This is the second post in our reputation analysis about Grand Resort reputation as perceived by TripAdvisors reviewers. As explained in the precedent post, due to consistent negative reviews during year 2010, Grand Resort at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee was declared ‘The Dirtiest Hotel in the United States 2011’, last January 2011. This top worst 10 list published by TripAdvisor produces now a substantial media impact.
Nine months later, by mid October 2011, Ken Seaton, owner of Grand Resort announced a lawsuit against TripAdvisor. Grand Resort is claiming $10 million for compensatory and punitive damages. As stated in the claiming declaration:
The hotel owner contends that TripAdvisor acted irresponsibly by creating and publishing such a list without validating or investigating whether such a claim is truly warranted
In our precedent post we have shown that negative reputation suffered by Grand Resort in global ratings and in cleanliness was rather constant since TripAdvisors reviews are recorded, by year 2003. We show as recall these findings, that can be analyzed more in detail in our previous post.
The aim of this new post is to consider the Grand Resort case as the framework to study the influence of social media in brand reputation, and to assess different management approaches to deal with negative social media reputation.
As in all our posts in this blog, we do not aspire to provide new knowledge in terms of theoretical analysis and expertise. You can find elsewhere many brand, reputation and communication crisis experts that will offer you more accurate and valuable analysis. The added value we try to offer in this blog is to create new empirical data based in actual media coverage analysis (social media content in this post). If useful, this new material can be used by other experts or interested people in each one of the sectors that we cover in our studies (citing the sources, thanks). This is also why we do not spend time and post text in providing a theoretical framework and references to the existing academic literature of each topic covered.
The role that social media plays in a company reputation varies in each industry, and this is not a secret. Social media in itself is a vacuum impossible to handle and to manage. This also probably why we observe the explosion of experts in SEO, community managers, on-line reputation strategies and so on.
But we count with a specific segment of social media where information can be easily treated: users reviews and ratings. Measurable information means new knowledge. This is the main rule, that we firmly believe and that it is behind all the analysis showed in this post and all the results produced by our research group, Media Reputation and Intangibles at Universidad de Navarra. This new knowledge may be more or less relevant depending in what your business is.
As for the value generated by social media through users reviews, it is crucial in industries where the main value are intangible assets. Intangible assets are built by reputation, and actual reputation establishes the economic and commercial value of these assets. Of course, reputation itself is generated by facts, performance, quality and talent. The core mission in these businesses is to protect and improve reputation.
This implies excellence in your own business. Excellence can be managed by measuring and benchmarking objective data. But as reputation is the core critical factor, these business require to measure actual reputation as perceived by all relevant stakeholders. Managing reputation is basically matching perceptions with facts.
Then and thus, tracking and understanding the dynamics of reputation is a key mission of the management of companies dealing in industries relying in intangible assets.
Social media has provided new means and ways to count with valuable information about a company reputation that were impossible to imagine ten years ago. Facebook reactions, Youtube viewing and liking votes, online surveys, and ratings by users.
Online rating users is one of the most amazing new tools created by social media for reputation and brand managers. Sceptical readers may argue that users surveys is the most basic and traditional tool used by any excellent company dealing with intangible assets, and this well before internet existed and using much more accurate and demanding standards. Yes. And I completely agree. But I still mantain that online social media is creating a new era in reputation management, and the reason is clear: right now every company and product can raise free information not only about themselves, but also about competitors, market references or market outliers. Like never before, homogeneous information can be grasped about users reviews about all companies and products in a market.
Measurable information is new knowledge. Before internet era companies needed to pay the hard price to consulting firms to obtain reports about my company reputation in comparison to others. Probably many companies are still doing so. But I firmly believe that many of the results, analysis and conclusions needed by many companies can be generated from data open and freely accessible in the web. Of course, the support and help of specialists (like me?) dealing with the treatment of this data may be the most suitable solution. But, in the absence of other options, people from the corporate reputation department inside the company could manage available the information.
TripAdvisor is one of the references providing users reviews concerning hotel and restaurant services. TripAdvisor claim that there are some 40 million travellers per months checking the available information built by other users and create new content and value with additional reviews. There are some other relevant online hotel review providers in the market.
The role and usefulness of TripAdvisor is a matter of controversy among tourism professionals, corporate reputation managers and consulting firms. You can find examples of opposed views in the web. My intention now is not to defend or attack the value of TripAdvisor’s existence.
The goal of this post is to reflect about the possible ways to deal with negative social media reputation by users reviews. We use the example of Grand Resort but probably many of our reasoning can apply or be taken into consideration by others struggling with similar problems.
Grand Resort is ranking in the bottom of the list by past costumers publishing in TripAdvisor. In every city there are hotels and restaurants that are placed by reviewers in a similar unpleasant situation. Grand Resort case has been made a notorious one, but this is a fate shared by others.
How to deal with negative reputation developped by customers’ reviews? It depends on how the affected company perceives the contribution of customers reviews.
1. Users reviews as enemy
2. Users reviews as ally
USERS REVIEWS AS ENEMY
There are many ways and reasons to consider and behave as if what it written by reviews was a weapon against a company reputation. This may be a natural reaction by companies suffering from bad reputation. It emerges then a clear risk to consider that users reviews and social media are not the consequence but the cause of negative reputation.
If this is the mental starting point, social media is perceived by owners and/or managers as enemies that require to be treated as such. An enemy fights against your interests and you should spend your energy in weakening their force and opposing to their attacks against your own positions. Your final goal is to eliminate them.
Those are some of the reactions that a company may oppose to foe users reviews:
1. The conspiracy theory
Poor ratings do not correspond to my true customers. They are constructed by malevolent people unfriendly with my company because of personal reasons completely unrelated with the actual quality of my products and services. In some extreme cases, the attacked company may perceive an obscure hand behind the negative ratings: bad reputation is the consequence of a criminal plot. This manipulation may be orchestrated by ruthless competitors or even by personal enemies of the owners.
We show thee fragments of the lawsuit presented by Grand Resort attorneys against TripAdvisor:
(TripAdvisor) published its allegations combining and confederating together with others by maliciously and wrongfully contriving, designing and intending to cause respected customers to lose confidence in the (Grand Resort)
Rogers stated that due to the large amount of negative reviews as well as fake 5-star positive ratings provided by soliciting companies, the attention is now focused on the actions and negative effects of companies such as TripAdvisor.
The lawsuit alleges that growing negative practices and the role of TripAdvisor and other online websites are creating false images of businesses across the globe and giving false pretenses about good businesses. These websites and companies now make it possible to post positive reviews for one’s own business as well as negative for the competition. (Grand Resort lawsuit press release)
As we have pointed out in our precedent post, the consistency of negative ratings during 8 years of reviews by TripAdvisor users can be hardly be caused by malicious means and intentions beyond the natural reaction of unhappy customers.
2. The Soviet-like propaganda
Another eventual reaction to negative reputation is to counter-attack directly and in the opposite way. Provide through your own channels pieces of evidence that tend to show that the opposite is true: the worst perception is opposed to the most brilliant facts and accomplishments, and exactly in the very same issues. This is like showing your awards as eco-friendly company when you are facing an oil spill uncontrolled and provoked by mismanagement. Or if Iran presented its annual prizes for freedom of speech defenders.
This approach is run by companies that try to preserve their natural space from reputation contagion. They show only their accomplishments and do not mention at all the criticism raised by customers.
When presenting the lawsuit against TripAdvisor to the press, the owner “stated at the time that it had ‘recently come under new management’, who were taking action to address its problems. It had also scored ’89 out of 100 possible points’ during a recent surprise inspection by local health officials, he said” (Mountain Press, Oct 18 2011)
No mention at all is made to cleanliness critics or to measures taken to improve conditions or to improve reputation.
If looking only to Grand Resort site, a potential customer would consider that the hotel is a top rated establishment by all standards… including customers’ reputation. But it is not reasonable to assume that a new customer only checks information directly through company website and not through other sources like TripAdvisor or agencies. Soviet-like propaganda can be implemented only in Soviet-like framework, and hotel services in United States is not among those.
In fact, if this strategy was paying and helped to protect future customers against negative reputation from other sources, it would be in sharp contrast with the evident claim established in the lawsuit that TripAdvisor list produces irreparable harming.
The attorneys argue the Grand has lost “the confidence of the persons, firms and corporations” that have used its accomodations in the past because of the survey, meaning those guests might not return. (Mountain Press, Oct 18 2011)
As for the benefits of this strategy. It is rewarding if negative reputation does not correspond with actual quality of service. By contrast, if the company, here the hotel really suffers from what customers denounce, then new unsatisfied customers that check TripAdvisor ratings afterwards increase outrage as they consider fooled by misleading advertising. Infuriated customers add a new reason to react publishing very negative reviews.
3. Discredit the value of users’ reviews
If users reviews are enemies against your own interests, you can try to proof that what they contend is false. You will look then into the elaboration of the reviews and show that they are incorrect, unprofessional, misleading, exaggerated, unrepresentative and biased. If you are able to show that the reviews are inconsistent, then you can expect to weaken their reliability and credibility. As explained, there are many people and institutions in the tourism sector that spend a lot of energy trying to proof all the caveats and limitations of users reviews.
They are surely correct and users reviews are full of limitations. But this strategy probably misses the point if the goal is to restore a devastated reputation of a touched company. This criticism against reviews can limit their reliability in general, but they do not provide any useful help in the short term for individual companies suffering from negative reputation. This strategy can be used by an entire industry, but it almost nobody will trust the allegations of an accused company concerning the reliability of the accusing reviewer.
The main strategy followed in the lawsuit against TripAdvisor is that awarding Grand Resort as the dirtiest hotel
without validating or investigating whether such a claim is truly warranted
This claim is followed by the arguments supporting the idea that users reviews are not valuable:
the hotel is not disputing the true, authentic reviews of guests that have stayed with us, but we are disputing the title unjustly bestowed on our hotel by TripAdvisor and their methods, or lack thereof, and questions how they made such a determination
We have presented in the ‘conspiracy theory’ that Grand Resort argues that now there is a current policy to contract solicitors to increase the number of positive reviews, or to contract negative reviews on competitors. If this practice was proof to be extended, then Grand Resort could demonstrate that reputation created by users reviews is fake and completely unreliable.
One amazing anecdotical thing for the Grand Resort case is that, as explained, Grand Resort web site presents in its main page a congratulations letter and two testimonial praising services and specially cleanliness.
We reprint the one by a customer published in February 2011, after that the ‘Dirtiest list’ was published:
I’VE ALWAYS LOVED THIS PLACE
I’m totally baffled by the poor reviews of this hotel. I read them before going to the hotel for an overnighter (to see see a concert at the Convention Center) and worried if I was making a big mistake. Then I saw on their website that they had received an 89 out of 100 score from the County Health Dept inspection and thought: “I’m going to give it a try” and I am so glad I did! The room was VERY comfortable, clean, and the bed was great! The staff was very friendly and willing to do anything we asked of them. The breakfast buffet was hot and delicious too! Can’t say enough good for this inexpensive hotel. I would stay again ANY time and recommend it to anyone to do the same. Thanks Grand Resort Hotel!
Feb. 12, 2011.
What is amazing to me is not properly the content itself. The surprising thing is that this review was published in the attacked/discredited TripAvisor users review site! Grand Resort will find embarrassing to legally proof that TripAdvisors reviews are flawed when they use one of the positive reviews as testimonials for the quality and cleanliness of their service.
The second testimonial, also written after the list was published, appeared also as a TripAdvisor users review increasing the 2011 hotel rating in this site.
4. Time inconsistency
Time inconsistency in dealing with negative social media reputation is normally not an strategy by itself, and it reveals rather the absence of a clear strategy. It is another reaction that can arise when you consider users review as enemies.
Inconsistency appears when you announce that you will take into serious consideration views expressed by customers in such online supports and there is no clear continuation of the communication concerning the improvements made or at least the efforts undertaken.
Announcing measures or establishing contact with unhappy customers without clear continuation afterwards tend to undermine the credibility of the company affected by negative ratings as sensitive to customer satisfaction. Grand Resort has opened communication and dialogue with unsatisfied reviewing costumers in the past.
For instance, there were many comments and clarifications by year 2005 critics, by Ken Seaton II, Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Ken Seaton II reacted to no less than 14 negative and positive reviews between April 2005 and February 2006. Answers were always polite and constructive, and they never attacked the views expressed by costumers.
We show as an example the critics from a very angry customer and the polite reaction from management
Reviewed October 30, 2005
We stayed at the Grand Hotel for one night. It looked old from the outside and was even worse on the inside. The room smelled musty and the carpet looked filthy. There were spider webs and dirt EVERYWHERE. There was a water leak between the bed and the wall. We called the front desk to tell them about the water. They sent someone up to check and we were told it was the seal around the toilet leaking. My husband asked if we needed to be moved to another room and they said no that they would fix it. They replaced the seal on the toilet and left. We left for the evening and came back later. During the night I got up and the carpet was soaked again. The person in the room next to us was running bath water. The next morning while we were taking our baths, I noticed water standing in the bathroom floor and the carpet in the room was soaked. The water was leaking from around the tub. We complained and moved to another hotel.
Was this review helpful? Problem with this review? This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Ken Seaton II, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center, responded to this review
November 8, 2005
I am sorry you were not moved or given the option to move immediately. Customer satisfaction is our main priority. Thank you for your business!
Then came a two years silence, and new communication emerged in May 2008 by Dean Chandler, General Manager. Comments to a couple of negative reviews were made again in a positive way.
Communication with unhappy TripAdvisor reviewers terminated then. As we have shown in our precedent post, ratings dropped in year 2009 and 2010, but we have not found new interaction with costumers from management.
From one side, Grand Resort management showed at a given moment that they cared about TripAdvisor users reviews. They did not consider them as flawed and misleading. They show comprehension, they even showed sorry and they used critics to explain measures undertaken to correct the situation. But this communication did not continue in time and it was abandoned these last three years.
A similar attitude has been followed concerning the reaction given after appearing in the ‘top dirtiest hotel’. As showed in the precedent post, initial official reaction was to accept the public punishment as means for improving quality standards at Grand Hotel:
The hotel’s management group, Grand Resort Hotel Group, issued a response to the ranking after TripAdvisor offered a preview of the list Monday and prompted stories by media outlets.
“We (The Grand Resort Hotel Group) acknowledge and accept full responsibility for the current situation and would like to state that this issue is being taken very seriously,” the statement reads.
It goes on to state that the property has recently gotten new leadership who intend to fix the problem.
(Mountain Press, January 2011)
As already known, nine months later the approach has completely changed, and now TripAdvisor reviews are not considered as an opportunity to restore reputation, but as the cause of present negative reputation.
Again, a so strong time inconsistency diminishes the ability to take advantade of customers criticism.
5. Manipulation of users ratings by fake reviews
If your company is suffering from a bad social media reputation and you do not trust their views as being representative (users reviews as enemies), then a natural reaction is to try to modify artificially users perceptions by using their same tools: producing favorable reviews, fake reviews.
This goal can be reached using techniques more or less aggressive: by asking friends or relatives of managers or workers to post reviews (with our without an stay in the hotel), by bribing guest to post a review in exchange of reduced prices, by contracting firms specialized in sending guests to publish positive reviews.
This is in fact one of the main arguments supporting the lawsuit by Grand Resort against TripAdvisor. We show again the excerpt referring to this practice.
The lawsuit alleges that growing negative practices and the role of TripAdvisor and other online websites are creating false images of businesses across the globe and giving false pretenses about good businesses. These websites and companies now make it possible to post positive reviews for one’s own business as well as negative for the competition.
If Grand Resort mention this practice that would harm the credibility of TripAdvisor ratings is because they know for sure the existence of such practices. Of course Grand Resort interest lie in proving that negative fake reviews do exist and are a relevant share of total reviews. A way for Grand Resort to try to give force to their arguments in the course of the legal action would probably be to show that they have actually contracted such professional services in order to correct their negative reputation, and that these fake positive reviews have been accepted and published by TripAdvisor.
Nevertheless, proving that some positive reviews are fake is not enough in order to prove that negative reviews are fake. Again, in the case that we are considering now, time consistency in bad reviews is too strong to make think that they could be mainly the fruit of malevolent competitors.
Can this strategy be effective?
It will be useful in the short term, if the goal pursued is just to move out of the bottom list, or to escape for being declared again ‘The Dirtiest Hotel’. This is really not a minor gain.
It is more doubtful that this technique would be able to reverse the negative reputation trend besides the impact produced in ratings by the fake positive reviews themselves. The management of a hotel that do not believe in users reviews think that customer perceptions are fickle and easily manipulated by what other customers perceive. Creating new false positive perceptions today would influence and increase the number of positive reviews tomorrow.
Of course, we are strongly influenced by others views. But again, if customers reviews are based in actual poor quality service and not only what others say, the impact of positive reviews by others would be limited.
The impact of positive reviews is smaller if those fake reviews are not credible. One of the clear and typical limitations of fake positive reviews is that they are obliged to give good ratings, and they tend to do it indiscriminately. So, they give 4 or 5 points, not only in the global rating but in all components of the ratings.
When the average rating of all costumers is below to 1.5 points out of 5, neutral readers of reviews tend to think that superpositive ratings are made by hotel friends or attached to it, that they are fake or that it corresponds to an overreaction by a satisfied customer.
To my opinion, for hotels devastated by extremely low customers ratings, the most valuable authentic and fake ratings that can influence other readers are neutral ratings moving around the 3 points waters.
As a reminder of the results published in our precedent post, we found that in Grand Resort case, the maximum rating given to Grand Resort for cleanliness during all year 2010 was 3 (out of 5). There was no 4 or 5 ratings in any one of the 45 reviews published in year 2010. One year later, and after the Grand was declared ‘The dirtiest hotel in America’ 8 reviews out of 54 (14.8% of all reviews) gave a 4 or a perfect 5. As explained, this unusual new reviewers behavior will save Grand Hotel for being ranked number 1 in the worst list, but it will probably do little in restoring its reputation on cleanliness.
Even if we have mentioned that we do not want to overcrowd this post with external references, it is really worth to mention here a study carried out by Myle Ott and others (Finding Deceptive Opinion Spam by Any Stretch of the Imagination). They try to identify which is the content profile of fake reviews. We show here the example provided by a New York Times about this research which is quite revealing and could be useful in re-reading unusual positive users reviews.
We have presented what we consider the basic reactions and tactics followed by a company that consider negative users reviews as enemies.
We move now to the other camp, and reflect about what can do a company suffering from negative reputation, and thinks that the negative ratings published by customers may handle the reasons and secrets to recover.
USERS REVIEWS AS ALLY
A company that considers negative users reviews as ally is a company and a management that it is ready to assume that they are not doing all OK, and that they do not know all the reasons to understand why they are not doing things well in some aspects. It is probably not easy to accept such a starting point by professionals that are experts in their own field and are persuaded that they know the needs and demands of their costumers that have been served for years.
It is not easy to accept by managers and workers actually caring about their job and providing excellent services to a vast majority of their costumers that they can learn how to improve results by analysing what unhappy customers are writting in public areas.
Whatever the obstacles for accepting it, once that negative reviews are considered as a potential ally for improving the quality of service, improvement may eventually happen as they provide useful information besides or behind their angry reaction and ugly reporting.
Our intention is to show as examples some empirical information and results that Grand Resort could obtain by just listening wisely what critics are saying and how critics dynamics happen.
The aim of this section is to proof our inititial statement in this post: like never before, consumers reviews are an extremely powerful tool for driving reputation in many industries. And the amazing thing is that thanks to TripAdvisor own business model and those using a similar approach, the needed and valuable information is completely accessible and free to everyone.
The context of this post is a that of a company suffering from the worst consumers ratings in its area. The information that we will present respond to the needs of a company trying to find ways desesperately to redress the situation and improve reputation, as this may be even a matter of business survival. Hotels in other situation would need and find other results adapted to their specific needs.
It could be worth to note that the hotel that was named the ‘Dirtiest Hotel in United States 2010’ Heritage Marina Hotel, San Francisco, is currently closed.
The starting point of our analysis giving the framework is that things cannot really worsen much more for Grand Resort in terms of TripAdvisor reviews reputation. A lot can be learnt from available information, and some of it could be useful for improving things.
1. Where I Am? Where Are They?
If you realize that your company (hotel) is receiving a lot of neagtive reviews you may already guess that you are not the best perceived provider in your sector. TripAdvisor and other similar services can tell you how bad are you really as perceived by customers, as you can check not only your own records, but all free information is free concerning users’ reviews of all your competitors. As explained, if you rely on what customers think and publish, you are ready to gather a lot of free and rich information.
In the specific case of Grand Resort, they have an additional piece of information, as they have been ‘awarded’ as the dirtiest not only in Pigeon Forge or in Tennessee but even overlla in the United States. This awful piece of information is not available to average companies. So they require to explore into data in order to know how my ratings perform in comparison to relevant competitors.
That’s what we have done.
We present in the following figure the list of all hotels in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee included in TripAdvisor site. We have excluded results concerning hotels with less than 10 reviews. Scale varies from 5 (Excellent) to (1) terrible. Top hotel by reputation in Pigeon Forge is Clarion Inn with an outstanding average rating of 4.90 based in 547 different reviews.
In the other side we find Grand Resort, the red dot, with an average rating of 1.57. Before receiving a couple of extremely positive results, its rating was 1.3.
As explained, the bad news is that reviewers are reflecting an awful picture. The good thing is that it is almost impossible to deteriorate current situation. The task is to move upwards and escape from the bottom of the city list. TripAdvisor provides me a free picture of all relevant players for clarifying my situation, all other hotels in Pideon Forge.
Now, from that global picture, that can be created for every company or hotel, useful information can be generated depending on the specific needs of each firm. Knowing where all my competitors are allow me to question which are the similatiries and differences with any selected group of competitors. This exercice can be made to check my situation against competitors similar to me in ratings, or to compare to top brand in mi sector or to compare to feasible benchmarks.
2. Why you don’t love me?
TripAdvisor provides an initial evidence: users take the effort to write consistenly very negative reports about my service. The natural question that immediately appear if I trust these reviews is: Why?
And TripAdvisor open information can provide a number of clear insights about this why.
TripAdvisor provides basically 5 sources of information that can provide relevant information if used wisely:
1. A global rating of the user experience
2. A detailed rating of specific components related with the stay (rooms, service, cleanliness, location and others).
3. A review where the user write and share why the stay was positive/average/negative. This is an open text, with no space limits.
4. A headline chosen by the author of the review
5. A “What I liked” “What I disliked”, in a limited single phrase space.
These sources are the basis for understanding why costumers give their ratings.
Let’s show some examples concerning Grand Resort.
A first output is the answers given concerning point 2: the numerical ratings about elements of the stay. Scale moves also between 1 and 5.
Results show that lower ratings are awarded for quality of rooms, sleep and cleanliness, with an average rating of 1.6-1.7 points. Service and value are also below the “Poor” level. Business service neras 2 points. Check in service is the best valuated service, but rating is still a poor 2.2 value. The only element rated positively by average customers is location, with 3.2 points.
This figure provides then a fisrt insight of what people dislike the most from the service received.
Another very substantial source of rich information is of course content analysis of reviews made by costumers. One of the mist influencial elements is the headline chosen by the user. This is the tool that the customer has to attract attention and push interested people to read the full review.
Also, the headline tends to concentrate the main raison why a past customer is outraged with the service or experience in the hotel.
The headline is also probably the single element affecting the more readers peception (altogether with the global rating), as many times people take ‘a flavor’ of what past costumers satisfaction was by just taking a look to several or all headlines and stopping to read just a selection of reviews.
So, headline analysis is, according to our perception, a stricking information tool.
In the next figure, we show the composition of headlines in TripAdvisors reviews about Grand Resort Pigeon Forge. They are negative (red) in their vast majority.
Looking into details, it could be appreciated that terms used are really bold. Review headline like “Filthy” or “Sleep in y0ur car!” or “My worst experience ever” produce clearly a strong negative perception in potential new costumers reading the reviews before deciding which hotel to choose. These strong negative headlines encouraging readers to avoid the hotel suppose some 49% of all review headlines. The extent of negative reviews showing outraged and angry customers is a very important information available thanks to the existence of open reviewing sites.
As explained, the headline imposes to the angry costumer to choose the element that supposed the biggest negative impact. The profile of categories of terms used in negative reviews indicate thus what customers dislike the most from the service received.
Some of these elements are just showing strong upset, but they do not provide insights about specific weaknesees. This is the case with critics like “worst”, “awful/terrible”, “stay away”, “I will no stay again”.
The critics providing specific information are “Dirty”, which is in fact related with the ‘Award’ received by Grand Resort. It supposes 13.1% of all news. This is a fact. The next step is how to interpret it. Is it a lot? Or is this number revealing in fact that the main management problem by Grand Resort is not finally cleanliness, as only 1 out of 6 negative reviews refer explicitly to this problem? Additional pieces of information are needed before answering this crucial issue for Grand Resort (and any other hotel facing negative reviews). This information is provided as always by TripAdvisor reviewers, as we will show in a new section.
A substantial amount of negative critics explain their negative experience by attacking the name of the hotel. They simply say that “it is not Grand”, or “Last Resort”. Your brand name is the tool chosen by 12.5% reviewers to critizise the service. This is again a precious information. This category include also critics stating that advertising/web site is misleading.
Other critics referring to specific issues are for instance “rude staff” (2.6%), “Older” (4.3%), “No refunds”, “Parking problems”.
The review in itself contains of course a lot of valuable information. It can be used by just proceeding to a content analysis of each single review, in order to provide a figure similar to the one presented jut below. Content analysis can be undertaken by referring to the categories identified with the headline analysis. Full text content analysis opens also the possibility to identify very specific problems or issues linked to the real life of the hotel (pool, breakfast, room service, check in, check out, reservations, …).
3. How did we get here?
Results about negative reviews shown in the precedent section show the global picture concerning how I am perceived by some past costumers willing to share their experience publicly with other. This results has been calculated with the sum of all reviews referring to Grand Resort as published in TripAdvisor site. This represent 284 reviews, published between August 2003 and October 2011. All all these reviews are accessible to all, they offer an excellent additional tool for reputation management: a time evolution analysis.
The global perception about Grand Resort services is strongly negative. Is this a problem created recenty by the current staff? Is this the fault of the negative legacy effects produced by bad practices in the past? Have upset costumers identified the same kend of problems as cuase of disatisfaction? All these questions can be handled by proceeding to a time analysis of ratings and reviews.
We have already shown in the precedent post the results concerning the evolution of ratings concerning overall perception and about cleanliness. We recover here the results, as they help us to answer some of the questions raised.
As explained in the previous post, we found out that cleanliness percpetion is strongly associated to the global rating giving by users. We also find that very negative average ratings is not something news, as cleanliness rating was below the 2.0 mark in years 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
This is also telling the managers that years 2005 and 2008 were good reputation years, by comparison. Of course, positive ratings could be affected in part by fake or paid contributions. If this is the case, this would provide misleading information about actual customers perception. Managers knowing which are the fake reviews should eliminate them from the sample and estimate results excluding them.
With the information, and supposing that results are not manipulated with fake or inducted positive reviews, managers could check about practices followed in years 2005 and specially in year 2008 in order to learn practical lessons about how to reverse present poor condition.
The overall lesson emerging from the pictures is that negative reputation is associated to Grand Resort from the old days and that things have worsened since year 2009. This is telling that bad reputation is something structural and that if a new start is wished, it imposed also structural changes in comparison to business as usual in the last ten years.
Time information can also be exploited and create new knowledge using the other available sources. It can be explored for instance the time evolution of the critics showed in the review headlines. This is what is captured in the following figure.
We show the evolution between 2004 and 2011 of the share of specific negative headlines used by TripAdvisor reviewers. We do not enter into detailed analysis of the content of the figure, because our goal is just to show the tools, not to assume a full consulting analysis. We just focus on the presence of critics concerning dirtiness. It can be appreciated that this critic played a minor role between 2004 and 2007. There was even no mention at all to it during year 2005. It reappears in year 2008. It increases substantially during year 2010. This was the fatal year for Grand Resort, as 2010 reviews deserved it the title of “the distiest hotel in America”. After this terrible award was know, by January 2011, references to dirtiness are still present, but they not tend to explode.
Other reputation management information can be derived from the analysis of this figure, that we do not develop in this post.
And my worst weakness?
In precedent sections we found out what things Grand Resort reviewers diskike the most and their time evolution.
It would be nevertheless a mistake to directly take for granted the outraged views and problems mentioned as the actual cause of bad reputation and eventually (if you consider reviews as ally) bad management.
It would seem that the alert of distrust that we present is completely opposed to all our previous discourse. Of course, there is no oppsosition, because we have never say that you should believe all what angry customers tell about you. Our statement is that you can learn a lot about yourself by listening their complaints very carefully. But carefully does not mean to take all their critics as truths.
For instance, it would be a mistake to conclude that what management should do in order to improve service and reputation should be to take revolutionary measures concerning room cleanliness, as we find that this is the main source of discontent (13.1% of all headline reviews), or that new training techniques should be adopted as 2.6% of negative headline refer to rude staff.
It would be also a mistake to consider that your main problems are rooms, cleanliness and sleep because these are the elements that score the worst average ratings.
Before taking conclusions and management recommendations, the crucial question is: It is too much a rate of 13.1% reviews mentioning problemos with dirtiness? And more importantly, Is dirtiness or bad service my main weakness? If so, all meaasures should be taken in order to address the issue. If not, you are spending your efforts and energies in a bad direction, and future ratings will probably no improve.
The information concerning how poor your hotel is graded by costumers is not yet enough to answer these so crucial questions.
Which is the best way to identify my own weaknesses in a context where my angry customers say that I am doing all things terribly? The golden rule is always: by comparison.
If you compare your records with ratings and reviews given to another set of hotels similar to you, the comparison analysis will provide probably all basic answers. So, the task in our Grand Resort case is to collect information -for instance- of those other hotels ranked also worst by TripAdvisor reviewers. Again, the good news is that all this required and valuable information is accesible and for free.
In this point, practical decisions must be taken. We present here some of the possible options.
We decide to check the profile of the 5 worst ranked hotels in Pigeon City excluding Grand Resort. We discard hotels with less than 10 reviews. It is surprising/embarrassing/amazing to find that 4 of these 5 hotels belong all to Grand Resort group owned by Mr Ken Seaton. This complicate of course the analysis of the results, if it happens that all hotels apply the same management system and quality standards. Another option could see to exclude them and choose other unrelated hotels. We keep the sample, as our aim is to compara Grand Resort with other hotels in the same area that receive similar poor review ratings.
Once the gruop of comparison has been selected, the terms of comparison should be chosen.
One very interesting term of comparison is the ratings of the different elements of service (rooms, cleanliness, check in, and other). It would generate very useful information. We do not conduct this analysis here as this is not a full consulting report but just an example of the approach and the analysis tools.
Another term of comparison, that we select, is to compare the kind of negative review headlines used in hotels with bad reputation compared to Grand Resort. Results are shown in the figure below.
The main difference between Grand Resort and other poor ranked hotels is that many negative reviews make puns or mocking wordplay using the name of the hotel, Grand Resort. This happens in 15% of all negative reviews. There is no such kind of headlines for the other battered hotels (Family Inns, Grand Inns, Howard Johnson). We will come later in our analysis on the consequences of using a brand name that is used by your own costumers against you.
Concerning our present analysis, the consequence is that the name of the hotel creates an artificial differenciation concerning the use of negative reviews. In order to inocualte the impact of this factor, the best thing is to recalculate the results after eliminating the impact of direct references to the name of the hotel. This is what me make in our next figure.
Now results can be considered perfectly comparable. We can enter into the analysis of what Grand Customers perceive as worst things from Grand Resort in a higher degree than costumers of other bad ranked hotels.
We fins a higher reference to ‘I will no stay again/Not worth the price’. It indicates a disappoinment based on previous expectations or a bad quality/price ratio. But it does not point out to service failures.
A second element where Grand Resort react more than in other similar hotels is that they perceive it as ‘Older/Outdated’ or suffering from specific problems.
Finally, there is a higher rate of mention to ‘bugs/roach’ than elsewhere. This is a critic directly linked to the dirtinest ranking and reveal cleanliness problems. Of course, it can be understood that receiving this kind of negative headline is probably one of the most disgusting, with a potential higher negative impact on future customers.
This is for the specific weaknesses attributed to Grand Resort. The figure provides also knowledge concerning other negative issued where Grand Resort performs better than the other similar hotels.
And then we find the striking result that direct mentions to ‘dirty/filthy/dump’ appear in a smaller proportion in Grand Resort headline reviews than in the other similar hotels. The gap is substantial (13.2% vs 18.3%).
This is also a very important result, as it is telling us that Grand Resort is not perceived as the dirtiest hotel, not even in Pigeon Forge. This conclusion remains if we sum the ‘dirty/filthy’ label with the ‘bugs/roach’ one (18.4% Vs 20.3%). Of course, TripAdvisor is not using our measurement system to elaborate their rankings, but now we are not looking for rankings but for identification of management problems.
TripAdvisor probably gets its results from the ‘cleanliness’ rating included in the review survey. As explained, we do not proceed in this post to run the analysis of this source, even if it is clearly a rich source of information.
There are other points where other bottom ranked hotels perform worst than Grand Resort in terms of costumers percpetion. First, nobody considers Grand Resort as ‘noisy’. Secondly, thereis a lower degree of critics concerning ‘rude staff’. Even the devastating ‘Awful/Sleep in your car’ is less present in Grand Resort than away.
There is another additional lesson emerging from the comparative analysis: the profile composition of bad reviews are astonishing similar in Grand Resort Vs other hotels, broadly speaking. This is telling us that even if of course all reviews are individual and focus each one i¡on a different issue, the global picture is very similar. Rviews follow an unconscious common pattern and you realize it when you gather all the information together. This is another empirical information that reviews are not absurd and non-sense or out of reality: the knowledge emerging from the collective social contributions is rich, valuable and almost impossible to find elsewhere.
What if we compare Grand Resort weaknesses against those from non similar hotels? This would provide benchmark references and improvement patterns. It is not worth to compare Grand Resort to leading hotels in the area. Simply because top ranked hotels in Pigeon Forge receive only a marginal and not relevant share of negative reviews translated into the review headlines.
We propose to use as benchmark for assessing how to fight against negative reviews by checking the status of average hotels in the region. They receive both positie and negative reviews, and becoming an average hotel for bottom ranked hotels is an ambitious but feasible goal.