There is a great deal of attention paid in travel industry articles to the importance of an effective online presence. Given the growing influence of technology on every aspect of travel – whether travel agency, tour operator, or Travel Management Company – that focus isn’t really surprising. However, it’s important for every online travel business to realize the power of the Internet cuts both ways.
New travel industry markets may be available for growth, but customer feedback has more power than ever to help or hurt a business.
For example, Phocuswright research found 56% of online travel shoppers used travel reviews as part of their booking activities, and by 2015 travelers “very much influenced” by online travel reviews grew to almost 40%. Other surveys have found that online reviews rank second only to price as the most important factor in making an online travel decision. It’s clear a travel agency requires more than just an online presence; it also needs a favorable reputation.
One thing about travel hasn’t changed over the years – it remains a complicated and expensive decision. The modern traveler isn’t about to give his business to a travel agency with a poor reputation, and opinions posted by existing customers is a quick way learn what they think about service and performance.
Taking the Sting out of a Bad Review
Avoiding bad reviews is certainly the best possible outcome. Unfortunately, it’s not the best possible goal because it just isn’t possible. Despite all best efforts, every travel agency or tour operator is going to experience one or more bad reviews - business can please all their customers all of the time. Since they can’t be avoided, the best thing is to learn more about them.
The encouraging news is only a small minority (23%) of people posting bad reviews are trying to actually hurt the business’s reputation. The vast majority (70%) are posting so the business will respond to the poor experience described in their online post. In other words, these are customers who can be pleased and want to be pleased. The review is an opportunity for the business to satisfy the customer and turn the situation around. The good way to take the sting out a bad review is to accept it as a chance for an improved customer relationship, not as an angry or personal attack.
In fact, the driving motivation for 90% of all customer reviews is to help other people improve their product and/or service decisions. While that does make it clear a bad review is meant as a warning to others, it also means a great response to a bad review could trigger much more positive follow-up comments. It seems likely people trying to help others would regard a great response as worthy of notice.
Principles of Online Reputation Management
Because a business’s reputation is so important, many technology-based providers of reputation management services have emerged. These services are important and can be very effective. However, all travel companies should remember their reputation can never improve on a truthful depiction of customer service and value.
Accordingly, the point of online reputation management is to insure potential or long time customers get an accurate picture of that truth - and to give the company the information it needs to improve service and value. This means taking action so online opinions don’t create misleading impressions and alerting the company to service level trends or patterns that need attention. The following principles of good online reputation management support both of these objectives.
Look for Trouble: become part of all online channels customers may choose to use in reviewing travel companies. Combine this channel access with a formal employee responsibility for monitoring online travel reviews as they are posted on significant travel rating sites. The two primary objectives of these actions are: 1) make it unlikely any bad reviews will be posted without notice, therefore causing unseen reputation damage; 2) allow rapid and effective customer service reactions to bad reviews as they are posted.
Don’t take it personally: bad reviews are inevitable and, as noted earlier, the overwhelming majority of negative posts simply want to be recognized and addressed. There’s actually a bright side to negative opinions. A number of surveys indicate that very few - or no bad reviews at all – make potential customers suspicious. Some customers even look for one and two star reviews to get an idea the worst
Run – don’t walk: granted, nothing’s worse than a nonresponsive business, but bad reviews are magnified if readers also see slow or ineffectual responses. It’s essential to have reviews monitored daily by employees authorized to escalate responses immediately. Don’t wait to collect all the necessary information: if the review involves a complicated issue, acknowledge it immediately and set expectations for a complete answer. It makes sense. After all, if an existing customer is neglected, why would a potential customer risk putting themselves in the same position?
Seize the opportunity: good or bad, online reviews are often the best way for a travel company to understand how their customers think. Of course not every review is accurate or judges an issue fairly – which is why reputation management is so important – but reviews over time are a valuable source of lessons learned. Often root causes can be identified from recurring clues and preventative measures will put an end to a pattern of marginal service levels.
Elevate performance: what does the company want its reputation to be in the marketplace? How does it want online reviews and media perception to play a role in its marketing plans? Technology makes it possible to not only manage online reputation but improve it with specific goals. For example, instead of simply monitoring bad reviews, performance goals – three or four star reviews – can be measured.
Putting the reputation of your company in the hands of online customers can be a challenging experience. However, learning to do so in a professional and well organized manner can actually provide the business with an additional competitive edge.