Monday, February 27, 2012

The Malicious Web Review

Last week's front page story of a disgruntled motel guest leaving what was described as a "malicious" web review on TripAdvisor still seems to be the focus of discussion amongst moteliers.

As reported the New Zealand Herald, the story goes like this:

A party of four arrive at a motel just before midnight, 
after raising motelier they are quoted $195.00 and agree to stay, 
upon check-out the guest disputes that they should pay the tariff as previously agreed and claim that they should be paying $160.00 that the motel allegedly advertises on AA Travel's website, 
a heated altercation ensues, 
the guest walks after refusing to sign credit card receipt and threatens to post a bad review on TripAdvsor. 

Soon after the following review on TripAdvisor appears:
“Do not stay,continue on elsewhere”
1 of 5 stars Reviewed February 7, 2012
Stayed for Waitangi weekend to attend a wedding. Owner is not friendly or helpful and was dishonest with pricing. Charged credit card with disputed amount and without permission and does not give you any paperwork. Rooms are very basic and for same price can get much better 15 minutes down in the road in tauranga. Take a miss - you have been warned!
Room Tip: No good room, go for another motel
Stayed February 2012, traveled with friends
Accommodation providers can empathise with the motelier in this unfortunate situation. Receiving a review like this can be heartbreaking and have real consequences on further business prospects.

After this story broke the usual knee-jerk howling from accommodation providers soon commenced. The loudest cries were quick to place the blame with TripAdvisor as the bad guy in this story and solely responsible for sullying a hapless motel's reputation.

Instead of attacking TripAdvisor's open feedback platform, maybe the focus should have been directed towards the factors that contributed to the altercation between the motelier and the guest.

The guest claimed that the motel was advertising on the AA Travel website for $160.00 and convinced himself that this was the price that the motelier should have quoted for his party of 4. What he didn't immediately appreciate was that the tariff of $160.00 was for 2-persons with additional persons charged accordingly - this is a common industry standard.
The graphic above captures what a prospective guest would see on the AA Travel website. After a cursory glance, can we assume that the One Bedroom Unit above would be $160 for 4-persons?

If the prospective guest hovers over or clicks the tick box on the arrival date to make a reservation, the breakdown of the tariff is revealed - Do the AA need to review how they display tariff in their client listings?

Ignoring the possible confusion that the AA Travel website may present to some, tariff doesn't necessarily have to be the same over all sales channels. In fact, tariff and the terms and conditions of a reservation can vary across dozens of sales channels that a motel lists inventory. Ironically in this case,  the motel's tariff listed on the AA Travel website would have been $200.00. So in fact, the guest that was originally offered and accepted a tariff of $195.00 got a deal that was slighter better than advertised. 

In this case the guest may have thought that they had a valid query by questioning the tariff. OK, I realise that when there had been an offer and acceptance, the customer would be expected to seal the deal with consideration (ie payment) and this should be the end of the matter, regardless what advertised offers may be on other channels. However the public are permitted to raise objections (silly or otherwise) and if these aren't satisfied then like it or not they will use the internet to vent. More than ever it is up to the business owner to respond quickly and appropriately at the time when a customer raises concerns.

Unfortunately we will never know how the conversation went in the motel reception at check-out. On the face of it, the guest's objection should have been easily dispatched.

Was the motelier somewhat taken-back by being second-guessed by a disorganised guest that arrived late and wasn't able to catch up on enough sleep the night before? Did the motelier get annoyed by a guest trying to negotiate a better tariff, after acceptance of tariff before his stay? Did this well-travelled guest feel that by arriving late, the few hours spent in the motel room simply wasn't good value? Or did this guest that usually travels on a company expense account feel hard done by with the impost of paying for accommodation from his own funds? 

We will never know what really went down, however there is an onus on the motelier to provide guest satisfaction - even if a guest is an arrogant dickhead that checks-in at midnight, agrees to pay a quoted tariff and then upon check-out assumes an entitlement to pay a lower tariff that they misinterpret from an an online listing discovered during their stay.

While the guest is holding his ground by refusing to pay the motel and delete the revenge TripAdvisor review, on a positive note, some of the motel's previous guests have been prompted to post reviews on TripAdvisor of their own experiences after reading the front page New Zealand article. And like most others, the latest reviews reconfirm that the motel and its operators provide a comfortable and positive experience for wary travellers.

Click the "Get Widget" link below to place this widget on your website or blog!