Navigating the world of online review platforms

Navigating the world of online review platforms

Michael Donald, co-founder and customer experience specialist at Halo Business Consulting, shares his thoughts on how best to ensure these essential marketing tools give a fair representation of your business.

Online reviews have become a critical part of the decision-making process when choosing how to spend our time and money. Platforms like Google, TripAdvisor and OpenTable provide a wealth of information, enabling consumers to compare options and make more confident choices. Honest reviews from trustworthy third parties can be a powerful word-of-mouth marketing tool, but how can hospitality businesses ensure that online review systems give, at the very least, a fair representation of their business?

The best online platforms provide plentiful, reliable and trustworthy reviews, but achieving this requires careful consideration, with strategies that can include incentives, optimizing design choices and setting rules or algorithms.

Quantity is key for reviews
Given the choice between dining in a restaurant with a 5.0 average score based on one review or a 4.5 score with a thousand reviews, which would you choose? Without a sufficient critical quantity of reviews,
any hospitality venue will struggle to attract customers through review pages. Encouraging customers to leave reviews on public pages, while asking them to directly contact the property if they encounter
a problem, is a delicate balance. Many businesses will direct customers toward public review sites, but this is often done only once they have confirmed a positive experience. Another option is to pool services, such as restaurants, bars and the afternoon tea lounge within a hotel, under one venue profile to encourage guests to leave reviews relating to whatever service they experienced. This keeps all the reviews in one place, rather than diluting them among multiple venues and achieving, on average, a fraction of the reviews.

Objectivity and impartiality
Providing rewards and recognition for customers who write reviews, such as discounts, coupons, loyalty points and badges can be a popular incentive. However, incentives that may bias or manipulate
the reviews, such as paying for reviews  or offering free services in exchange for reviews, must be avoided or risk reputational damage and lead to review sites possibly removing them.
While review sites strive to offer genuine reviews from real customers who have paid for real experiences, there is always the risk of reviews being biased or simply fake. Social media influencers are now being mandated to highlight on their own channels when their experiences have been paid for by a venue they’ve visited. However, there is little to stop the same influencer from leaving
a glowing review on Tripadvisor after a complimentary visit.

The era of the algorithm
Systems with established rules and policies that ensure the quality and credibility of reviews tend to be more trustworthy. Review platforms now implement processes to recognize problems, mostly through hired moderators, but now increasingly through advanced algorithms. Trends where numerous 5-star reviews appear alongside 1-star reviews can often hint at more than just inconsistent guest experiences. Operators can also influence reviews by engaging with reviewers to address problems and offer explanations or solutions.

Keep it user friendly
When it comes to design, adding visual elements, gamification features and social media integration can make the platform more attractive to users. Asking broad, open questions, without steering users to particular answers, keeps the data accurate. Providing tools for guests to filter and sort reviews, such as by rating or date, can help those reading reviews to quickly find the most relevant and useful information they need. Companies can also use analytics to identify sentiment trends and patterns in reviews, such as common complaints or areas for improvement, to enhance the guest experience.
There’s no doubt that online reviews have become an essential tool in marketing your business. With so many different platforms available, a clear and considered strategy is needed to maximize the number of reviews you receive on your preferred platforms. As with any customer strategy, designing processes and systems that add clear value to the customer experience will work best both for them and for your business.

Michael Donald,
co-founder of Halo Business Consulting
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About author

Rita Ghantous

Rita Ghantous is a hospitality aficionado and a passionate writer with over 9 years’ experience in journalism and 5 years experience in the hospitality sector. Her passion for the performance arts and writing, started early. At 10 years old she was praised for her solo performance of the Beatles song “All My Love” accompanied by a guitarist, and was approached by a French talent scout during her school play. However, her love for writing was stronger. Fresh out of school, she became a freelance journalist for Noun Magazine and was awarded the Silver Award Cup for Outstanding Poetry, by The International Library of Poetry (Washington DC). She studied Business Management and earned a Masters degree from Saint Joseph University (USJ), her thesis was published in the Proche-Orient, Études en Management book. She then pursued a career in the hospitality industry but didn’t give up writing, that is why she launched the Four Points by Sheraton Le Verdun Newsletter. Her love for the industry and journalism led her to Hospitality Services - the organizers of the HORECA trade show in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, as well as Salon Du Chocolat, Beirut Cooking Festival, Whisky Live and other regional shows. She is currently the Publications Executive of Hospitality News Middle East, Taste & Flavors and Lebanon Traveler. It is with ultimate devotion for her magazines that she demonstrates her hospitality savoir-faire.

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