Friday, 9 January 2015

The Murky World of Online Reviews – And How London Walks Deals With Real Complaints

“The One Fixed Point in a Changing Age” – Part II

London Walks' pen David Tucker continues his frank post about the business of running a walking tour company in a world of "free" tours and bogus online reviews…

(Scroll down for Part One or click HERE.) 

Does London Walks get much negative feedback?

Short answer is: not much but yes some.

And this post is an example of how we deal with it. It has to deal with respecting our clients, hearing them and responding as thoughtfully and intelligently as we can.

And of course it’s a completely different ball game today. Because of – yeah, you got it – the Internet.

Somebody’s unhappy it goes straight up onto Trip Advisor. And that’s not to mention the “malware” dimension of Trip Advisor. The stuff unscrupulous competitors put up there. Telling lies about you. Or lies about themselves.

And then there’s the commercial element. Email in last week from a “firm” in Viet Nam (of all places) offering, for a fee of course, to write a ton of five star “reviews” for our product.

Here's the email…

Or Tom – our barrister guide – being on holiday last year in deepest England and getting in to a conversation with the hotelier, a conversation along these lines.

And the hotelier saying, let me show you something. And fetching from his office an email he’d been sent from some enterprising youth saying – offering – “if you’ll pay me £100 I’ll write 40 five star reviews for your hotel on Trip Advisor. Or, if you prefer, I’ll write 40 one star reviews about your principal competitors.”

That’s the world we live in these days.

But genuine feedback, good and bad, deserved and undeserved.

London Walks has been doing what it does for half a century. We’ve got some perspective on these matters.

We get almost no negative stuff. And given how easy it is to put negative stuff out there  – or put it in here – that in itself is surely testimony to the quality of the product.

But, yes, we do get a bit of it.

It falls into three categories. The first of the three is the one that’s really important to us. As painful as it sometimes is we value it more than the many slaps on the back – “London Walks is the best thing since sliced bread” – the guides and the company get.

The first of the three – Numero Uno – is somebody writing in to tell us we’ve got something wrong. And they’re being spot on. They’re being right about it. We need to hear that . We want to hear it. Those critics have done us a favour. Because if we are getting something wrong we want to put it right. And we can’t put it right if we’re in the dark about what’s going on. People who take us to task for something we’ve got wrong are doing us a big big favour. An example? Well, years ago – back in the 1990s – a guide developed – I’m putting this carefully – “a drink problem.” We didn’t know about it. It was important that walkers “put us in the picture.” London Walks and that guide went their separate ways. It was criticism. It was painful. And it was good. End of story.

The second type can be classified as Old Whine in New Bottles. Some people are just born complainers. And that’s ok. That’s the world. We accept that.  We even let them “sound off” on the Walkers’ Feedback segment of Be easy not to – I’m the gatekeeper there, could slam the door in the face of their “submissions”. But I don’t. For a couple of reasons. First of all because if you read one of those Customers’ Feedback “forums” and it’s 100 percent over-the-moon-happy customers you know the fix is in. That’s not a genuine “readers’ – or in our case, walkers’ – opinion board.  

Secondly, very often that kind of thing is in fact an opportunity to sharpen the overall perception of London Walks. A case in point just a few weeks ago. A walker’s feedback item came in savaging Andy’s Hidden Pubs of Old London Town walk. I wrote a lengthy, thoughtful, respectful reply. Well, turns out, that lady was very naughty. When I talked to Andy there was of course another side to the story.  She was out of sorts. He’d given her her money back in the first pub. As a matter of fact, when he thought about it afterward he was pretty sure she was a pensioner and had paid £7 and he’d “returned” £9 to her. So she came out £2 ahead. But the point is that she’d “reviewed” a walk, having done less than 15 percent of it. And of course she weighed in on Trip Advisor as well. That sort of stuff is dishonest, let alone malicious. Valid, informed, fair criticism is helpful for everybody concerned. Old Whine in New Bottles – old whine that’s ill-informed, graceless, at bottom pretty nasty – doesn’t cut it.

The third type falls into the “we’ll have to agree to disagree” category. People have got their view. We’ve got ours. They can put arguments forth for theirs. We can put arguments forth for ours. We can have – as Press Officers say about summits – a full and frank exchange of views.

And look at this, already up to 800+ words. So there’s going to be a Part III later today. A beef that came in. And how we – and the guide – responded to it.

A real sample on the slide underneath the microscope.

Just to show you how we approach these things.

A London Walk costs £9 – £7 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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