The TripAdvisor Generation

Is our moral compass as a species broken, or being rapidly redesigned?

It’s difficult to point a finger and identify any singular incident. Many have suggested that changes in the family group or changes in the way parents assume schools will teach the children values that should be learned at home. Many say that it is the rise of on-screen violence and reality television feeding the viewers a glut of skewed imagery and behaviour patterns which are then seen as normal and copied. Others identify the Internet for what it allows us to do, to say and to contribute to.

This post isn’t a debate about the failings of society or the interrelatedness of the different influences we are now exposed to, but it is about how the Internet has allowed us to change our behaviour from responsible to irresponsible and be allowed to get away with it, even encouraged to perpetuate it.

As many of you know, I run a Lebanese restaurant in Weybridge. The restaurant is going well and we are pleased to be highly respected, well-reviewed and also to have won a few awards since we started a few years ago. We even occasionally get a negative review.

It is not that we get a negative review that is the cause for concern – mistakes happen and we do our best to fix them as any good establishment would – it’s that the reviewer often posts anonymously and claims to have eaten months prior to posting the review. This leaves almost zero opportunity for any establishment to try to determine if the alleged claim even happened and stifles them from making any constructive response or offer recompense (if it were justified). It is the marketing/PR equivalent of a drive-by shooting.

The main culprit who allows this behaviour to propagate is TripAdvisor (from a hospitality perspective) as they are the most well-known and most referenced site by guests in general. TripAdvisor has also come under a lot of adverse publicity for their policies recently.

We occasionally get these “drive-by-shooting” reviews and TripAdvisor upholds these as acceptable. They further insist on listing them in the order they were submitted and not when the diner claimed to have visited. This falsely represents reality and makes any restaurateurs life more difficult to manage their PR when “market leaders” such as TripAdvisor actively encourage such a banal system. And that’s not to mention how their grade-point average system works – you can get 4 scores which average out at 3 out of 5, but TripAdvisor show your average as 1 if one of the scores was a 1. If you don’t get a 1, then the average tends to weight to the higher scores. Go figure.

When did it become acceptable in society for a person to be allowed to post anonymous, unsubstantiated claims about a business (under the guise of free speech) which are upheld without any form of inquiry, but when a business attempts to respond using the same freedoms they are censored by the same “authority” that upholds the anonymous poster?

Why would a person hold negativity in them for 9 months before posting it on TripAdvisor without mentioning it to the restaurant at any time during their visit or since? And what could possibly tip them over the edge to decide to post (usually anonymously) after harbouring their alleged issue after so many months?

Here’s a theory: Sometimes, people try to get something for free because they think it’s their right as a consumer, but when they don’t get it (even though you are right not to be taken for a ride as a business) they post anonymous, damaging reviews. Is it worth giving everything to them for the sake of one bad review? Personally, I don’t think so.

Before TripAdvisor – and still today in respected dining circles – guests have a dialogue with the restaurant. If there is an issue, it is raised at the table and the restaurant is given the opportunity to fix it. If it could pose embarrassment (for example issues with a certain member of staff), it can be raised after the evening with the management discretely. Assuming, of course, guests don’t abuse this privilege in an attempt to get something for free.

However, this level of responsibility has gone as diners reach first for their computer and blast out a hateful review in the belief they are helping other diners make an informed choice about the restaurant. In reality, they are only venting their own dissatisfaction at their inability to deal with real-world problems as a responsible adult. Or they could just be having a bad day and you were the unlucky one in their firing line.

It is one thing to be able to provide objective feedback to a restaurant and use sites like TripAdvisor to collate them and form an overall picture – this is the good side of the coin – but it is another thing to wantonly seek to damage the reputation of a business and the hard work that their teams put in because the guest feels a need to spit vitriol to feel satisfied.

Have you experienced these sorts of problems? How do you deal with them? What do you think about the Web as a feedback system for business?

Leave your comments below and let’s hope for a constructive discussion!

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