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Online ratings changed customer service
October 7, 2012 - Anita Hanaburgh
The time has come that we are able to find the ranking of every little thing. On the Internet, we can find out the opinion of every little person who visits any store, place of worship, gas station, franchise, hospital, even school ... On Angie’s List, you can find a four-star plumber or a three-star house painter.
On Amazon.com, every item has been reviewed, every book has a stream of reader opinion. On Amazon, you can find out if the shoes you want run true to size, if the song you want is suitable for your taste. Before we go to a movie, we know if our neighbors enjoyed it. Everything today has a rating on the web, and the hospitality industry has been deeply affected by this onslaught of opinion.
Before spending one nickel, right from my own living room, I can find out about the hotels in any city in the world, including my own. Before walking into a restaurant, I can find out the best item on the menu, read if the service was quick or leisurely or sluggish. Before walking in the door, I will know from many sources if this is a one-, two-, three-, four- or even five-star restaurant.
No longer do I need to rely on a restaurant review in a newspaper. No longer do I have to rely on my neighbors’ comments. By visiting sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Yelp, Dine.com, Urbanspoon or Trip Advisor, one can see the report card for a dining establishment graded by every day people like ourselves.
The availability of customer rankings via the internet has changed the face of customer service forever. The hospitality industry will never be the same. Ruth Reichl is a notorious New York times food critic. In her book, “Garlic and Sapphire,” Reichl describes in hilarious detail the many costumes she would wear to deceive the restaurants into thinking she was an everyday customer. Today, every single one of the restaurant’s everyday customers is a potential Ruth Reichl.
Oh, busboy, is this a good thing? Remembering the old management adage, “When performance is measured, performance improves,” I believe it is. The restaurant that is doing it right benefits the most, receiving more business. The benefit is obvious to the customer. If the establishment is trying harder, we benefit. We want a good experience for the money. The more we know before we go, the better. The “chance”?is removed somewhat. When visiting Amelia Island in Florida this winter, I consulted Trip Advisor for the ranking of the restaurants and to find out which ones existed. On a trip to a convention in Georgia, the group had reservations at a Marriott. I checked out the hotel on the Expedia website to see the ranking of the hotel and to find out what others were saying about the place. I also found some good restaurants nearby and learned that the hotel’s tavern served great roast beef sliders.
But should we trust these web opinions? I guess I trust the opinions as much as I trust the New York Times critic who makes an opinion after only one visit or as much as my neighbor’s comments. I trust them as much as picking a restaurant by its name or from the way it looks or from the menu framed on the outside wall.
But I read with discretion. The more reviews for each restaurant, the more I trust it. I read both the good and the bad comments. I read into what that commenter really wanted — his or her motivation, sincerity and objections. I am not turned off at a two-star. I check the dates. Maybe there are new owners or a new chef for 2012. Maybe I don’t care if the restaurant doesn’t have a great wine list, a good view or large servings.
Yes, clearly there are drawbacks to this universal rating based on anyone’s opinion. As with all ideas flying around the Internet, there is no denying that one disgruntled opinion could do a lot of damage to a business. The person who is unhappy might be the person most likely to comment (although oddly enough this universal rating has not turned into a complaint department, as might be expected). The restaurant’s competition could write really bad things. However, the owner’s mom and her eight sisters writing great comments can also sway rankings. It is not a perfect system.
Companies that rely on public comments try to maintain the integrity of their reporting. At 32 years old, Zagat is the oldest restaurant reviewer in this new Internet ratings business. During an interview regarding their company’s recent purchase by Google, Tim and Nina Zagat explained:?“For each reported opinion, Zagat employs an estimated 30 proprietary filters that test for repetitions, over submissions and other suspicious behaviors.” This is a good thing.
I understand it’s all a bit scary. Why, soon, we might be rating our date with the boy next door or our parenting skills or our ability as good neighbors, church members or employees. For better or worse, it is unlikely to change. Oh, and I do use them, and I will serve you how and why next week.
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