Mark Daniels: Do you know what people are saying about your pub on Internet review sites?

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Related tags: Internet, Customer

The Internet. These days, it's a way of life. Indeed, my children don't actually believe they'd be able to breath without the Internet. That said,...

The Internet. These days, it's a way of life. Indeed, my children don't actually believe they'd be able to breath without the Internet. That said, when I told my nine-year-old that, at his age, my Sinclair ZX81 was better than anything Sony have managed to produce with the PlayStation he looked at me as if I've just endured a frontal lobotomy. Rightly so, probably.

With the Internet we can diagnose our own illnesses, pretend we're Harrison Ford, launch the careers of our bands on Myspace and pretend we're the next army hero via a plethora of violent war games that keep all hormonal teenagers occupied until bedtime.

We can shop without ever leaving the warmth of our sofa and, thanks to Internet Telephony, social networking, e-mail and Instant Messaging, we've made the world a much, much smaller place. We can now share photographs with family and friends on the other side of the world in seconds and we can pretend we're the next Sun columnist thanks to blog websites that allow us to share our journalistic nuances with the Earth's population.

And we can be critics, too.

As the global craving for information grows, so too do the myriad websites that allow us to tell the world that we think Colgate is a rubbish toothpaste and that Katie Price has bingo wings. Consumer websites crop up left, right and centre allowing individuals to write up their views on everything from Dove Beauty Care Bodywash Burst to the Ferrari F40.

Some even pay you for airing your gripes.

And there are plenty of websites about these days that allow amateur A.A.Gill's to desecrate Britain's beloved pubs, too.

I have to say I like this level of openness. It helps keeps us on our toes - we need to know what people are saying about us, what they think of the service we offer and, with Retail Eyes' National Customer Satisfaction survey showing that only six percent of the public think that pubs give good customer service, scouring the websites for people's thoughts on our pubs is an excellent way of making sure we are giving good service.

Being British, customers don't tend to tell their hosts if they have received good, bad or ugly service unless it has been truly awful. This is a shame, as it invariably means that the host, who might not be aware there has been a problem, can't rectify the problem there and then. But customers are very quick to go away and tell others if they've had a bad time.

These websites are still very much in their infancy, but as the Internet continues to grow it won't be long before more and more people will finish an evening in an establishment and head straight home to blog about it. Indeed, if you Google for a specific bar, restaurant or hotel or look it up on Google Maps you are invariable offered the opportunity to review the venue and give it a rating out of five stars. How long before your business is being blighted by Internet reviews it receives that you have absolutely no knowledge of?

I believe that we offer great service at my pub, and thankfully the comments we do get from the customers are positive, as are some of the comments I find online. On beerintheevening.com - at the time of writing! - the most negative comment on my establishment is that my pub is nothing to get excited about and that they prefer the Wetherspoons in town instead because it's cheaper.

But you can't please all of the people, all of the time and I do think these sites need a little bit of policing, where possible. You have to read the comments as a whole, rather than worrying about them individually. Somebody hoping to find Quesadilla on the specials board might get grumpy at the fact that today it's Steak & Ale Pie and go away to slate your establishment, despite the fact that everybody else thinks it's great. And anybody can leave a comment on your establishment without ever having to visit it.

Perhaps reviewers should be asked to qualify their statements a bit further, maybe by stating the date or time that they visited, which members of staff served them, or what other activities were taking place, and the sites should allow the proprietors the ability to riposte, and maybe offer to make good on an unsuccessful visit.

As our trade continues to suffer at the hands of the Government and the media, and as customers get driven to cheaper alcohol deals and the ability to drink and smoke at home in front of a 3D football match, customer service is key to making sure people want to come back time-and-again.

Review websites are an excellent way of gauging how customers feel about our establishments, but we should be asking them about their experience before they've even left the building. We should be making sure the customer feels cared about before they go home and tell the world what a rotten meal they had, even if they hadn't. And if there has been a problem we can't fix, we need to know about it first, because you can guarantee you'll be the last to know about it once the reviews are on the web...

Internet TV

The other thing the web can do for us these days is stream live television, in very high quality, straight to our computers. Indeed, I'm using iPlayer via my PlayStation3 to watch telly late at night more than any other service open to me at the moment.

But the decision by Perform to deny any commercial establishment the rights to show this Saturday's England v Ukraine match is another kick in the teeth to the pub trade. The game will be shown online only for a fee of £4.99, but the terms & conditions of the broadcast state that it cannot be shown for any commercial purposes whatsoever.

Pretty draconian words, which fall flat when you realise that Odeon Cinemas also have the rights to broadcast the match. What are Odeon Cinemas, then, if not commercial? Sky might be expensive for pubs, but at least we'd have the rights to show the match to our customers...

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