Talking to a number of hotel and restaurant chains recently I have heard a lot about TripAdvisor and its competitors, both good and bad. Customer reviews are a recent trend that have brought seismic changes in the way customers and potential customers can influence a business. While a good review can work wonders for a business and generate a lot of income, there have been many instances of businesses going under as a result of only a handful of bad write-ups. Strangely, the anonymous nature of the review sites seems to make it more attractive for people to write a negative review than to ask for better service at the time.

Customer supplied reviews carry a lot of weight, several studies have demonstrated that we are very likely to trust the published opinion despite their having been written by complete strangers. Some studies have even found that bad reviews aren’t as damaging as we imagine, as we tend to take a forewarned is forearmed mentality and only get really upset if the experience is actually worse than we expected.

That said, customer complaints can be generally classified into two types:

1/ Complaints about things that can’t be easily changed. E.g. the design of a building, the size of a room, tired decoration etc.

2/ Things that can be easily avoided, and put right in moments. E.g. poor service, lack of cleaning and simple employee mistakes.

If something can’t be easily changed obviously you need to think carefully about why it’s a problem and why it has become an issue, for instance were customer expectations set too high because the description of your hotel was written by an estate agent? I would suggest that most customer issues are ones that can be easily put right. The only provisos being that:

1/ You need to know about it at the time

And

2/ The customer has to be around so they can appreciate the effort

This is where businesses relying solely on TripAdvisor and the like is a very dangerous strategy. Many customers are reluctant to complain face to face and once a review is out there for the world to see, there is absolutely nothing you can do to put the situation right. Several thousand people may have read about the poor service an employee gave and decided to go somewhere else as a result. Had you known at the time that they were disgruntled, giving them a free dessert, discount to their bill or just saying sorry would have simply and cheaply retained the lost business.

Finding out if a customer is satisfied is really easy. You simply need to ask them at the right moment and act on the response.

For some business types, asking if everything was ok might be enough, but for most a more robust approach is give them a survey to determine how satisfied they were. Several studies have shown that lots of small customer touches drive up satisfaction, similarly an unhappy customer is more likely to recommend a supplier if they fix a bad situation than if they just deliver a straightforward service. The ideal situation therefore is for a business to survey its customers at the critical points in the customer journey, analyse the response and act on it while the customer is still in the journey. A two question survey delivered to a hotel clients mobile phone as they arrive in their room can identify issues with cleaning and broken facilities in a timescale that written questionnaires and TripAdvisor reviews can only dream of. Being able to deliver meaningful non-intrusive surveys asking about your customer’s experience will enable you to see what is happening in real time, take the temperature of your business and understand how it is being perceived by your customers.

Relying solely on review sites to manage your customer experience is like bolting the stable door after the horse has disappeared over the horizon. Putting a proper customer experience management strategy in place will decrease churn, increase your profitability and enable you to really understand what is happening in your business.

Experq, can help you avoid losing business to negative reviews. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.