Do expectations cloud online travel reviews?

The other day a client expressed his frustration with Priceline reviews. He is in the habit of using reviews to address operational issues and he was frustrated that Priceline didn’t allow him to publicly respond to reviews or follow up with reviewers for more information. He said, “What good is it for me to read a review that states a bed is lumpy if I can’t fix the problem because I don’t know what room the reviewer stayed in and there’s no way for me to find out?” When he sees the same issue come up in multiple reviews he goes nuts because he is listening and he wants to solve problems but he doesn’t have the information he needs. I agree that Priceline would be doing the industry a favor by allowing feedback or at least a private response mechanism.

The client also felt that Priceline reviews are a terrible way to gauge customer satisfaction because they are clouded by reviewers’ expectations based on cost, since many Priceline travelers don’t know the hotel they are booking until their price is accepted. He felt that a review would be positive if you felt you got more for your money or negative if you felt you got your money’s worth or less. When I thought about it, I had to agree. It’s common sense to set your expectations according to how much you spend. For example, if I spend a small amount of money for a 4 star hotel in a major city, I am likely to be very excited about the hotel and my review will show it. If, on the other hand, I don’t feel like I got a bargain because I paid what I felt was market rate for hotel that didn’t wow me, I will likely be disappointed and that will cloud my review.

What can hoteliers do? While it will take extra work and some training, I think it’s possible to drive good reviews on Priceline. Since you know who your Priceline guests are at check-in, you can acknowledge them in your welcome by saying, “So glad to have you with us. I know we were selected for you by Priceline but I hope we will exceed your expectations and you will chose to stay with us in the future. Please let me know if we can do anything to make your stay better, or if we don’t meet your expectations in any department.” Often, just offering to help and showing you care will impact a guest’s perception. And, of course, follow- through is critical if issues are reported.

But before we think that these problems only exist on name-your-price sites, today, I saw this review on TripAdvisor.

Once you get past the fact that this review should never have been posted since the stay hasn’t yet occurred, it’s obvious that expectations are at play. Before even staying at the hotel, the reviewer is willing to give it a 4-star review AND recommend the hotel to a friend. Without ever being a guest, he perceives the hotel to be 4 star, once again showing how important online reputation is for hotels.

Bigger brands have it a bit easier when it comes to perceived reputation. Most brand name hotels are able to drive business because of their name. If I want a luxury hotel I know that I can’t go wrong at a Four Seasons Hotel or a Ritz. Similarly, if I want a cool, modern room at a fair price I know an Aloft is a good choice. But how about all the independent hotels that don’t have a brand name to drive expectation? These hotels need to build their online reputation to take advantage of the great, free channels that consumers flock to before booking rooms. And while it sounds daunting and expensive, all that means is that hotels need to meet and/or exceed customers’ expectations and get them to share their experiences on travel sites and social networks. Luckily, this behavior is starting to come naturally, as we document our lives in status updates, tweets and check-ins. In this business, it’s good to have a reputation the precedes you.

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