“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” – Bill Gates

How many of us are guilty, both in business and everyday life, of coasting through on the positive comments given by others yet burying our heads in the sand, and ignoring the negatives?   In business, we are all very proud of what we do and what we achieve and just one detrimental comment can knock us back immeasurably.  We’re all guilty of taking criticism personally and immediately putting ourselves on the back-foot of defensiveness but what if we took a deep breath and actually addressed the criticism, taking the points on board and treating them as a learning curve?

Whenever I’ve mentioned TripAdvisor to business contacts within the leisure or hospitality sector, they tend to go pale and their inner-defence mechanisms come to the fore, and it’s not uncommon for them to lose the capability of direct eye-contact …..

  • “We’ve had trouble with TripAdvisor”
  • “We don’t like TripAdvisor – people are horrible on there”
  • “TripAdvisor is useless – it’s rates us 76/80 in our town. That’s not right …. is it?!”

I’ve heard them all.  What none of the business owners are asking themselves is ….. why?! In our busy schedules, the average Joe doesn’t have time to be deliberately malicious on a rating website.  They do, however, find the time to praise or warn fellow diners/travellers of their experiences in the name of being helpful.

For me, TripAdvisor has become a saviour.  Whenever I am planning a trip to somewhere new, TripAdvisor is my first port of call before I book any hotels or restaurants, having been caught out far too many times before by an immaculate-looking hotel on its own website, only to turn up for check-in to find that the hotel was last decorated (and in some cases, deep cleaned) in 1995!

Review sites such as TripAdvisor can really work in your favour, if you embrace them and more importantly, embrace the comments left about your hotel/restaurant/tourist attraction.  Yes, even the negative ones!

Ask yourself why there are repeated comments in the same vein about a certain aspect of your business, say, for arguments’ sake, your staff.  You can choose to ignore the comments – after all, you know that your staff are brilliant, don’t you, you employed them in the first place  …… Or you can address the issues, perhaps relaying the comments to your staff and addressing any problems they may have.

Opting to carry on regardless and ignoring the nasties will only see more negative comments about your staff being posted online over the course of time.  A five-star glowing review about your food/rooms will be completely negated if your staff are struggling to achieve a one-star rating for you and your business.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein

On the other hand, you can address the issues raised and make changes – yes, we’re back to that learning curve I mentioned earlier!  Once you’ve managed to get to the bottom of the matters raised, you can start to make changes – is there an issue with a lack of staff training? Do you have a clash of personalities on a certain shift pattern?  Do you need to appoint a manager to keep the staff in check and stop any slacking?

Learning from the negatives can quickly turn them into positives, and subsequently over the course of time, your customers will leave more complementary reviews and your TripAdvisor rating will slowly, but surely, increase.   This point has been proved recently with one of my clients, a well-known local pub with a fabulous restaurant.  They took on board, and addressed, negative comments made against them on TripAdvisor, and also at the same time used market research company, SwissPeaks (http://www.swisspeaks.com/) to collect feedback and opinions from diners via iPads whilst they were still on the premises!

Don’t be afraid to encourage your clientele to rate you.  Showing them that you care for their opinions speaks volumes – some businesses even have business cards printed which are presented with the bill, giving details of TripAdvisor and any other social media channels they use.  Other businesses may capitalise on a captive audience, with posters on the backs of toilet doors or in designated smoking areas, just subtly, but politely asking or you to “please rate us on TripAdvisor”.

Once you have the positive reviews on TripAdvisor, take the time and trouble to log into your account and reply to the clients who have taken the time to write them.  You can even ask if they mind their review being used on your Facebook page or in your Twitter feed – it’s all good, positive PR, and as far as social media is concerned ….. it’s FREE!

Of course, you will still get negative, or below par reviews.  You can’t please all the people, all of the time.  The golden rule is to not take it personally, and also not to ignore the points raised.   In the words of Bill Gates …

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure”