For most travelers, the journey begins online. Before they’ve purchased a ticket or packed their bags, they’ve already spent hours online researching, comparing, repeat.
As a business owner in the tourism sector, this can either be really great – or incredibly terrifying. Maintaining a positive presence on review sites like TripAdvisor, which has over 200 million traveler reviews, can be as relevant to the success of a company as the quality of their product.
So how do you make sure you’re doing it right? We figured there was no one better to ask than our friends Luke and Amber over at Real New York Tours, whose business was recently named the #2 tour in the country by the review site giant itself.
Rated the #1 tour in New York City, with over 4,500 reviews and a 5-bubble rating, they’re either wizards or just the best at what they do. Either way, we had to hear their perspective on what it takes to reach TripAdivsor nirvana. We asked them a few questions – here’s what Luke had to say:
What do you focus on to get such strong reviews?
For years, people have asked me what our secret is to getting such great reviews. I wish I had some great secret recipe to share with them, some wisdom that my grandfather shared with me.
Fortunately, the answer is so simple that one almost feels silly asking the question. You do great work! If people feel inspired by your tour, if your passion is infectious, you are going to leave them with memories that last a lifetime. You can’t buy passion and hard work – either you have passion or you don’t. You either have a great work ethic or you don’t!
We focus not just on great storytelling, but also on the customer. People come to NYC with a lot of anxiety and trepidation. We try and strip that away. We want them to feel safe, feel that they are in the hands of people who care about not just about their tour experience but also their well being.
For example, I once had a family with a newborn. The mother had to feed her baby and felt uncomfortable doing it in public. We happened to be just a few blocks from my apartment, so I took them there so she could feed her child comfortably. In the meantime, they got to see what a New York City apartment was like!
I even once traded shoes with a customer whose feet were killing them. Of course, this is not the norm. But if you can make folks feel like they are spending the day with a friend rather than a stranger you’ll be amazed at how far your praises will be sung.
What’s your strategy for asking people to review you on TripAdvisor?
I think the worst thing you can do is be pushy when trying to get folks to write a review. Your work itself should inspire your customers to want to write a review, but a reminder doesn’t hurt. Often at the end of a tour I’ll ask my group how they found us. If it happened to be through TripAdvisor I’ll say something like, “Well if you found us there due to the kindness of someone spreading the love about our company in a review, we’d be very grateful if you continue to spread that love forward.” DONE! Nice and simple, not forceful or pushy.
Many folks will say absolutely on the spot, but remember they are on vacation and when they get home they are thrust back into the stress of everyday life. I’ll always wait at least a week to let folks settle back in and get acclimated and then send a nice, friendly email thanking them for choosing our company along with a TripAdvisor link and reminder that if they had a great time and would like to share it with others, it would be much appreciated.
Why do you think your company has received so many reviews?
One thing I’ve realized in the last 8 years of doing tours in NYC is that people are more apt to write a review if they had either an amazing experience or a really bad experience. If their experience was mediocre or just “good,” it’s often not enough to inspire them to take the time, or they simply forget. That’s why we try and create memories that will last a lifetime.
For that reason, our focus at Real New York Tours has always been about great customer service and providing a tour that is not like every other cookie cutter tour. I also think the fact that we are a small, family-run business resonates with our customers. We aren’t a big, impersonal corporation. When people call us they are always pleasantly surprised when they find out I’m the owner of the company. I guess they assume I’m in some big office, with a big desk, and a panoramic view of the city, and don’t even know my guides’ first names. That’s just not the case.
We are a tight knit family at Real New York Tours. Our guides are our family. We get together every other week for dinner and drinks and discuss any problems that need to be hashed out. Word spreads from the guides about the nature of our company. The clients hear this and feel like an extended member of our family. It makes them want to contribute, and so they do so with reviews.
We also do give money to a few charitable organizations, one being The Jane Lloyd Fund, an organization that helps people living with cancer deal with the financial strains of paying their bills during chemo and radiation. We care about our community, we care about our employees and we care about our customers. In a nutshell, good karma engenders good karma. I truly believe this.
How do you deal with negative feedback?
Negative feedback can be very tricky. You always want to give the customer the benefit of the doubt, but only to a certain extent. For instance, I’ve had people complain that they were on a tour and that hardly any historical information was given. Now immediately I know this person was either not listening, didn’t like their tour guide or the tour for some reason, or was not on our tour at all. As I mentioned, we are like a family and I know exactly how much historical info our guides are giving.
So first you have decide whether this person was actually on your tour, and you can do that by simply sending them a nice email through TripAdvisor to apologize that they were not happy with their tour, and ask who their guide was. I often offer them a refund as well. Now if that person was genuinely on your tour, they will respond and tell you their guide’s name and most likely accept your refund (or sometimes not). At least you have their name and you can know for sure if they were actually on your tour. We have had people writing fraudulent reviews in the past and TripAdvisor is usually very good at taking down these reviews if you can prove that most likely they were not on your tour.
If they were genuinely a customer and you still know that their review had no validity, then you hope that through emailing with them you can get to the bottom of their experience. Through this process I’ve found out that people booked their tour without reading all the info, and were expecting a bus not a walking tour. At least then I know the true problem and that it was not my guide and the historical info.
Now if someone genuinely has a legitimate gripe, you have to take responsibility. Especially if your guide made a mistake. You need to own up to it.
If you write a self righteous, angry management response, it doesn’t look good. People will respect your company if you own up to a mistake. I always offer to refund people that are not happy. That’s how much I believe in our product. If someone didn’t have a good experience then we haven’t earned their money. Now sometimes their complaints are really petty and it can be maddening, but being professional and calm will always make you look better in the end. Believe me the public knows when they read a petty negative review that the person writing it is just a difficult person who might always find something wrong. You have to trust the majority of the public to weed through the nonsense.
But I guarantee you, sometimes great customer service will even change the mind of a disgruntled reviewer. I’ve had people take their review down because we killed them with kindness and they felt bad for saying the negative things they did. Always respond to reviews rather then react. If you need to, write a furious response just to get it off your chest – but never send it. Respond, don’t react, and if all else fails take it up with TripAdvisor.
What part of your business do you find people review the most?
It’s always about the content of the tour, the guides’ friendliness, charm and ability to answer questions and the customer service they got when booking. We get so many wonderful compliments about our in-house manager, Kristy, and my wife Amber and just how helpful they are and how easy they made the booking process.
What role does TripAdvisor play in your business?
TripAdvisor has helped bring back the power of middle class and small family businesses in our country, whether they know it or not. My wife and I would never have been able to compete with the big wigs, especially in a city like New York, if not for TripAdvisor.
Their platform has been a godsend to the consumer and the business. They have changed the way people do business and they have been incredibly gracious about it, never demanding any financial compensation which is unheard of in today’s dog-eat-dog world.
My wife is pregnant with twins as I write this. It’s our first venture into having a family and I have to say that without the help of TripAdvisor, we might not have had the ability to take such a huge step in our lives. They should be commended for what they do by all who are lucky enough to get exposure on their website. From my family to yours, thank you TripAdvisor!