An Open Letter to the Hospitality Industry

It can’t be easy to make different kinds of people happy.  The world is full of unreasonable people, mysterious allergies, bathrobe thieves and Monday morning food critics.  We are not one size fits all.  We are adept at receiving hospitality but sometimes have a tiny problem forgetting our manners, especially when on holiday.

You have a hard job and we appreciate (most of the time) all you do to make our experience outstanding.  

There is, however, one thing I need to tell you.   First, it happened every once in a while, now it’s all too often.   It feels like a cresting wave.  And it’s not just a couple of you. From 5 star hotels to quaint B&B’s, your fancy restaurants, neighborhood bistros and hole in the wall joints. In tourist towns and backwater hideaways.

So a candid word.  You want my feedback, right?

There is no faster way to undo all your great service, when at the end of a meal or at check-out you utter these 10 words, “Don’t forget to leave us a review on Trip Advisor!”  Pffffft.  Balloon popped, tire deflated.  Those are your parting words to me?  It’s like finding a second hair in my soup when those 10 words are immediately followed by, “And my name is Patrick.”

No, I will not Patrick, Francesca, Vihaan and all the rest of you.  I will never ever EVER leave a review if you ask me for one.  You immediately bring into question every nice thing you’ve done for me up until that moment and now I’m not sure how I feel about my visit.  Were the insider tips on a neighborhood coffee shop part of a larger strategy to move me from 4 to 5 stars?  Was the free dessert for my son because you found him amusing or a calculated step to get a family friendly tag?  

I didn’t tell my first boyfriend I loved him because he asked me to.  It’s ugly beggy.   What I do know is that I feel less good about my experience than before you spoke those 10 words into being.  It cheapens the entire experience. With that one question I feel you no longer count me as a guest.  I’ve become a marketing tool.

Believe me. I get it. I know at the end of the day it’s a business for most of you.  But in the moment allow us to keep up the charade.  I want to feel like a warmly received guest in some time-honored tradition.  Not that I deserve it.  Reviews are important.  As a customer, I value them.  As a service provider, you depend on them.  As a marketer, I do understand.  But there is simply no tactful way to ask for one -- especially before the food has even digested.  Not when our relationship has crossed from a simple transaction to a personal experience. Timing matters a lot here.  Sure, give me a business card or send me a follow up email reminding me your business depends on it, or allowing me to harken back to a wonderful experience -- but this is one place where a direct person to person ask fails.  Handing me an iPad and telling me it will only take 5 minutes is not the encouragement I need. Pfffftt…..

Do solicited reviews even sound genuine?  My bet is that they are the solid “very good” but completely generic reviews that aren’t worth the time to read.  If you want me to tell people about my experience, here’s what might cause me to take the time (and it is a time investment) to write a heartfelt review LATER:

1) Provide truly outstanding service. Duh. I’m not suggesting that a 3 star hotel needs to provide service like a 5 star hotel, but service that exceeds expectations is noteworthy.  The bar is set for clean rooms, hot food, and wifi that works but do a little something more that would cause me to want to spread the word.  The Southern Europeans offer an after dinner drink on the house.  I don’t need you to entertain my kid but it’s sweet if you connect with them in some small authentic way.  It feels like moving a mountain if you accommodate an early check in or late check out.  I appreciate your patience when I ask you to repeat the specials for the third time.   Be who you  are.  If you are a coffee shop, provide great coffee.  I won’t ding you for a lousy smoothie.  If you are a small cafe in a 700 person town, I’ll understand when you don’t have fish on the menu that day.  We will adjust our expectations accordingly.  The truth is -- as much as we like to believe we are special, we also really like to tell people when someone else recognizes that about us.

2) Accept that some customers simply aren’t the online reviewing type.  As a travel and social media enthusiast, I am already prone to share but there are just as many people with iPhones like my Mother who are still figuring out the difference between a like and a comment.  If however they received outstanding service, they may pass it on the old fashioned way -- word of mouth.  That’s equally as valuable.  My Mother is very persuasive.

3) While noticing your generational demographic also remember that some people don’t like Trip Advisor or have an alternate preferred review site or method to propagate reviews.  For the discerning, it’s like asking a Yankees fan to a Red Sox game.  

4) If you must, send a reminder a few days after the trip.  Few people are in a position to write a review right away (and, if on holiday, the last thing they want is the obligation to start a “to do” list), so a later follow up -- with a clear memory or antidote of my stay and a mention (and links) to your review pages-- might cause me to write a review.  And if something went awry during my stay, name it and apologize again.  We have all owned an air conditioner that has broken at the most inconvenient of times or had to endure a noisy mate at a nearby table - maybe even around our own dinner table.  Feel my annoyance and then carry on fixing it for the next person or laugh with me if it was just dumb luck.  More often than not, it’s more endearing to be vocally self-critical.

5) When you see us trying to get a selfie around the table, offer to take the photo.  A photo of me in your establishment (with a smaller face) viewed later might be the tickle I need to write that review or get more impressions on Instagram.  

 6) Instead of asking me for the 4th time if there is anything else you can do for me, tell me an interesting story about your establishment (that ideally I don’t hear you repeating to the next table). We remember charming stories such much better than we what we ordered two weeks ago.  Or the story might make the recall of our experience slightly better than it was.

7) When I or someone else does leave you a review, please don’t go on the defensive.  Astute travelers pay as much (or more) attention to your responses as they do the customer review. We can tell when a customer is being irrational without you having to point it out.  We all understand that “poor bathroom lighting” is not a deal breaker for 98% of the population.  Don’t feed the animals.

 8) Sure you can send a thank you after I write a review but do not send me any discount or incentive as a reason to leave one.  No one wants to feel manipulated.  The post review feedback however recognizes that I’ve taken time out to do something and makes me like you even more.  

9) Do a quick google of your guests and find out which of them are active reviewers on travel sites or bloggers and then double down your efforts on #1.  We know you are on your computers already.

10) Speaking of #1, do more of that.  For everyone.   Whatever you promise, do it well and and let’s make a connection.  Word will get out.  

Thank you from all of us,

Kate & Brett Ballbach