It’s a brave new world of online reviews. As a business owner you get that. You won’t just wait for reviews to happen, but are going to implement processes that insure that your business will get its fair share of reviews.
You have trained all of your employees about the value of asking for reviews, you have incentivized their requests so you are confident that they will participate. You have identified the timing or site that seems to make the most sense and the new reviews are coming in.
What can go wrong? It turns out a lot.
When Review Requests Outweigh The Experience
I recently returned from a trip to Alaska with my family to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We toured South East Alaska from Juneau to Skagway to Sitka and at each of those stops we hiked, biked and explored. We used tour companies when we couldn’t handle the logistics ourselves or to see something that we couldn’t hike to. For what it’s worth, it was a great trip!
All of the tour companie, in the end, made a request for Trip Advisor reviews but one stood out. Not for having done a great job and not for having asked in a great way but for asking in a way that annoyed our whole party. Annoying to the point that my wife looked at me and said: “That was uncomfortable, I’m not leaving them a review.”
What did they do that made my wife so uncomfortable? And to make me shake my head in wonder?
Let’s start with their selling proposition and how they didn’t really live up to it:
- On your way to the boat harbor, listen to informative commentary from your driver about the capitol city of Juneau.
- Aboard our smaller 24 or 49 passenger whale-watching boats, enjoy a comfortable heated cabin with wide-viewing windows and spacious decks for wildlife spotting. When our captain spots the whales, the boat slows and step out on the deck for that perfect whale shot.
- The on-board Naturalist is full of information about Alaska’s wildlife – Humpback whales, Stellar sea lions, Dall’s porpoises, bald eagles. A small snack and water are available.
Firstly the driver’s commentary on the way to the harbor was not informative. This was a very young man, likely a student working a summer job who didn’t really know much about what was going on. OK. I can forgive that, but the endless bad puns only added injury to the ask he made before he dropped us off when he noted to be sure to mention his name in the Trip Advisor review that he hoped we would leave (ask #1). That was only the start of things to come.
Secondly while the cabin was comfortably heated, the seating was not very comfortable and the wide-viewing windows were well, just windows. The decks were not in fact incredibly spacious. OK, they had to say something. And I don’t hold a little marketing speak against them.
Thirdly though the naturalists were not in fact full of information. They struck me as not trained naturalists but again as summer employees doing the best they could. Full of patter and puns but not particularly knowledgeable about the native animals or the environs. Even that I don’t begrudge them as it is really the job of the company to be sure that these folks are trained and meet the standards that they company has set for it self.
But then the hammer fell and the “naturalists” asked repeatedly for a TripAdvisor review and noted that we should be sure to include their first names and the name of the boat. One pointed out that not only did the boss and future customers read the reviews but his mother read them as well (ask #2 & #3). That was when I felt my wife cringe and note how uncomfortable they made her feel.
The final touch came when the Captain joined us and asked us to tip the crew and of course to leave a review at TripAdvisor (ask #4).
My Take & A Few Ideas To Improve
Firstly the trip just wasn’t that good. It was adequate at best. If the tour company really wants reviews then they trip quality should be improved.
Secondly, they did a better job of training their employees to ask for reviews then to provide informative and useful “information about Alaska’s wildlife”.
Also, the trip was large and largely impersonal. There was no real connection between the crew and the participants. Certainly no where near enough individual exchanges for the crew to feel like they were entitled to make so many asks.
I inquired of the 7 people in our party if any of them used TripAdvisor and to a person they all said that they did not. So the ask seemed both over the top and arbitrary to most of them.
Finally, it would appear, from the behaviors of the employees, that they were incentivized if their name was mentioned in the reviews. I have often suggested this as a possible way of being sure that an employee did in fact ask but there was so much else wrong in this situation that it just added fuel to fire.
Optimize The Customer Experience In Addition to The Review Request
What would I do differently if it were my company or I was consulting with them?
In this situation, I think that financial incentives for the employees might be misplaced. The employees should be encouraged to learn more, improve their knowledge AND make an effort to genuinely interact with the clients. They are incentized to get reviews at the expense of trip quality. Effectively they are taking their eye of the real ball of customer experience.
I would suggest that the compnay make claims that match reality. In this case that probably means underselling on the web and over training their employees.
The company would benefit from customer surveys so that they could get information to allow them to improve their services in a meaningful way. Their reviews are very positive on the web so in that sense it is working for them. But they are missing out on real feedback and real improvement and to some extent listening to the folks that are responding to their aggressive ask but not getting a full picture of the reality. To some extent the company seems to be in a reality distortion field of their own creation.
I am in the business of helping businesses get reviews but sometimes it’s all a bit much. And this was one of those times. We saw plenty of whales I just wished that I didn’t have to hear about the “naturalist’s” mother reading his reviews.
Great businesses constantly are improving their customer’s experience to make receiving 5-star reviews easier and authentic. When you put more effort into the force of asking for reviews than the experience, you will fall short over and over again, and maybe even further annoy your customers because your review request is a pretty big favor to ask.
This company did a great job optimizing their review process. But in the end, while optimizing for reviews is important, it should never be done at the expense of optimizing your business. A good business should be able to do both.