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'I didn't build my business on algorithms'

Posted on 08 Aug 2011 at 10:41 am by Yeoh Siew Hoon
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“I didn’t build my business out of algorithms. I built it with people.”

That’s the message I will most take away from the past two weeks as I traveled through Jakarta, Bali, Bangkok and Phuket, meeting and listening to hoteliers and restaurant owners whose fortunes are affected in one way or another by review sites such as TripAdvisor.

Picture shows pool at Moevenpick Resort & Spa, Phuket which, by the way, was absolutely full with mainly Chinese, Korean and Australian customers.

It was a restaurant owner in Phuket who said it as he expressed his frustrations over the power of such “platforms” to affect small businesses such as his – one bad review and your business could dive; one good review and your business could fly.

Either way, it’s real people who are affected, he said. 

Such is the reality of the new world – it’s algorithms that determine whether a review is fake or real and indeed, that helps us seek what we find on the Internet. (Read this interesting article on Google

With 23 reviews coming in a minute at TripAdvisor, which now has 50 million reviews, it is impossible for humans to be sifting through the reviews and deciding which are fake or which are genuine. 

And so algorithms are the first line of defence, with a second level of quality control applied, where necessary, by some sort of “fraud squad” trained at detecting fake stuff. And let’s face it, neither technology nor humans are infallible.

Even so, I found it interesting that almost 50% of reviews are rejected by TripAdvisor with the ratio higher in some countries than others. 

The restaurant owner’s frustration is understandable. The hospitality business is run by people and travel review sites are run by technology. 

Yet, he understands too that he cannot stop the tide of user generated content and that this is the new age of social media where, even though things can get decidedly unsocial for business owners, you have no choice but to deal with it. 

The power is definitely in the customer’s hands these days and let’s face it, some customers are just plain weird or nasty.

One resort owner said he had been threatened at the front desk with a negative review on TripAdvisor by a customer who wanted a better rate. 

He refused and, sure enough, a negative review appeared to which he responded “professionally, explaining why I couldn’t meet this customer demand”.

“You then have to hope that normal people reading this will understand the situation.”

Then there’s the case of a repeat customer who’s been to a resort three times and each time he writes a negative review. “I don’t understand why he doesn’t tell me what’s wrong when I meet him at the resort but each time, he will write a negative review. Yet he returns,” said the hotelier. 

It seems though that this customer is in the minority because generally there are more positive than negative reviews on TripAdvisor. 

Either way, business owners get the last say on a review so no one gets into a slanging match which it is why it is important hoteliers respond to every review, whether positive or negative – TripAdvisor research shows that customers think as highly of responses to positive as negative reviews.

Brand Karma’s social media analytics tool gave some interesting insights into which nationalities were more prone to positive reviews. 

Seems the Brits are the kindest in the markets that were covered while locals tend to be more negative in their own home markets. The Indonesians and Thais had the lowest positive-negative ratios when it came to reviewing hotels in their own countries. And oh yes, the Singapore ratio was also skewed towards negative territory. 

It is clear among hoteliers, there is a love-hate relationship with sites such as TripAdvisor. What is certain is that it’s not going to go away. 

“The important thing is to enchant our guests. People write reviews when they are moved, whether positively or negatively,” said Michael Nurbatlian, ecommerce manager of Indigo Pearl Phuket. (left)

And what would you rather be enchanted by? People or algorithms?
 

Tags: TripAdvisor , fake reviews , social media , user generated content , Indigo Pearl , Phuket
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