Monday, 27 May 2013

Trip Advisor and the Truth

TripAdvisor and the Truth

"I recently visited your cafe after living in Knowle for many years, I stumbled upon it by accident. It was closed; it being a Sunday afternoon and all, so I thought I'd try it out on a Saturday. The following is my intended review for TripAdvisor if I do not hear back from anyone within 5 days"

As a small business we welcome I guess every business should. All normal rational people would want to hear from their customers when things go well, and of course when things have not been so good. It is preferable that customers raise issues with staff at the time, but in the real world some people prefer not to do that.

For this reason Trip Advisor has its place. In theory, businesses get to hear the honest views from their customers. The problem occurs when irrational people feel they have the right to bully businesses through the power of Trip Advisor. To date this proposed review has not been posted, but instead has been used as some kind of a threat against us. I regard this as a quite objectionable use of a website such as Trip Advisor.

A quick Google search brings up hotel guests using the threat of a bad review to gain discounts or upgrades. Duncan Bannatyne himself has raised issues about the validity of posts made concerning his hotel chain.

A BBC report stated that hoteliers said that younger people - aged below 40 - were too quick to post negative reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor, whilst those over 40 address the problems directly with staff.

This is my recent experience concerning a customer who claims a scone served to her in my cafe was substandard. Now, for the record, I fully accept that this lady is possibly telling the truth regarding the scone. We serve lots of freshly baked, homemade scones every day to plenty of happy customers, but I accept that one could have fallen below standard. It could happen. We would prefer it if it didn’t... but this is real life. My staff all work extremely hard to ensure that all of our customers receive quality food along with good old fashioned hospitality, and all take immense pride in their work. Had this lady chosen to raise this matter with any staff member, it would have been resolved in a quick and efficient manner, and most importantly, to the customer's satisfaction.

But this blog is not about a scone. It is about raising the issue of individuals who, for whatever reason, wish to use a website such as Trip Advisor, as a threat, rather than a means of providing a genuine, honest review. It seems that this tactic is being used up and down the country as a means of obtaining free or discounted products and services.

The threatened review was not limited to a substandard scone. The lady in question went on to attack  every other area of my business, and in doing so, sought to get a response from me within a stated time limit. Given that my staff are all friendly, approachable people, I found this method of communication simply absurd.

Is it about time that venomous attacks on genuine businesses via Trip Advisor are bought under control? On behalf of hard working businesses and their staff everywhere, I feel I must make a stand against this growing trend to damage the reputation of genuine hard working people in this country. I am so confident in what my business is trying to achieve in terms of customer experience, that I am prepared to publish this review currently held over my head as a threat.

This astonishing email opened with with the above paragraph.The email went on to attack every area of my business, including my hard working staff.

This is my open letter to the lady who sought to threaten my livelihood and those of my staff in such an appalling way...

My business in its current form, has been open for just eighteen months. In fact, I have been trading elsewhere for the past twenty two years. In line with the advice from Mary Portas, I, along with my superb team of staff, have worked unbelievably hard to create a truly unique venue, where we try to put customers at the centre of all we do.

We are all hard working, honest, decent people. I was somewhat taken aback at your need to threaten me in an effort to ensure I responded to you. Why on earth would I not respond to a customer who felt she had a justified complaint about my business? It struck me as bullying behaviour. You can rest assured that I would have responded to you without the threat, because I am running a professional business here that values its customers.

You may well be aware that the business consists of a fashion boutique, with clothes made on the premises in the studio above the shop, along with a fashion themed cafe, complete with a sweeping red catwalk carpet down the centre! We try to stock quirky items not normally found on the high street, and indeed some of our suppliers are individual British designers, working hard in their own businesses, creating products the old fashioned way. I like to support them, after all, it wasn’t that long ago since I was working away in a converted garage creating unique clothing for individual clients. As a single mother to two small children, I was determined not to live on benefits, and worked incredibly hard to keep a roof over our heads through sheer hard work and with very little in the way of support.

My life changed forever when I won a business competition, the prize being a shop rent free for a year. I learnt so much during that time, in fact, all of the ideas for my current business emerged as a result of my experiences that year. More recently I have won the local Solihull News Business Person of the Month award.

The move to Knowle has been the highlight of my business life. It is the result of twenty two years of hard work. We have worked hard to be part of the community here. We support several local charities, offer support to the local infant school, and have recently donated a dress to a local secondary school to enable a young lady,who couldn’t afford a gown, to attend the annual prom. Local people enjoy our evening events here and many families use our venue to celebrate the important occasions in their lives.

“The shop is somewhat overpriced. I've seen similar items elsewhere for less and considering the backwater location, and being relatively unheard of... you'd think that this "pet project" would have been given some more thought and prices to match.”

I mention all of the above in response to your threat to publicly label my business a “Pet Project”, which clearly it isn’t.

It is also very easy to be critical of prices when one has no responsibility to provide wages nor indeed pay the substantial costs involved with operating premises such as these. Please also see above regarding our support of British designers...who clearly are not manufacturing in far away lands. You may be interested to know that our gift prices start at just £4.

One of your many complaints concerned a scone which was not up to standard.

"Scones should be served cold and FRESH or at least slightly warm. These were clearly at least a week old, either that or the recipe is seriously lacking, think calling it a "rock cake" would be a more accurate description."

Now I AM disappointed to hear that a menu item was not up to standard. It would have been preferable if you had raised this with my staff at the time to enable them to replace this substandard item. I do, however, understand that not everyone is comfortable in doing this, so an email to me would have been appropriate and welcomed (no threat required). I am astonished at your ability to publicly state that our scones are a week old. For the record, our chef bakes fresh scones on a daily basis. I do hope that you (and your guest) enjoyed the complimentary food and drink we subsequently offered to you.

“I was surprised at the fact that while I was there, the two waitresses had their lunch at a table in the main dining area. I thought this inappropriate as there should be a staff room.”

I am legally (and morally!) obliged to allow staff proper breaks. Along with hundreds other small cafes up and down the country, the staff eat at vacant tables during quiet spells. This is not only for their comfort, but also so that they would be able to jump up and serve should the cafe suddenly become busy. Again... putting our customers first. I can only apologise of the sight of my hard working staff taking a well earned break offends you.

It is no secret that small businesses such as mine hold the key to economic growth in this country. Wherever possible my business supports other small businesses by using local tradespeople and shopping in local stores. How sad is it that in this world of self promotion, that vindictive individuals can make damaging public remarks which can impact on the growth on a business such as this? And the main reason? A scone that you feel was below standard...

“It was difficult to spot a real "find" due to being quite overcrowded”

You had many other complaints regarding the layout of the shop. Most customers have no difficulty locating a “find” and again, if the layout of the shop is not to your liking we can only apologise, but as I have pointed out, we are trying to be different.

 You made a strong complaint about the the lack of WiFi (we have plans in place to introduce this). Your comment to my staff suggesting that I wasn’t a very nice person by not providing free WiFi, was met with disbelief by all!!!

Whilst we encourage our customers to make Trip Advisor posts it amazes me that a sub standard scone (and I am taking your word as gospel here), would be the catalyst for such a posting which would have such a detrimental effect on this business and all of the people involved with it.

But what puzzles me most is your THREAT to make this public attack on my business if I failed to respond to you? Was that really necessary? Is that an appropriate use of Trip Advisor?

We shall continue to offer the very best to all of our customers. Genuine complaints will always be dealt with in a professional manner. Trip Advisor threats, along with malicious posts, will always be ignored.