The truth of customer reviews

4 09 2009

up down thumbAfter organising an epic two month journey for 15 people, visiting over 16 destinations in Europe – it’s fair to say I had done my fair share of research before I left.

Hours were spent on sites like Tripadvisor and Hostelworld, and most of my free time was spent trawling through the customer reviews and ratings, before making decisions on accommodation and modes of travel. While the excitement of the upcoming journey kept me going – if I never organise another trip, it’ll be too soon!

I have become a consumer that (especially in terms of hospitality) will only make a decision after I have read several customer reviews persuading me that my time and money is worthwhile. And this has been a growing consumer trend for awhile, as trendwatching.com reports.

Now when you want to book a hotel over the other side of the world, in an unfamiliar destination, it’s no longer a luck of the draw situation, or a case of you having to trust the (often deceiving) photos on their website. Nowadays you can read through hundreds of customer reviews from people who have actually stayed there, and even look at the more truthful photos that have been uploaded. Booking the perfect holiday has never been more easy.

But do all consumers tell the truth in their reviews? How can you be sure that they haven’t over exaggerated their positive/negative comments?

How can the owners/brands/companies control what is being said in these reviews?

I have noticed that on Tripadvisor, when a customer leaves a complaint about the establishment warning others to not stay there, the owner will sometimes rebut their comments, often blaming the complainant for their unpleasant stay and for any grievances they experienced, because of course they had done everything in their power to rectify the situation with a very difficult customer. Interesting PR method??

But other places do choose to respond to complaints by offering their apologies and thanks for their feedback. This is perhaps a more recommended way to handle the situation, as owners need to remember that this is a public forum, and by addressing the situation and accepting responsibility, rather than attacking the customer, future customers may still consider staying there.

All of the research for my trip did pay off, with 15 out of 16 accommodation decisions working out perfectly. My choice in Prague was an interesting one, which included a room in the roof, in which we couldn’t stand up properly, a very eccentric owner, and a location in the middle of nowhere. But surprisingly the reviews mentioned none of this?

While the humourous experience can now be put down to the joys of travelling, I finally figured out why I had been misguided on our departure day. The little old Czech lady sprung open me as we were attempting to get out the door with all of our luggage, and said in her broken English “make sure you leave good reviews!”, and then becoming serious as she grabbed onto my arm “at least 97%!”. Ahhh mystery solved!