It seems like scarcely a week passes now without a story in The Morning Advertiser about a publican having to deal with a TripAdvisor review that they feel is at best unfair, at worst simply untrue, but damaging and hurtful either way.
Guys, I feel your pain.
Last week while browsing on Amazon I noticed that I had a new review of my recent book The Pub: A Cultural Institution. I was shocked to see that it was a one-star review - almost all the others are four- and five-star. This book has won awards. Pubs tweet about how delighted they are to be featured in it. It might not be for everyone, but one star? How could someone hate it so much?
The review was short and to the point: when the book arrived through the post the cover was torn. The buyer had been going to give it as a birthday present the following day, and now couldn’t.
And in the brutal world of online reviews, that makes it a bad book, and presumably me a terrible writer.
It’s not the first time this has happened. When I wrote Shakespeare’s Local five years ago, I got a one-star review because the reader didn’t like the way the text scrolled around the illustrations in the kindle version – again, a damning indictment of me as a writer because of something I had absolutely nothing to do with and no control over. To be fair though, the next review was five stars, because the book arrived on time and the corners weren’t bent.
Somehow, the joy I got from that five-star review didn’t match the despair I felt at the one-star.
Changing nature of Britishness
One of the defining features of Britishness is that we don’t like to complain. Come over and ask me if everything is OK with my meal and as a stereotypical Brit, I’ll tell you everything is lovely even if I can barely keep it down.
I’ll scrape half the food into a napkin on my lap and take it home with me to throw in the bin rather than leave it on the plate and risk the awful chance that you might see I’ve hardly touched it and ask my why.
And now, it seems, once I’ve done that, I’ll then go online and vent some inchoate rage that has always been there, but never before found a route out past my traditional English reserve. The very nature of Britishness is changing. It turns out we do like to complain after all – but only with the computer screen as a shield.
As a punter, negative reviews can be quite entertaining. Imagine the sheer chutzpah it must take to see a pub or restaurant that has 475 5-star reviews, 800 4-star reviews and nothing else, and write, “I don’t know what all these other people are talking about. They’re wrong, every last one of them. This place is rubbish.” One star.
What must it be like to be so totally lacking in self-doubt?
The unintended consequences
I also find negative reviews can be quite useful for the opposite reason the reviewer intended. We booked our most recent holiday on the basis of one-star reviews that said a particular resort was rubbish because the TVs weren’t big enough, the food was all foreign and there wasn’t enough for the kids to do. We thought that sounded just perfect for us, and it was.
But that must be of little comfort to the operator who receives a scathing review for reasons totally beyond their control, or simply because the reviewer is being utterly unreasonable.
The only hope is that, eventually, the influence of online reviews will wane as sensible people come to realise that they simply can’t be trusted.
Until then, the best response is to initiate a dialogue to try to solve the problem. Research has shown that prompt and genuine attempts to solve problems can turn an unhappy customer into an enthusiastic advocate. At worst, if your responses remain polite and helpful and the customer is unmoved, then any reasonable person reading the exchange is going to come away thinking that you’re helpful and reasonable and the reviewer is some kind of lunatic.
And that can only help hasten TripAdvisor’s longed-for demise.