Sunday, April 14, 2013

Managing Reputations: Trip Advisor review responses

A survey by Trip Advisor might not seem the most objective of devices to discover how highly travellers rate the use of Trip Advisor in making travel decisions, but a finding that 93% of travellers who said that review sites, such as Trip Advisor, influence their plans does not strike me as being the least bit unobjective. It's fully believable.

Trip Advisor, for all it gets some bad press, knows it has to be as reliable as possible. It has an online reputation to keep, after all. And online reputation is what Trip Advisor is all about. The same survey that the website has carried out indicates that a doubling of the number of opinions that an establishment receives can lead, in the case of hotels, to a 3% increase in bookings. However this conclusion is arrived at, you can be sure that the increase would not occur if there were a doubling in the number of opinions and they were all bad.

Monitoring online reputation has now become, or should have become, a must-do management procedure, not just for hotels. Most businesses know that this reputation should be monitored, and many do monitor what is said, but precious few seem to do anything about what is said. Monitoring, as in taking a look, is the least of what this monitoring should entail. Far more important is the response and ultimately the action.

I have conducted an unscientific survey of Trip Advisor, one to see how many businesses do actually respond to reviews. The results are far from encouraging. I chose hotels in Puerto Alcúdia, of which there are 47 ranked on Trip Advisor. From these 47 I selected ten from different parts of the ranking. Of the ten, only one hotel - an Iberostar - had made any response to a review. Another, Bellevue, used to give responses; I know because I was once with the assistant director of the complex when he was looking at reviews and replying. This was in 2009 though. Maybe the hotel has just given up. When a quarter of the reviews for your hotel (770 out of 2894) are rated as "terrible", then it must be very disheartening.

I looked at reviews for another resort, Magalluf. Of half a dozen from the 33 hotels listed, the interaction with reviewers seemed stronger. Two Sol hotels (Meliá) had replied and so had Mallorca Rocks. Eventually. A two month gap between a review being posted and a response being given isn't how this is supposed to work, but better late than never. Of other businesses I looked at, hardly any bothered to reply and when there was a reply, it was irregular and often the same stock answer. One business in Mallorca, and it may be the only one, that does this properly, is No Frills Excursions. It replies to every review and often in great detail.

Why do so few hotels, especially hotels, fail to respond? Do they not care? Some may not, but I don't think this is the reason. They don't respond because they don't create the necessary resources and because they fear making a mistake. While hotels have staff who can speak English well, writing English (or any language) is a different matter. An accidental slip can be worse than not replying at all.

Social media like Trip Advisor are making hotels' lives more difficult if these hotels are dealing with customers from a variety of countries and so with a variety of languages. I have some sympathy for them. But this doesn't mean that they should fudge the issue.

A way of resourcing this online reputation management is to contract it out. Possibly, but how wise is this? The person who responds should ideally be embedded in the hotel (or the hotel group), have perfect written skills, have ready access in order to get information and, as importantly, be in a position to do something about a complaint. All businesses, be they hotels, bars, attractions, whatever, should have reputation managers. These could be owners or directors, but someone should take responsibility and not just for complaints. Even glowing reviews need responding to, otherwise it can appear as if customers are being taken for granted.

Trip Advisor has changed the rules of the customer management game. It is one played out on the internet. One that can bring great benefits but one that can also cause great harm. 93% of travellers are influenced by review sites. That's a hell of a lot of travellers and a hell of a lot who can be turned off by reports of a holiday from hell and of a hotel from hell that fails to acknowledge the problem.

Any comments to please.

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