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Online reviews

A half-star rating in online reviews can make or break a business say economists. How can spas raise their profiles?

By Katie Barnes | Published in Spa Business 2013 issue 1


Just a half-star rating given by customers in online reviews could potentially make the difference between a business increasing its bottom line or going bust, according to a recent study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, which is the first to link consumer feedback with the popularity of a business, was based on 148,000 reviews of 328 San Francisco restaurants on local business review site Yelp.com. On the website, customers score their restaurant experience on a scale of 1 to 5 and it was found that a rise from 3 to 3.5 stars increases a restaurant’s chance of reaching capacity during peak times from 13 to 34 per cent. Furthermore, a restaurant that moved from a 3.5 to 4-star ranking was 19 per cent more likely to sell out in peak dining times.

While this study focused on restaurants, it’s still interesting to consider transferrable lessons for any business which is subject to the growing number of online customer forums and websites from the likes of TripAdvisor – one of the world’s largest travel websites, to more sector-specific ones like SpaFinder Wellness and Wahanda.

And it highlights the power of online customer reviews. “Online reviews play a major role in our industry and many of our guests stay with us because of them,” says Mark Maggiotto, co-manager at The Phoenix Resort in Belize, which came top for review and opinion ratings in TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Hotels list last year.

So, just what should spa operators be doing to raise their ratings in online reviews? With many companies caught up in the frenzy of Facebook and Twitter, it would be interesting to see if and how operators also monitor what’s being said about their businesses in customer reviews. In addition, to understand what tools they use and whether they outsource this element of their marketing or handle it in-house?

If a complaint is published for anyone to read in cyberspace, how should an operator react? Christine Petersen, the head of TripAdvisor for Business, says 84 per cent of its users agree that “an appropriate management response to a bad review improves the impression of the hotel”. But is there a right or wrong way to deal with such a public complaint? And whose job is it to handle the situation?

In some cases, it might be that a customer has had a wonderful experience at a spa – yet if they don’t write about it online who’s going to know? There’s certainly strength in numbers as a TripAdvisor study found that properties with as few as 11 reviews see a 28 per cent rise in user engagement compared to those with 10 or fewer. While those with 50 or more reviews saw a hefty 38 per cent increase in engagement.

So how can spa operators encourage customers to write reviews – especially when it could create an abrupt end to an experience which has been designed to help them escape from it all? And, if something positive has been said about your company, how can you make the most of it from a marketing point of view? We ask the experts…

See p30 for advice on how spas can increase their chances of winning awards at the submission stage


TripAdvisor

 

Christine Petersen
 
Christine Petersen President TripAdvisor for Business

According to a recent PhoCusWright survey, commissioned by TripAdvisor, 87 per cent of our users agree that TripAdvisor reviews help them feel more confident in their booking decisions and more than half (53 per cent) said they won’t book a hotel that doesn’t have any reviews on our site.

We launched TripAdvisor for Business in 2010 to help hospitality businesses, including those with spas, to thrive online. Firstly, we encourage owners to register in our Management Centre and claim their listing on TripAdvisor so they can make the most of the tools at their disposal: signing up for email notifications for when they receive a new review, analysing the feedback they receive from reviewers; and comparing their business’ performance with a competitor’s in the region.

One of the most important tools is the Management Response feature, which ensures that business owners are able to provide their side of the story and thank guests and customers for their feedback. The PhoCusWright study found that 84 per cent of users agree that an appropriate management response to a bad review improves their impression of the hotel. I’d encourage all business owners to register and make use of this essential tool.

Another major initiative includes Business Listings – our paid-for service for hoteliers and accommodation owners that enables them to add their direct contact details to their TripAdvisor property page and encourage more direct bookings. The product also allows them to post special offers on our site for more visibility.
In addition, we’ve focused heavily on helping more than 500 travel brands – from the Wyndham Hotel Group to Thomas Cooke and British Airways – leverage the power of our traveller content. We provide them with a number of widgets and badges, which they can use to display their TripAdvisor ratings, reviews and awards on their own website or Facebook page.

We also have an educational aim. We’ve created a programme of webinars and TripAdvisor Master Classes, as well as a wide array of informational material, to better inform business owners on how to make the most of their presence on TripAdvisor and how to collect more reviews.

* TripAdvisor has websites in 30 countries in 21 languages with more than 75 million reviews and opinions on the site. Details: www.tripadvisor.com


A study by PhoCusWright found that 84 per cent of our users agree that an appropriate management response to a bad review improves their impression of the hotel


Yelp Inc

 

Darnell Holloway
 
Darnell Holloway Manager of local business outreach Yelp Inc

Although it seems counter-intuitive, we discourage operators from asking for, or soliciting, reviews from customers as we feel the most useful reviews are those that occur naturally.

We take a number of steps to ensure that our content is trustworthy, including implementing an automated review filter to detect suspicious behaviour. Imagine, for example, a business owner who solicits a review by sticking a laptop in front of a customer and smilingly invites her to write a review while he looks over her shoulder. So, while solicited reviews may be perfectly legitimate, the harsh reality is that they often fall somewhere in between.

What we do encourage business owners to do is let their customers know they have a presence on Yelp. We provide a number of logos for them to use on their website, business cards and marketing collateral.

Ultimately, we feel the best way to get positive reviews is to offer great customer service offline in their day-to-day business. Last May we conducted some research which showed that customer service plays an incredibly crucial role when it comes to having a strong or poor rating on Yelp.

If a Yelper mentioned good customer service, they were more than five times as likely to give a 5-star review rather than a 1-star. Similarly, nearly 70 per cent of bad customer service experiences were given a 1-star rating, compared to less than 5 per cent that got 5 stars.

Saying ‘focus on great customer service and the ratings and reviews will come’ is easy, but what do Yelpers think is good or bad? We grabbed the words that showed up more often in positive customer service reviews and it turns out that most of them care about the simple things. Aside from the generally positive feeling about a place that Yelpers love, ‘friendly’, ‘nice’ and ‘helpful’ were often mentioned with positive customer service.

If businesses are serious about improving their customer service, we suggest they take time to read their reviews and see what they’re doing consistently well and not so well. From there, Yelp has a number of free tools and tutorial videos in its Business Support Center to help improve their rating, raise their profile and respond to reviews.

* Yelp was founded in 2004 to help people find local businesses. It had a monthly average of 84 million unique visitors in the third quarter of 2012. Details: www.yelp.com or www.biz.yelp.com


If a Yelper mentioned good customer service, they were over five times as likely to give a 5-star review... and nearly 70 per cent of bad customer service experiences were given a 1-star rating


Gaia Spa & Retreat

 

Gregg Cave
 
Gregg Cave General manager and co-owner Gaia Spa & Retreat, Australia

The impact of online reviews on our business is enormous and seems to be growing steadily – more guests we talk to say they checked other customer reviews on the internet first before booking. One of the most important and credible websites for us is TripAdvisor and around 50 per cent of our clients say they looked us up on there beforehand.

When we receive wonderful praise from guests checking-out, we simply encourage them to write an online review to let other like-minded potential guests read about their stay. We don’t offer incentives, as that doesn’t give you a fair and true outcome.

Most industry operators are familiar with online reviews, but they may not have the time or resources to actively manage them. We used to outsource our social media and online activity, but found it too corporate for our intimate retreat. Now we gather our own internal information and find it gives us a much more accurate report.

We check websites every few days and also have alerts set up, so we know when something new has been written. We use the comments to improve our services and facilities – discussing them in weekly head of department meetings and talking about action points. It’s this team dedication and commitment to attention to detail, plus guest loyalty, that has been key to our high ranking. On TripAdvisor, we have 160 reviews and usually get around one to two new ones a week. We have the highest 5-star rating and are also ranked as their fifth best relaxation/spa hotel in the world.

It’s dangerous not to monitor how you’re perceived in cyberspace, as social media has such a powerful impact. We pride ourselves on impeccable service, so when I see something written about my team in a negative way it feels like a knife in the heart. The best way to deal with a complaint is personally and with full attention to detail, but don’t get off on the back foot and respond emotionally. The number one rule is to gather all the facts and have a clear understanding of what happened first. If you find it to be a genuine complaint, then respond with empathy and listen, as this will enable you to move forward positively.

Usually, the relevant head of department will respond to comments, but if it’s a more serious matter, I take on a full investigation and reply personally. Recently, I had a guest who wrote a very negative comment online. While here, I spent each day talking to her and accommodating her every need and at no time did she seem unhappy, to the contrary. After a thorough investigation, I discovered that 80 per cent of the complaint had credence (which I responded to) and the rest was truly unjustified.

A lot of our guests come with issues and have different stories to tell and while we do our best to nurture, sometimes online reviews become a platform for a gripe. So, I would advise operators to closely watch out for this too.

* Gregg Cave set up Gaia Retreat & Spa in Byron Bay, Australia, with singer Olivia Newton-John in 2004 (see SB10/3 p46). Details: www.gaiaretreat.com.au


When I see something written about my team in a negative way it feels like a knife in the heart... but don’t get off on the back foot and respond personally: gather all the facts first


Wahanda

 

Lopo Champalimaud
 
Lopo Champalimaud Co-founder Wahanda

Our data shows that customers actively research online reviews before making a purchase. Having a strong collection of positive reviews helps consumers make their purchasing decisions, builds reputation and can drive people to actively seek out a spa.

We’ve discovered many ‘hidden gems’: spas and salons that might not – on the face of it – stand out as being extraordinary and yet receive hundreds of 5-star reviews, making potential new clients take notice.

Thai London in London has no shop front and little signage. Yet, thanks to the positive reviews on Wahanda, its business has grown so much it’s had to add treatment rooms and recruit more staff. Out of its 106 reviews, 76 have a 5-star rating.

We’re living in the internet era, making your online reputation and image management absolutely critical to secure bookings. We have locations on our website whose businesses run very profitably, almost solely based on reviews, as it’s such a crucial part of marketing. Ignoring this as an opportunity is seriously restricting for a business.

Spas could offer an incentive to encourage customers to post reviews. After every booking at Wahanda, we email the customer offering them a £5 voucher if they come onsite and review their experience. And we get 1,000s of reviews a month.

My advice would also be for spa owners to constantly monitor what’s being said about their business online and, just as importantly, react to comments. Operators should check reviews daily and set up Google alerts to make sure they don’t miss anything. They should also check other businesses on customer review sites too – you need to see what your competition is up to.

* Wahanda is one of the largest online communities for wellness related companies. Details: www.wahanda.com


Some businesses on our website run very profitably, almost solely based on reviews, as it’s such a crucial part of marketing. Ignoring this as an opportunity is seriously restricting for a business

 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Spa Business
2013 issue 1

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Online reviews

Everyone's talking about...

Online reviews


A half-star rating in online reviews can make or break a business say economists. How can spas raise their profiles?

Katie Barnes, Spa Business
Strength in numbers: 11 or more reviews lead to a 28 per cent rise in user engagement Diego Cervo/shutterstock.com

Just a half-star rating given by customers in online reviews could potentially make the difference between a business increasing its bottom line or going bust, according to a recent study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, which is the first to link consumer feedback with the popularity of a business, was based on 148,000 reviews of 328 San Francisco restaurants on local business review site Yelp.com. On the website, customers score their restaurant experience on a scale of 1 to 5 and it was found that a rise from 3 to 3.5 stars increases a restaurant’s chance of reaching capacity during peak times from 13 to 34 per cent. Furthermore, a restaurant that moved from a 3.5 to 4-star ranking was 19 per cent more likely to sell out in peak dining times.

While this study focused on restaurants, it’s still interesting to consider transferrable lessons for any business which is subject to the growing number of online customer forums and websites from the likes of TripAdvisor – one of the world’s largest travel websites, to more sector-specific ones like SpaFinder Wellness and Wahanda.

And it highlights the power of online customer reviews. “Online reviews play a major role in our industry and many of our guests stay with us because of them,” says Mark Maggiotto, co-manager at The Phoenix Resort in Belize, which came top for review and opinion ratings in TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Hotels list last year.

So, just what should spa operators be doing to raise their ratings in online reviews? With many companies caught up in the frenzy of Facebook and Twitter, it would be interesting to see if and how operators also monitor what’s being said about their businesses in customer reviews. In addition, to understand what tools they use and whether they outsource this element of their marketing or handle it in-house?

If a complaint is published for anyone to read in cyberspace, how should an operator react? Christine Petersen, the head of TripAdvisor for Business, says 84 per cent of its users agree that “an appropriate management response to a bad review improves the impression of the hotel”. But is there a right or wrong way to deal with such a public complaint? And whose job is it to handle the situation?

In some cases, it might be that a customer has had a wonderful experience at a spa – yet if they don’t write about it online who’s going to know? There’s certainly strength in numbers as a TripAdvisor study found that properties with as few as 11 reviews see a 28 per cent rise in user engagement compared to those with 10 or fewer. While those with 50 or more reviews saw a hefty 38 per cent increase in engagement.

So how can spa operators encourage customers to write reviews – especially when it could create an abrupt end to an experience which has been designed to help them escape from it all? And, if something positive has been said about your company, how can you make the most of it from a marketing point of view? We ask the experts…

See p30 for advice on how spas can increase their chances of winning awards at the submission stage


TripAdvisor

 

Christine Petersen
 
Christine Petersen President TripAdvisor for Business

According to a recent PhoCusWright survey, commissioned by TripAdvisor, 87 per cent of our users agree that TripAdvisor reviews help them feel more confident in their booking decisions and more than half (53 per cent) said they won’t book a hotel that doesn’t have any reviews on our site.

We launched TripAdvisor for Business in 2010 to help hospitality businesses, including those with spas, to thrive online. Firstly, we encourage owners to register in our Management Centre and claim their listing on TripAdvisor so they can make the most of the tools at their disposal: signing up for email notifications for when they receive a new review, analysing the feedback they receive from reviewers; and comparing their business’ performance with a competitor’s in the region.

One of the most important tools is the Management Response feature, which ensures that business owners are able to provide their side of the story and thank guests and customers for their feedback. The PhoCusWright study found that 84 per cent of users agree that an appropriate management response to a bad review improves their impression of the hotel. I’d encourage all business owners to register and make use of this essential tool.

Another major initiative includes Business Listings – our paid-for service for hoteliers and accommodation owners that enables them to add their direct contact details to their TripAdvisor property page and encourage more direct bookings. The product also allows them to post special offers on our site for more visibility.
In addition, we’ve focused heavily on helping more than 500 travel brands – from the Wyndham Hotel Group to Thomas Cooke and British Airways – leverage the power of our traveller content. We provide them with a number of widgets and badges, which they can use to display their TripAdvisor ratings, reviews and awards on their own website or Facebook page.

We also have an educational aim. We’ve created a programme of webinars and TripAdvisor Master Classes, as well as a wide array of informational material, to better inform business owners on how to make the most of their presence on TripAdvisor and how to collect more reviews.

* TripAdvisor has websites in 30 countries in 21 languages with more than 75 million reviews and opinions on the site. Details: www.tripadvisor.com


A study by PhoCusWright found that 84 per cent of our users agree that an appropriate management response to a bad review improves their impression of the hotel


Yelp Inc

 

Darnell Holloway
 
Darnell Holloway Manager of local business outreach Yelp Inc

Although it seems counter-intuitive, we discourage operators from asking for, or soliciting, reviews from customers as we feel the most useful reviews are those that occur naturally.

We take a number of steps to ensure that our content is trustworthy, including implementing an automated review filter to detect suspicious behaviour. Imagine, for example, a business owner who solicits a review by sticking a laptop in front of a customer and smilingly invites her to write a review while he looks over her shoulder. So, while solicited reviews may be perfectly legitimate, the harsh reality is that they often fall somewhere in between.

What we do encourage business owners to do is let their customers know they have a presence on Yelp. We provide a number of logos for them to use on their website, business cards and marketing collateral.

Ultimately, we feel the best way to get positive reviews is to offer great customer service offline in their day-to-day business. Last May we conducted some research which showed that customer service plays an incredibly crucial role when it comes to having a strong or poor rating on Yelp.

If a Yelper mentioned good customer service, they were more than five times as likely to give a 5-star review rather than a 1-star. Similarly, nearly 70 per cent of bad customer service experiences were given a 1-star rating, compared to less than 5 per cent that got 5 stars.

Saying ‘focus on great customer service and the ratings and reviews will come’ is easy, but what do Yelpers think is good or bad? We grabbed the words that showed up more often in positive customer service reviews and it turns out that most of them care about the simple things. Aside from the generally positive feeling about a place that Yelpers love, ‘friendly’, ‘nice’ and ‘helpful’ were often mentioned with positive customer service.

If businesses are serious about improving their customer service, we suggest they take time to read their reviews and see what they’re doing consistently well and not so well. From there, Yelp has a number of free tools and tutorial videos in its Business Support Center to help improve their rating, raise their profile and respond to reviews.

* Yelp was founded in 2004 to help people find local businesses. It had a monthly average of 84 million unique visitors in the third quarter of 2012. Details: www.yelp.com or www.biz.yelp.com


If a Yelper mentioned good customer service, they were over five times as likely to give a 5-star review... and nearly 70 per cent of bad customer service experiences were given a 1-star rating


Gaia Spa & Retreat

 

Gregg Cave
 
Gregg Cave General manager and co-owner Gaia Spa & Retreat, Australia

The impact of online reviews on our business is enormous and seems to be growing steadily – more guests we talk to say they checked other customer reviews on the internet first before booking. One of the most important and credible websites for us is TripAdvisor and around 50 per cent of our clients say they looked us up on there beforehand.

When we receive wonderful praise from guests checking-out, we simply encourage them to write an online review to let other like-minded potential guests read about their stay. We don’t offer incentives, as that doesn’t give you a fair and true outcome.

Most industry operators are familiar with online reviews, but they may not have the time or resources to actively manage them. We used to outsource our social media and online activity, but found it too corporate for our intimate retreat. Now we gather our own internal information and find it gives us a much more accurate report.

We check websites every few days and also have alerts set up, so we know when something new has been written. We use the comments to improve our services and facilities – discussing them in weekly head of department meetings and talking about action points. It’s this team dedication and commitment to attention to detail, plus guest loyalty, that has been key to our high ranking. On TripAdvisor, we have 160 reviews and usually get around one to two new ones a week. We have the highest 5-star rating and are also ranked as their fifth best relaxation/spa hotel in the world.

It’s dangerous not to monitor how you’re perceived in cyberspace, as social media has such a powerful impact. We pride ourselves on impeccable service, so when I see something written about my team in a negative way it feels like a knife in the heart. The best way to deal with a complaint is personally and with full attention to detail, but don’t get off on the back foot and respond emotionally. The number one rule is to gather all the facts and have a clear understanding of what happened first. If you find it to be a genuine complaint, then respond with empathy and listen, as this will enable you to move forward positively.

Usually, the relevant head of department will respond to comments, but if it’s a more serious matter, I take on a full investigation and reply personally. Recently, I had a guest who wrote a very negative comment online. While here, I spent each day talking to her and accommodating her every need and at no time did she seem unhappy, to the contrary. After a thorough investigation, I discovered that 80 per cent of the complaint had credence (which I responded to) and the rest was truly unjustified.

A lot of our guests come with issues and have different stories to tell and while we do our best to nurture, sometimes online reviews become a platform for a gripe. So, I would advise operators to closely watch out for this too.

* Gregg Cave set up Gaia Retreat & Spa in Byron Bay, Australia, with singer Olivia Newton-John in 2004 (see SB10/3 p46). Details: www.gaiaretreat.com.au


When I see something written about my team in a negative way it feels like a knife in the heart... but don’t get off on the back foot and respond personally: gather all the facts first


Wahanda

 

Lopo Champalimaud
 
Lopo Champalimaud Co-founder Wahanda

Our data shows that customers actively research online reviews before making a purchase. Having a strong collection of positive reviews helps consumers make their purchasing decisions, builds reputation and can drive people to actively seek out a spa.

We’ve discovered many ‘hidden gems’: spas and salons that might not – on the face of it – stand out as being extraordinary and yet receive hundreds of 5-star reviews, making potential new clients take notice.

Thai London in London has no shop front and little signage. Yet, thanks to the positive reviews on Wahanda, its business has grown so much it’s had to add treatment rooms and recruit more staff. Out of its 106 reviews, 76 have a 5-star rating.

We’re living in the internet era, making your online reputation and image management absolutely critical to secure bookings. We have locations on our website whose businesses run very profitably, almost solely based on reviews, as it’s such a crucial part of marketing. Ignoring this as an opportunity is seriously restricting for a business.

Spas could offer an incentive to encourage customers to post reviews. After every booking at Wahanda, we email the customer offering them a £5 voucher if they come onsite and review their experience. And we get 1,000s of reviews a month.

My advice would also be for spa owners to constantly monitor what’s being said about their business online and, just as importantly, react to comments. Operators should check reviews daily and set up Google alerts to make sure they don’t miss anything. They should also check other businesses on customer review sites too – you need to see what your competition is up to.

* Wahanda is one of the largest online communities for wellness related companies. Details: www.wahanda.com


Some businesses on our website run very profitably, almost solely based on reviews, as it’s such a crucial part of marketing. Ignoring this as an opportunity is seriously restricting for a business


Originally published in Spa Business 2013 issue 1

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd