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Analyzing what’s really important in online reviews

Analyzing what?s really important in online reviews

Do you remember in high school how jealous you felt when you got a B+ on your English test while your friend got an A-? Now that we are all grown up, hopefully we can safely look back at how insignificant that one trivial grade was in the grand scheme of things. Well, apparently the lesson hasn’t been fully learned. A few of us are still making similar comparisons for online hotel review aggregates.

Statistical methods need to be recognized 

Is it really important if your property rating on a review website goes from 4.5 to 4.6 within a two-week span? Why are people micromanaging these tiny fluctuations? It’s statistically irrelevant. In school, real performance changes were denoted by evaluating your report card handed out at the end of each semester. Much the same way, you can’t judge your hotel on a review-by-review basis, but instead should use a quarter-to-quarter appraisal.  

A caveat worth mentioning would be significant jump in rating aggregates. The MBA student in me reasons that a shift of +/- 0.6% or greater would be deemed statistically worthy of note. But does a variation like this occur often within a two-week or even month-long span? Ratings typically move a tenth of a percent at a time, and you’d be mistaken to fret over a drop of this size. In my mind, numerical micromanagement represents another risk of the Internet as we are confounded with more metrics than we know how to handle.

It’s a double-edged sword, though. The solution is not to study the numbers with closer scrutiny, but rather to monitor what the guests are saying. Alas, this isn’t baseball. Embrace the chatter and respond to deficiencies, rather than worrying about ratings points.

Ratings revealed for their true worth

One of the beauties of online review sites is that they give guests an anonymous platform to be honest, rather than just silently dismiss your property for return visits. Word of mouth may be a powerful behind-the-scenes motivator, but word of mouse is open to the public, available for you to study and hopefully learn from. These websites are your opportunity to gain unbiased insight and constructive criticism about your operations. Replying to individual commentators is a great way to broadcast the fact that you are willing to accept outside advice, but all your response efforts will be negligible if you don’t take their suggestions to heart and develop a plan of action to correct said mistakes.  

You have to evaluate the quality of your hotel based on qualitative data. So, you better grab a pad and start reading each and every commentary, taking notes along the way. After a couple dozen, you may start to notice some trends. What are the common criticisms? Was the front desk staff regarded as friendly and cooperative? Housekeeping issues? Room service? Was restaurant food beyond what was expected, or just adequate? How does the customer perceive your value equation?

Outliers: What to do?

From my experience, I’ve found that a small number of reviews may be written from a very hurtful slant. Don’t be frazzled, or worse, obstinate. Every critique is an opportunity to learn, even if that wasn’t the intent when posted. Furthermore, when you assess such negative remarks against the average and the long run of things, you’ll find that they are much like that one D you got on a math test back in grade nine. Within a week, the pain is gone and forgotten. The same goes for any direct assaults against your property. Do not discredit the entire online community based on a few rotten eggs. For the most part, they are here to help, but only if you can listen.

So my emphasis is on the long term versus the short term. But you should still read reviews, group commonalities and then develop your own quarterly scorecard for measuring qualitative performance over the past three months. Then compare this scorecard with previous metric surveys or past critiques. Is the situation improving? Are specific complaints less prominent or absent altogether in the latest series of posts? The benefit of using scorecards is to keep track of particulars over a broad period of time — enough breadth for trends to change in a statistically significant manner.  

Going beyond your reviews

The other crucial tactic is to glance over the reviews of your key competitive set. If your competitor’s restaurant’s food presentation is lauded while yours is just pedestrian, then you best have a meeting with your F&B director and executive chef to address this discrepancy. 

I’ve noticed that most explicit qualms found in online assessments arise from gaps in guest service. Most individuals arrive at your hotel with expectations set by what they see on your website homepage and what’s said on the web. Such people will be more obliged to give you a highly positive grade if you meet or slightly exceed their standards. However, it’s when you slip that your reviews will also fall. That is, your staff jumbled a restaurant reservation, the front desk was nearly oblivious to a guest’s needs or individual requests were never fulfilled, to name a few. Maybe you need to heighten internal communication channels to make sure everyone is on the same page. The point is, take advantage of your hotel reviews to investigate and hone your guest service abilities.

The bottom line

Improving your overall rating aggregate is more dependent on guest service than on large-scale issues that require significant capital investment. 

Read through the Internet review chatter. Address the guest’s issues, not the rating. You’ll know when you succeed because the problem will disappear from the latest commentary; or, better yet, a recurring customer might even praise you for these improvements. Regardless, hotel review sites are here to stay. The sooner you start paying attention to what people are writing, the sooner you will see improvement in your ratings.

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