Some news in the last few days has reminded me of one of the subjects I was addressing at my World Travel Market seminar back in 2010. The news is that Thomas Cook has signed up with online reputation management company TrustYou which will use its online reputation management tool to monitor all online reviews written worldwide. Thomas Cook will use the results to provide hotels with a ‘real-time’ indication of how they are performing in the eyes of their customers.
In my seminar back in 2010, I mentioned Dave Carroll’s ‘United Breaks Guitars’ YouTube video. This was a video that Dave had made in response to United Airlines mishandling one of his guitars and breaking it. The airline’s customer service was not giving Dave any satisfaction at all, so he wrote a catchy song and illustrated it with a few blokes tossing a guitar case around and a few dumb looking airline staff. The YouTube video went viral, topping 10 million views. A small number nowadays but very significant in 2010. (The most popular video as of August 2014 is Psy performing everyone’s favourite ditty – Gangnam Style. This has topped 2 billion views.)
Frighteningly for United Airlines, the comments made by people who had watched the video were just about all anti-United, with many saying that they would now no longer fly with the airline. After months of silence, United eventually made the following statement, “This has struck a chord with us. We are in conversations with one another to make what happened right, and while we mutually agree that this should have been fixed much sooner, Dave Carroll’s excellent video provides United with a unique learning opportunity that we would like to use for training purposes to ensure all customers receive better service from us.” The Times newspaper estimated that this ‘learning opportunity’ cost the airline in excess of $180 million.
Since 2010, the use of social media has only accelerated. Even though there are reports that teenagers are leaving Facebook and year on year activity on Twitter is declining, social media is here to stay. The accelerated nature of one to many communication and the accepted practice of commenting on anything and everything is a dagger in the heart of companies that offer sub-standard customer service or products. I really don’t see how such companies will be able to survive beyond the short-term.
The issue for the travel industry is that ours is a high risk product. Just look at Malaysian Airlines. Two awful catastrophes within months and on The Telegraph’s website you can still find the article, ‘Mother of children killed by carbon monoxide in Corfu blames Thomas Cook.’ Alongside the video of Aislinn Laing (the bereaved mother) are social media sharing buttons for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email and a host of other social media sites.
More usually, though, we have complaints about building sites by the hotel, delayed flights, dirty rooms and so on. So, it is good to hear that Thomas Cook is taking its online reputation seriously. You need to be doing so also. You need to be reacting to negative comments. You need to make sure that complainants see their issues being taken seriously and being addressed. So, think about your own business. Are you doing enough to guard your reputation?