Mr. Kall

Technology

The Upside and Pitfalls of User Reviews on Your Own Website

By Rob Kall, President, Bookt LLC

Online travel reviews are nothing new; they have existed in one way or another for over 10 years and many of the most popular travel sites allow users to post reviews. In fact, sites without user reviews may become less common over the next few years, as consumers rely more heavily on others' experiences before making a decision.

So here is a question for you: if you are not displaying your customers' experiences on your property's site, what's holding you back? I know, you're probably thinking: 'but what if I have a bad review on my site?' and it's a valid concern because at some point, no matter how good your hotel is, someone somewhere will have something negative to say. You can't be all things to everyone all of the time. Let's explain and analyze the pros and cons of posting consumers' reviews of your property on your own website.

Why are Reviews Popular?

We humans are social beings and our behavior is, to a very large extent, influenced by other people's actions and opinions. We also want to make an impact in some way and be influencers of others' actions, so it makes perfect sense that we would spend time writing reviews - and especially if our experience has drawn out passionately positive or negative feelings. According to Market Metrix Hospitality Index, approximately 10% of hotel guests post reviews about their experiences. For some, it is a way to vent about their less than stellar experience at a property. For others, it's a way to spread the word of a special experience. Either way, these reviews provide important information that potential guests will trust and value, and of course, influence their booking decisions.

The Transparency Revolution

Transparency and accountability - you hear those words everywhere and through the miracle of today's technology, transparent information is more available than ever. That said, in the eyes of consumers, not being transparent can equate to being shady and unresponsive. You know that saying 'honesty pays'? In the case of online reviews, this is very true. Being upfront and honest translates to more trust and eventually more sales.

The Upside

Since reviews - especially ones with dates, names and those that do not look filtered or edited - can help establish credibility with potential customers. Having them on your site can be very beneficial. If most traveler reviews indicate good experiences, a potential booker will assume that he or she will enjoy a positive experience too.

Regardless of whether you are a large hotel or hotel chain, an independent boutique hotel, or a vacation rental property, you can benefit from posting guest's comments. Showing a list of customer reviews that are overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) positive will truly reinforce the trust factor. Just think, if you can reinforce the trust factor on your own website, where your offering is the only one available, the user may not bother to check any other review sites, where he or she is bound to be bombarded with many competing offers.

What about the Pitfalls?

The most obvious pitfall is having more than the occasional negative comment about your property in plain sight for potential customers to see. If you are seeing negative reviews on a regular basis (or if you are seeing many of the same complaints over and over), you should get to work on improving service by addressing each of the concerns.

The Inevitable Bad Review

Even if you do have mostly positive reviews, sooner or later you will see a bad review come in. What should you do? Delete it? If it contains inappropriate language or complete fabrications, you should. After all this is your site and you are responsible for its content and accuracy. But if there are one or two complaints in an otherwise positive review, respond to them and post your response just under the review. Make it personal and outline your version of the incident or respond to specific issues and how they were addressed. Be sure to thank your negative reviewers for their valuable input and consider inviting them back with an incentive to show that you really do walk the walk.

So while no one likes to be told that they are not perfect, negative reviews can actually work in your favor. Your response will show that you are customer-service driven and accountable. These types of responses (if not too frequent) can actually help you build credibility and show that you care about your customers' happiness and satisfaction.

How It Can Be Done

If you do not want to implement your own review management system, you can actually bring in reviews from popular travel review sites like TripAdvisor.com (be sure to check specific terms and copyright first) through something called an RSS feed (Really Simple Syndication - which isn't as simple as you may expect because "what is RSS" is a very common Google query). An RSS feed can be embedded into your site and will automatically refresh as new reviews are posted. Ask your website solutions company to set up your own review management system or RSS feed on your site. If you have questions, feel free to contact us at Bookt.

As a hotelier, it is in your interest to encourage the vast majority of guests who had a great stay at your property to write a review. That can be done in many ways. One of my favorite tactics is a short message on the room key folder that suggests they write a review. To incentivize further, promise a small gift, like 5% off their next stay or free parking next time they visit if they send an email to you with a link to their review.

Tap the Social Business Intelligence

Social networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are increasingly important tools for the hospitality industry and the information that can be aggregated from them can be used for serious business purposes. Case in point, tracking average rating scores on a monthly basis from multiple review sites (tools that use the RSS feeds mentioned earlier exist) can illustrate important trends in your property's customer operations. Reward your team for increasing scores, and demand improvement if the scores fall off. Empower your team to be a bigger part of the hotel and its success.

Evaluation Necessary

After adding reviews, it's important to keep track of your site's metrics and track the data internally. Make sure to track online booking conversion and abandon rates before and after the change. If you feel that reviews posted are primarily promoting your property and brand, keep up the good work. If they improve with time (which we frequently find), you are on to something. If not, remove the reviews and try something else because the most important thing about marketing - on or offline - is to always be thinking strategically and moving forwards.

Remember that online reviews are part of the constantly moving target of increasing traffic, increasing conversions and increasing bookings.

Rob Kall, President of Bookt LLC, is a 'technopreneur' at heart. Drawing upon his 12+ years of experience in developing and implementing real estate and property websites he founded Bookt in 2007 to fill a void in the global vacation rental industry. Mr. Kall is a master of emerging web technologies, especially as applied to the travel industry, as well as behavioral targeting and engagement, deciphering marketing trends into widgets and applications, and online distribution hubs beyond the GDS. Mr. Kall holds a Bachelors in Computer Science from University of Boras, Sweden. Mr. Kall can be contacted at 800-941-0868 or rob@bookt.com Extended Bio...

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