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A review of product reviews

I am not a fan of giving online product reviews. I can think of very few that I have given. Which is all rather hypocritical given that I often read online reviews when considering a purchase. However; I don't think I've ever made a purchase based solely on good reviews. But I might have rejected a product based on poor reviews that were objectively written.

So why don't I give reviews?

satisfaction survey cartoon Well ... it could be because the product is not something that can be reviewed objectively [as I mention in my books: I was once asked to review a household lightbulb], but bizarrely, it is mainly because I want to do the brand, manufacturer, seller or whatever a favour. And that's because I don't think I could ever give a product or service top marks. The closest I've come is the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas. Superb service from everyone involved in my stay there ... but then the room was $900 a night - so could I give 10/10 for value for money? [Note: I gave the organization some advice on their online marketing and so was upgraded from the 'standard' room booking that was in my price range].

To give something top marks is to say it is perfect; couldn't be bettered. Hmmm ... even at the Four Seasons, was that true? Could the valet have had the hire car at the front of the hotel in 30 seconds instead of a minute? Or could the surprise anniversary cake delivered to our room have been bigger? [I still have no idea how the hotel staff knew we were celebrating a wedding anniversary].

So ... if the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas was the best hotel I've ever stayed in, I must judge all others against it. And whether for pleasure of business, over the years I have stayed in a lot of hotels - around 35 so far this year alone. Therefore, any hotel review I might give is benchmarked by that experience. Consider that against, say, one of my students who will simply not have stayed in as many hotels as me, or - probably - hotels for which a relatively high price has been paid. And yes, I know some review sites try to take such things into account - but a 10/10 location score for an 18 year old [near the beach, pubs and nightclubs] is not getting much out of 10 from me [disclosure: it's a long time since I was 18].

And so to the event that prompted me to write this piece. I stayed for a night at a hotel in Swansea, and as I booked it through Booking.com I received the usual request for a review - see below.

booking.com review request

Perhaps you could help me out here?

  • I was there for a football match - a priority for me was that the hotel I stayed in had to be within walking distance of the stadium. This criteria over-ruled all others within a price range. Note however, my 'walking distance' is around 2 miles, other folk might not like to walk that far.
  • The location was also close to the main road in and out of Swansea. For me that was good - but it was on a business estate - not good for 'leisure visitors'.
  • The car park was very big and free: excellent.
  • The receptionist was very good - as were the bar and restaurant staff.
  • The building lacked any character - it was functional, as befits its location - and, perhaps - its business model.
  • The room, too, was functional - but clean and well equipped ... though I was put in a 'Genius' room [Booking.com's loyalty programme] so perhaps this had more in it than the 'standard' room I had paid for?
  • The bed was comfortable.
  • The bathroom was large - but the shower was in the bath [I'm not keen], and the actual shower was a strong dribble - I like a bit of power in my shower.
  • The meal in the restaurant was quite nice, but - as per the norm in hotel restaurants - expensive.
  • The checkout wasn't so good because there was a wedding party leaving the hotel at the same time as me - so it took a while.

All this seems to have me hovering somewhere between 'fair' and 'good'. I might edge towards 'good' because of the location and parking. But for a family with young children the location might be negative compared with a hotel in the city centre ... enough to take the mark down to 'fair'.

A solution to this issue is, of course, to offer me a review that lists a number of aspects and I give a mark out of 10 for each which add up to my overall impression. The downside is that I have better things to do in my life than spend time completing a feedback form which, if I do properly, might take me quite some time. Which, by the way, is why most feedback is either good or bad ... folk only give up their time if they are happy or annoyed. And I'll not even go any further down the road of psychological reasons for people giving product reviews or why customers seek the opinions of others before making a buying decision [it's called social proof].

However, should any feedback be judged against the price? I paid GBP68.40 for the room. So if the choices were poor, fair, good or excellent 'value of money' I'd probably say 'good'. This is because price paid dictates consumer expectation. Not just for hotels, but for everything we buy. Argos feedback request

So if my Swansea hotel had been only GBP30.00 would I have given it 'excellent'? Answer: no ... because it wasn't as good as the Four Seasons in Las Vegas.

Upon reflecting on this piece, I went back to the fact that I take notice some reviews, but rarely give them. It would seem that what it boils down to is that while - with due consideration - I'm willing to take a chance on the opinions of others, I'm reluctant to 'impose' my opinion on others ... for they might not like what I like or dislike what I dislike [my 2 mile stroll is someone else's trek into the outback]. After all; you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time ... but you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

However, there is another - more fundamental - reason why I dislike reviews. It is this:

You see, I hate ticky box management ... and I hate ticky box marketing even more.

Having a percentage of customers tick the 'excellent' box in a feedback survey does not prove that the organization provides an excellent product or service. It proves only that a percentage of the organization's customers have ticked the 'excellent' box in a feedback survey. Sadly, ticks in boxes are what count 'upstairs'. Ticked box metrics are all those upstairs care about. What gets measured is all that gets managed.

We end up with staff who follow a script designed to get ticks in the excellent box. If there is a question that asks the customer if the employee smiled, then the employee will smile. At the angry patient who is still waiting to see the doctor an hour after their appointment time? [as a side note: I find public services to be the worst at this - mainly because they are not naturally customer-centric]. Even worse is that the employee does this robotically, their natural enthusiasm and passion being subdued by a need to keep their job by getting ticks in boxes.

But - and it is a big but - satisfying customers is more than counting ticks in the 'right' boxes. And it's easy to lose customers by sitting back with your feet up on the desk whilst bathing in the warm glow of fully ticked boxes.

How to cite this article:
Charlesworth, A. (2018). A review of product reviews. Retrieved [insert date] from AlanCharlesworth.com: https://www.alancharlesworth.com/a-review-of-product-reviews.html

This page was first published in September 2018 ... but it may have been updated or amended since then.
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