What role to customer reviews play in your business?
Neill: I think communication, in all forms, can only be good for our business and we encourage communication with our clients. We feel it's an invaluable resource for us to see what we're doing right and potentially what we're doing wrong. There are so many ways for people to give their feedback, and our aim is to have positive information out there wherever people look.
Ceillhe: I think what's important is we don't put all our eggs in one basket. We get customer feedback in a range of ways - from chatting to people before, during and after our tours, for example, or through our visitor books, through the people who referred or booked them, as well as online reviews. And our customers aren't just the person sitting in the vehicle during a tour; we work hard on developing a whole chain of relationships throughout the industry with people who can vouch for us, so online feedback is just one part of the picture.
A lot of talk about customer reviews tends to focus on the prospect of negative reviews, but what's your take on that?
Ceillhe: I think the key with this issue is expectations. Our approach is to define with people if their expectations were met, and often we take the chance to find out if we're doing that while people are actually on our tours. That helps us refine our business, and it's always done with the intent to do better next time.
Neill: It's one of those topics that does put a lot of people on edge and make them feel uncomfortable because at the end of the day they have to perform. Customers now have a platform on the web to at times vent their frustrations at a lack of service, and businesses can no longer hide. But I think you have to turn something that's a potential threat into a positive, otherwise you're always going to be freaked out by it.
However, one of the reasons why we're really careful to create great relationships with people across the industry is that social media unfortunately does have the possibility of being manipulated. You can't possibly build a whole business built on having great reviews on social media because there's always a danger of people manipulating the system.
What's been your experience of that?
Neill: We've had a couple of instances of competitors trying to damage us. It's part of our risk management processes to keep very exact records of which customers we have, when they've booked, and who's booked them so when we get any review our aim is to be able to trace it back to an individual so we can follow up. Sites like TripAdvisor have these sorts of systems in place too.
Unfortunately you do get the odd keyboard Rambo who just wants to criticise, but our approach when competitors have done this is to point out that the review is wrong and has been placed by somebody who has created a fake profile. And sometimes there are just the odd people who take joy in being negative, and in that case we just give our side of the story.
Do you respond to everyone?
Neill: We answer every review. I find a lot of businesses will justify responding online to something negative about their business, but they won't say thank you when people have taken the time to write something positive. It's about reciprocating the time someone has spent writing something about you, and I think people notice that.
What advice would you have for other small business owners about handling customer reviews?
Neill: It's very hard not to take it personally when people criticise, but you do have to try not to and instead deal with it professionally. And if you have a genuine negative review, look at it as an opportunity for improvement. We're perfectionists so we always ask 'what can we learn from this and do better?'.
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