not.
The second is the quality of response. Compare this from the Ritz…
…we are not for one moment suggesting that the Ritz take a leaf out of Pinnacles’ book as to tone, but content? Certainly – Pinnacles’ responses address the issues raised by their reviewers, and this impresses readers. Mostly the Ritz, when addressing negative reviews, adopts the all-too-common approach of ‘we have dealt with this privately’ or ‘please contact us/we will contact you’ which leaves the reader of the review none-the-wiser.
The third? Pinnacles’ is not perfect – In common with a huge swathe of the hospitality industry – from hotels to restaurants to B&Bs, Pinnacles’ focus is on TripAdvisor. Google has been neglected…
…with a low score and reviews left unanswered. Hospitality would do well to remember that Google reviews are seen first, especially mobile, and give them just as much attention as those on TripAdvisor and the OTAs.
If you are in any doubt as to the mechanics of responding to reviews on Google, or any other platform – or if you feel a review is incorrect or unfair and would like advice on appealing it (as did Nearwater in St Mawes in this interesting case) just call us and we will advise you.
just for a moment, Google rang you and said ‘we are going to allow you
unlimited space to promote your business*, all you have to do is write
the words’. What would you do?
Decline politely? Write the bare minimum? Or, as we are suggesting, give serious consideration to every word you craft? *Because that’s exactly what Google are allowing you to do when responding to reviews.
Here are some tips on how to respond to online reviews – whatever your business, and whatever the reviews platform. Some are basic CRM, some may be less obvious, but nonetheless important; let’s start with the basics…
Respond. Businesses that respond to reviews do more business. It’s as simple as that.
Respond to all your reviews. It constantly astonishes us how many businesses only respond to negative reviews. A response takes minutes at the most, seconds usually.
Be aware that you are speaking to every potential customer when you respond. Most businesses address the writer of the review and forget that they have an opportunity to impress all those who read it.
If this is as far as you read (and then act) you will already be doing a better job than 90% of businesses on the planet. Read on if you want to get into the top 1%!
A simple ‘Thank you’ or ‘We’re sorry’ is better than nothing at all.
Tailoring your response
It should not take long (and if it does it usually means the review in question has the potential to do real harm to your business if not responded to correctly). Here are some tips and examples.
This is a fairly ‘standard’ negative review. There is nothing the business can do – it is not against Google’s T&Cs, so it cannot be appealed (consult us if you do have an unfair or inaccurate negative review, we will advise you if there is a chance that it may be taken down on appeal) – except respond, which the business has done.
But how could the response be refined? Perhaps something like this (if the customer is recognised):
Or this (if the customer is unknown to the business):
Points to note – ‘Dos’:
Always begin by using the reviewer’s name (as posted – not as you may know it internally). If the reviewer has posted as MickeyMouse123 then address them as such – that is the convention
Write so as to impress any third-party (a potential customer) reading your response that you are represent a well-managed caring business. Expressions such as ‘As soon as I saw…’
Refer to the positive nature of the majority of your reviews
Refer to the fact that it is company policy to proactively invite reviews
Predict a positive outcome
Always sign the review in person – never ‘Customer services’ or unattributed
If you don’t want to disclose an individual email address make sure your business has a dedicated address for review correspondence
Points to note – Don’ts:
Never disclose a customer’s personal or financial details in a response: ‘your credit card was declined’ or ‘your references were unsatisfactory’
Don’t get into a confrontational situation – it helps no-one, least of all your business, if you agrue in public (bear in mind that reviewers can edit their review – both ways)
NEVER offer financial incentives – either for posting reviews or for modifying them – a comment along the lines of ‘They offered me £x to delete this review’ is difficult, if not impossible, to come back from
Responding to positive reviews
You would think this would be a piece of cake – what could go wrong? Well, in two words: ‘missed opportunities’.
Let’s look at an example:
Here the business has responded – a massive step in the right direction. but could they have done better? Remember Google’s invitation? Here goes…
See? Don’t miss the opportunity to refer to products and services that may be relevant to anyone reading the review and your response. And, again, do sign off with your name and position.
If you follow the advice contained in this article you will see more of the benefits of properly engaging with reviews, whichever platform they are on.
Google has been fined by the EU for abusing its dominant position in search. In short: for promoting its own services above those of its advertisers.
The company has 90 days to make changes and must “refrain from any
measure that has the same or an equivalent object or effect”, the
Does this have any implications from the point-of-view of reviews?
This Commission/FT infographic shows just how important position in search is
Even the most cursory glance at any search will show Google reviews, very prominently indeed. Yelp and TripAdvisor have been complaining about this for many years. The EU did not directly criticise this aspect of search (the focus was predominantly on Google’s comparison shopping service), but logic says that they will be keeping a close eye on it. And so will we.
Google have 90 days to react to the Commission’s finding (ignore the comments already appearing in forums saying things along the lines of ‘Google’s so big they can tell the EU to get lost’ – they cannot and they will not) and make changes to ensure they are compliant with the ruling. When they do we will update you. If anything indicates a change of strategy we will advise you accordingly – that’s why you engaged a review manager, not a single reviews solution that can be great one day and redundant the next.
For 2017 we have made some adjustments that will make our service for hotels even easier to understand – and adopt.
There are two core reasons your hotel should adopt HelpHound:
impact on your online image
effect on your direct bookings
In more detail…
Looking as good as can be all over the web
It’s so simple – as soon as you embed HelpHound the following happens:
Negative comments – everywhere – fall
Positive comments – on all open sites (TripAdvisor, Google and so on) rise
You know your guests want to read reviews before booking – HelpHound enables you to display them on your own website so you can increase your chances of the guest booking direct – no clicking away to OTAs
You know your guests are looking for them – so HelpHound enables you to show them. That way there’s far less temptation to go elsewhere.
And there’s more…
Do you respond to your online reviews? Everywhere? Fine – you don’t need Feedback Manager. But so many hoteliers tell us that they lack the resources to manage this aspect of their business, so we do it for them – full time or part time (during staff holidays, for instance).
This response – personal and professional – will impress anyone reading the review. Note that the hotel has addressed the positive comments in the review rather than just posting a simple ‘thank you’ as so many do.
Some of you may be asking ‘Why is it so important to respond to reviews?’ The answer is simple:
it impresses future guests
it reduces the likelihood that a disgruntled guest will post a negative review
The full service
HelpHound is so much more than just software. We are review managers and we will provide ongoing help and support on anything related to reviews – including appealing unfair TripAdvisor or Google reviews. We are here to make sure our clients present the best possible image online, as they do physically with their properties.
Now for £1 a room/month. No ifs, no buts. With no contract for the first six months – that’s how confident we are that you will see the benefits – fast.
If you cannot trust reviews, what is their point? Our answer: there’s no point at all.
It’s not often that the Times makes reviews the subject of their leading article, but they did today – and the punchline is, as you can see, that you can’t trust them, and, for ‘proper scrutiny of products and services, read actual journalism.’
You might expect us to launch into a defence of reviews, but we are not going to. Why? Because we agree with much of the thrust of what the Times is saying.
Before online reviews there was advertising and there were testimonials and there were reviews written by journalists. At least with advertising you know the business is putting its own spin on the message, and with testimonials it’s the same – have you ever read a critical testimonial? And, while we’re sure the Times’ journalists have never been guilty of this – there were reviews written by journalists who had benefited from the product or service under review. From free holidays to long-term ‘loans’ of products from food-mixers to motor cars.
So along came the web – and with it, online consumer reviews. But there were, and still are, reviews and reviews.
Reviews should be the answer to all consumers’ prayers: honestly held opinions, freely available for all to see before a product is purchased or a service is contracted.
It’s – still – a minefield. Why? Because of two things: human nature and the business interests of those publishing the reviews.
It’s not compulsory to write a review when you’ve purchased a product or stayed in a hotel. So who does? Leaving aside those kind folk who see it as their life’s mission to help people they have never met find the ideal toast-rack, it is much more likely to be someone who is dissatisfied (about 15 times more likely according to Cornell School of Hospitality’s research). And this tilts the playing-field away from the product or service. In the world of online reviews if a product or service scores 9 out of 10 (or 4.5 out of 5 in Google’s own world) it’s probably pretty near perfect. Just because you cannot please all of the people all of the time – one person’s ideal hotel is another guest’s hell-on-earth.
But – on this benchmark – why are so many businesses we see on the web pretty near perfect in terms of their reviews and scores? It would be charitable to think that, because businesses mostly strive to be as good as possible, for purely commercial reasons, then most of them come close.
Just for a moment let’s look at a recent example of a business where the online reviews are in conflict with one of the Times’s august journalists:
Before you leap to point out that he’s just reviewing the breakfast, the full article makes plain that he’s reviewing his stay as well
And here’s the same Hotel on TripAdvisor:
And here’s a guest review written a week after Mr Coren stayed:
We’re not saying this review is fraudulent, just that, with TripAdvisor doing as little as they admit to doing currently to check the veracity of their reviews and reviewers, it could be. As could any of the other reviews – written by the business (positive) or their competitors (negative).
What can we learn from this? It would be nice to be able to say that Giles Coren and ‘aday375’ (for that is the TripAdvisor reviewer’s username) have differing requirements and standards, but, unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. Because we don’t know for certain that ‘aday375’ is a bona-fide guest. And this is of fundamental importance as far as HelpHound is concerned: if the review platform cannot stand behind its reviews, or is not doing its utmost to ensure that all its reviews – and reviewers – are genuine, then we think consumers should be encouraged to view it with a deal of scepticism.
As regular readers of this blog are aware, we have written about this aspect of TripAdvisor – and other review sites – for as long as we can remember. And, again: for as long as we can remember, TripAdvisor have been responding with the same platitudes as this quote in today’s Times:
“Because we have been tracking reviews for 16 years, we can spot what is normal reviewer behaviour and what isn’t. That said, the world of fraud is an ever changing landscape.”
Not good enough TripAdvisor.
For reasons better known to TripAdvisor, in spite of their acknowledgment that ‘fraud is an ever changing landscape‘, it is just as easy to write a fraudulent review now, in 2016, as it was in the early days of TripAdvisor. A reviewer can still register with any old Hotmail email address, you can still hide behind a ‘MickeyMouse123’ username, you still don’t have to provide any evidence that you have stayed at the hotel you are reviewing – you don’t even have to provide evidence that you have visited the country where the hotel you are reviewing is located! We know, because we opened a new TripAdvisor account today.
It may have been ‘good enough’ in 2002 when technology was clunky, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was still in high school and G+ was not even a gleam in Google’s eye. But it is definitively not good enough now. There are myriad ways that a company like TripAdvisor (profit of $63 million on turnover of $1.4billion at last count) could give its reviews, and its reviewers, more credibility. So why doesn’t it? Is is because of Abraham Lincoln’s old adage that ‘You can fool… all of the people’? Or is it, more prosaically, because its share price is influenced by the volume of reviews that are written?
Our message to TripAdvisor: Invest in credibility or, one day, ‘all of the people’ may rumble you.
It’s not only TripAdvisor. We know of another popular review site where, for fairness’s sake, any paying business member can appeal a review that they consider unfair, misleading or inaccurate and it will be suspended pending a response from the reviewer. So far so good, but unfortunately our old friend human nature plays into unscrupulous businesses’ hands here as well: they found that if they appealed every negative review, very few reviewers would bother to engage with the review site a second time. These sites are now known in the trade as ‘nine-out-of-ten’ sites because all their savvy business clients score – you guessed it – nine out of ten!
There is a flip side too: sites like Yelp believe so fervently in freedom of speech that a reviewer who has never used or visited a business can trash a business’s reputation simply because they don’t like something the business was reported as doing in the press.
It gets worse before it gets better: there’s one big US site that provides a feed of reviews for it’s business customers to display on their own websites. Again: so far so good, until you realise that the business can choose which reviews to display. Sigh!
Thank you Google
Thank goodness, from the consumer’s point-of-view, that Google got stuck in – better late than never – to the world of online reviews. They made some of the same mistakes in the early days, but they have upped their game recently. At least there are far fewer ‘A Google user’ anonymous reviews now compared with the early days. But there are disadvantages: it is still very difficult for a business to appeal against a review that is unfair or misleading.
Given the power Google has in influencing consumers – with a huge amount of real-estate on page 1 of search devoted to Google reviews, we think they could usefully loosen up their appeals process to allow patently false reviews to be appealed (we had success for this client whose hotel had been maligned by a sofa-bound TV-watching critic, but only after the hotelier had resorted to the national press and we offered to help).
So what about our clients’ reviews?
As you might imagine from reading everything we have said so far, we have put a lot of effort into making sure the reviews that our clients display give a fair and accurate impression of our clients’ businesses. After all, it’s our name on the review on their website.
Let’s follow our process right through from invitation to final review – and question every stage:
Stage 1. Our client – the business – sends an invitation to its customer to write a review. Or someone – who may of may not be a customer, visits the business’s website and clicks on their ‘write a review’ button.
How does HelpHound know that the business is inviting bona-fide customers to post reviews? If
a business really wanted to get fake favourable reviews published in
theory they could – by seeding their mailing list. But we have a strict
two strikes rule at HelpHound. If a business is found to have in any way
encouraged a fake review they receive a written warning, if they repeat
the behavior they are put into purdah pending an investigation (no more
reviews will be published). If the investigation establishes that there
is malice aforethought (as opposed to an intern ‘trying to be helpful’)
their membership of HelpHound is terminated. Stage 2. Our moderators read the review and then send an email to the reviewer so they can verify that they are the author of the review. If the review contains abuse or allegations of illegality we respond to the reviewer inviting them to re-submit their review. In the case of illegality they will be informed that they must seek legal advice.
Why won’t we accept abuse? We don’t consider that abusive reviews help anyone – consumer or business. If a consumer wants to abuse a business, including using ‘foul and abusive’ language there are websites like Yelp that will happily publish their views. The core ethos of HelpHound is built around the concept of businesses and consumers working together to ensure, as far as is possible, a satisfactory outcome for both. That does not mean that the consumer cannot rate the business one star as well as giving it a thorough going-over, it just means they have to use the kind of language acceptable in a family newspaper. Stage 3. Either: Positive reviews are published to the business’s HelpHound module displayed on their website, whilst simultaneously an email is sent to the reviewer telling them that their review has been published and inviting them to copy their review to a second platform of the business’s choice (Google, or Facebook or TripAdvisor – or any other open site).
Can the business/reviewer respond? Yes. If the positive review is subsequently established to be inaccurate or misleading can it be deleted? Yes, but the reviewer will be invited to post a revised review. Stage 3. Or: Negative reviews are sent to the business for comment. An email is sent simultaneously to the reviewer informing them and reinforcing their right to have their final review published, whatever the business’s response to the reviewer – we call this system Resolution™ because it is specifically designed so consumers can resolve issues with the business concerned. In theory the correspondence between the reviewer and the business has no cut-off point. In practice it is unusual for either party to communicate more then once or twice. What if the reviewer insists on having their original review published? That’s their right, and a proportion do. The business also has the right of reply and the reviewer has the right to edit their review.
Can a complete outsider influence our moderation policy? yes, anyone – absolutely anyone – can flag any published review on a HelpHound clients’ site and it will be reviewed.
There is a downside of this for HelpHound: we cannot work for or with a business that is not seriously committed to excellence in customer service. Because bad businesses will look bad thanks to our system. Their customers would rightly insist on their negative reviews being posted – and they would end up scoring badly. But that’s the only way we are happy to stand four square behind what we do.
At HelpHound we have done our utmost to make this system as fair to all parties concerned as we possibly can whilst retaining everyone’s trust. Resolution is very popular – we often get positive comments from users – and effective. But if you have any suggestions about how we can refine or improve it please comment.
As review managers our only loyalty is to our clients – who will ultimately be paying for this. We are inclined to think that this is a reaction to the increased traction Google are getting in the hotel reviews space.
So dominant in the world of hotel reviews for so long, TripAdvisor are becoming increasingly marginalised in almost all kinds of search for hotels and restaurants.
Google – on the other hand – have gained critical mass in terms of the numbers of reviews in popular centres and are making the most of their dominant position in search.
Consumers have traditionally visited TripAdvisor to read reviews and see candid photos. Withreviews and photos in numbers (which was not the case even a year ago) – and a completely dominant position in search – many potential guests are satisfied with Google’s offering now
Over the last year Google have massively refined their offering for those searching online for hotels. Adding features such as the Filter:
And ‘Top Rated’:
Consider very carefully where you would like your guests to be posting their reviews. As Google becomes more sophisticated, so review management becomes an essential weapon in the professional hoteliers’ armoury; helping you deflect negative reviews away from the public gaze and maximising positive comment on sites that matter.
A HelpHound client should expect 25% more positive reviews on their agreed target sites (usually TripAdvisor and Google) and 75% less negatives across the board (on TripAdvisor, Google, Booking.com and all the OTAs that carry reviews).
As your professional review managers you have full-time access to a team that stays abreast of developments in the reviews space. If you are ever in doubt about strategy just speak to your HelpHound consultant.
Regular readers will be familiar with us constantly – and consistently, we hope! – banging the drum for professional review management and we would like to use this article to re-define it yet again.
What is ‘professional review management’? It’s about doing the very best for our clients. and that means having your interests and our interests exactly aligned: it means acting as professional advisers, just like your accountants and lawyers – without any bias whatsoever.
So how does that translate into results?
We recommend the best solution for each and every client, no matter what business they are in; and that always means:
having – and showing – reviews on your own website
Your reviews, not ours. Our role is simple and it’s twofold: it is to enable your business to:
reassure those reading your reviews that they are 100% genuine, and to
enable you to manage misleading or unfair comments pre-publication
And then to:
make sure a significant number of those reviews appear elsewhere on the web where they will do your business the most good
It helps to understand some history of reviews on the web. They were born out of early internet technology which, for the first time, allowed two-way conversations. The first manifestation of this was internet forums. Out of those forums were born sites like TripAdvisor, soon to be followed by ‘pure’ review sites like Yelp. Internet reviews as we now understand them were born.
Then something quite fundamental happened: Google, which until around 2010 had simply been a search engine – a gateway to the web, and therefore a gateway to all kinds of review sites, some specialist (like TripAdvisor for hotels or AllAgents for estate agents), some generalist (like Yelp and AngiesList) – quietly launched Google Places.
Google places, at first hidden away in Google Maps, began to invite Google users to post reviews of businesses – any business.
HelpHound and Google reviews
We recognised, way back in 2011, what Google were planning. They had decided to transform themselves from ‘gateway’ to ‘gatekeeper’.
Google as Gatekeeper
This was a move that was to revolutionise Google’s role. No longer would Google simply provide straightforward search results, based on all kinds of SEO based criteria. They would now allow any business’s customers to influence search…
by publishing their opinions as reviews
At HelpHound we saw the impact of this move on the independent review sites. TripAdvisor and Yelp were huge (Yelp had a market capitalisation of over $5bn), but alongside Google they were mere minnows. The smaller – often specialist – sites became plankton alongside the minnows. Our advice changed
As a direct result we began advising our clients to focus away from the independent sites and towards Google reviews. HelpHound’s own role remained the same, only now we were focusing on our clients’ own sites and Google, rather than their own sites and a range of independent review sites.
That’s one huge advantage!
By being flexible – and able to give the best advice all the time – in an ever changing world, we are able to retain our clients, and our clients are able to relax in the certain knowledge that they are always being advised to do the right thing. By being a client of HelpHound you are effectively future-proofing your business in the context of reviews.
How have the independent sites reacted?
They have been forced to adopt strategies to add value – for their users and their shareholders. TripAdvisor has effectively morphed into an online travel agency (OTA). Yelp has appealed to the US Senate – on the basis that Google is taking unfair advantage of its virtual monopoly position (unsuccessfully). The smaller specialist sites have had to adopt an ‘if you cant beat them…’ strategy in an attempt to claw back some value for their clients, often involving become a Google Partner.
Google Partnering is a programme that Google introduced to allow ‘partners” review scores to show in Google ads and Google search. It has effectively allowed Google to say to people – like the US Senate mentioned above – that they are not taking advantage of their position as gatekeeper, whilst maximising revenue from Google ads. But it is a very weak solution when compared to playing Google at their own game and looking great in Google reviews.
Here are two examples; the first business has reviews on an independent review site (a Google Partner), the second has reviews on their own site and on Google:
HelpHound has no bias
It is important to understand that HelpHound has no bias against independent review sites. We have recommended them to our clients in the past, and we will recommend them again, if and when using them becomes the right advice for our clients.
But we want our clients to look like the second of these screengrabs – and so they do! We also want our clients to understand the journey their potential customers make on their way to making that crucial first contact:
Google search – be impressed by Google reviews
Visit website – be further impressed by independently verified reviews
It is as simple as 1 – 2 – 3. And that is just how we make it. To see just how quickly your business can go from zero to hero on your own site and on Google, read this case history.
Then take a screenshot of your own Google search result and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and she will tell you just how professional review management will work for your business.
Quite a lot – according to the House of Lords. Accusations cover a wide range:
artificially inflating prices by denying the hotels the right to undercut their (the OTA’s) quoted prices – rate parity clauses
their financial firepower to dominate Google PPC – resulting in
individual hotels being unable to afford to compete for their own names
using cookies to harvest price sensitive information about travelers in order to up-price offers
giving preference in search to hotels who pay the OTA the most commission
not committing significant resources in the battle to eliminate fake reviews
using misleading advertising to give the impression that the consumer would be financially better off booking through the OTA
only thing that puzzles us at HelpHound about this sorry state of
affairs is that the solution has been right there in the hands of the
hospitality industry for years now. And it’s so simple:
Look great on Google and TripAdvisor: get great reviews there and have a mechanism for managing comments from less than thrilled guests direct – and offline
Look great on your own websites:
what does your prospective guests want to see there? Loads of high
resolution images, lots more independently verified reviews and a ‘best
So let’s look at an example:
would this hotel be satisfied with ranking at 385 in London when,
virtually at the flick of a switch, they could increase their positive
guest reviews by at least a quarter and reduce the negatives by
Why would they allow their Google score to dwindle to within 0.2 of being filtered from mobile search?
And where are the reviews that their potential guests crave? And their price promise?
We have chosen the Cranley precisely because they are representative of good hotels in London. We are just surprised that these good hotels are content to leave their reputations in the hands of the OTAs when they so evidently do not reflect the guest experience and must be doing harm to the hotel.
The hotel – and every other hotel – needs to engage with proactive and professional review management:
to minimise the amount of inaccurate and misleading negative reviews that are published about them – anywhere in the web
to give their guests an easy channel to enable them to write reviews – on the hotel’s own website and to external sites that matter: Google, TripAdvisor and the rest
Torquay’s hoteliers must be thrilled with their sixth place in Tripadvisor’s UK Top 10 Destinations for 2016. Perhaps not so thrilled with the image Tripadvisor has used to illustrate the delights of this holiday destination on the English Riviera:
no-one was injured in the Babbacombe landslide of April 2013
Here’s another image uploaded by TripAdvisor user ‘reowa’ charmingly entitled ‘red cliffs at Babbacombe beach’:
Propping up the Top 10 is a city ‘Famed for its football team…’.
Well, we know that the only team in Manchester owned by TAs fellow
countrymen is United (strictly in Salford, but whose to quibble), but I
can’t imagine City fans will be overly impressed.
Seriously though, a little professional review management just might have averted this – all reviews – and images – posted through HelpHound are moderated.
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