Wednesday 18 Jun 2008
Have you noticed this interesting little change in Google Maps’ top level interface? They are now including user review snippets for many businesses right there at the top. Localhound Tim and I both noticed this change but weren’t sure when exactly it had happened. Leave it to Mr. Blumenthal to provide a citation of it on Google’s LatLong Blog. Apparently this is part of an effort to enrich the Maps’ user experience.
Being a sucker for reviews – good ones are like short stories – I’m liking this change. I feel an urge to click deeper to read the rest of the review, especially if the snippet is strongly worded, either for good or ill. I do set great store by the experiences average folks have when they turn to a local business for goods or services. Even if reviews aren’t a strong ranking factor at this point, their power to instill trust or mistrust in a new customer is considerable.
And this is why I’d advise anyone planning to buy an existing business and take over the management of it to cast a good long glance at the review history of the entity. I feel this is especially crucial in the hospitality industry. It’s not uncommon for hotels, inns, B&Bs, etc. to change ownership while keeping their original names. Doubtless, this tactic is employed for branding purposes – if the hotel has already made a name for itself, the new owners may keep old customers and save marketing dollars by sticking with an already established brand.
But what if the change of ownership or management comes about because the hotel has been a dismal failure? Allow me to draw your attention to a most alarming set of user reviews for an unhappy establishment in Inverness, California – The Holly Tree Inn. Look at some of the review titles:
The Holly Tree Neglect-a-thon and Mold -Growing Laboratory
Past its prime
Lack of Cleanliness Unforgivable In Paid Lodgings
Here is an excerpt of a review a potential guest will find in researching this lodging:
We stayed in the “Cabin in the Woods.” The place was neglected and MOLDY beyond belief, the “Innkeeper” was cold and grouchy on the phone, which is the only place I ever encountered anyone from the place, though we stayed two miserable days. Crappy towels, crappy soap, crappy coffee, super-crappy atmosphere. HUGE rip-off. The only good part was the old kitty, but he was also quite neglected, smelly and had a hole in his neck, the poor guy. An apt reflection of the general vibe of the place.
Nightmarish, isn’t it? More than one of the reviewers is suggesting that the business close its doors or sell out to an owner who can afford to totally renovate this failing inn.
In the face of reviews like this, if I were a business adviser, I’d be strongly recommending that the new owner rechristen the hotel and do all they could to obliterate any connection with the history of the place. It’s not good press to be associated with a cat with a hole in its neck.
Over the past few years, I’ve researched a number of lodgings which seemed to have undergone a big change either for the better or worse. Once in awhile, a guest kindly leaves a review someplace like TripAdvisor or Yelp saying, “don’t look at the old reviews. This place is under new management and is really great now.” But you can’t count on your clientele to do this, so my recommendation is to take review history seriously if you’re taking over a business – a testament to the continued and growing power of user reviews.