Black(mail?) cards are not welcome at hotels

NB: This is a viewpoint from Carla Caccavale, a brand strategist at TrustYou.

Not deliberately trying to be controversial but the customer is always right, unless they are dead wrong.

A few weeks back I wrote an article here on Tnooz about giving a new definition to SEO by “Shaping Excellent Outcomes” in the form of responding to reviews both positive and negative.

In the article, I wrote:

“Most guests who complain had a legitimate issue. Don’t let your fear of guests who are chronic complainers for the sake of getting something free (this is the minority) ruin your opportunity to rebound on true service shortfalls.”

It appears someone in the minority (an entrepreneur named Brad Newman to be exact) started a company designed to urge establishments into giving customers preferential service by flashing a card to show they are “prolific reviewers”.

ReviewerCard was first conceived with a membership fee of $100 in mind for a piece of plastic that says “I write reviews” (I kid you not and it really is black).

Then things changed (maybe a light bulb went off that people wouldn’t pay for this?) and if you pass the “extensive selection process” you can get one for free.

“Only the best, most professional, pedigreed reviewers are rewarded with a card,” says the company. How exactly do you get your PhD in review psychology? In its next evolution is might also come with a hat that says: “I am pompous and arrogant.”

I know you’re waiting for the punch line, but there isn’t one. In fact, there is a philosophy behind this, which is described on its own site as:

“At ReviewerCard, we are on a mission to empower reviewers and protect small businesses. Simple as that. We understand that reviewers are extremely valuable and the often unsung heroes of small businesses.

“We developed ReviewerCard to make it easier to connect these reviewers with the restaurants, hotels and service providers their fellow reviewers love, while also giving businesses the opportunity to protect themselves from potential loss of customers.”

Some businesses might welcome such reviewers. You might argue it’s a way to stack the cards in your favor and guarantee a great experience.

And ReviewCard means business (or so the site says):

“Our strict system of reviewer identification helps insure that businesses do not miss out on new customers (or loyal customers) because of poor service or negative reviews, written by dissatisfied customers.”

I am a huge believer in the power of reviews and genuine customer feedback. Online commentary, be it on review sites or social media platforms, helps influence buying decisions big and small.

It shows companies where they excel and where they can improve. Those who embrace and respond to consumer feedback build brand advocates, positive word-of-mouth and, ultimately, revenue.

This “complaint club” (or at least the threat of complaining if they don’t get preferential treatment) is said to help improve customer service standards.

Call me crazy, but isn’t that what secret shopper services are there for?

These card holders threaten the truth and transparency of the online review world as a whole. It takes what used to be valuable feedback and makes it worthless. It enables businesses to purchase praise.

A press release on the ReviewerCard site says:

“Hotels and restaurants gain business as a result of positive online reviews and review sites earn money through advertising, but Newman has always felt that reviewers should be rewarded, too.

“With the Reviewer Card, businesses are made aware that the cardholder is a prominent reviewer while helping the customer obtain the best service possible.”

And don’t think this is a shallow grouping of people. In fact, there is a humanitarian message in this all:

“I believe in the good of people,” Newman said. “The Reviewer Card is a merit based system made to protect consumers and remind businesses to give them the customer service they deserve. This card is not intended for freebies, but rather to insure the experience goes seamlessly for everyone.”

Ah yes, a guarantee of perfection. Some of the brands I have come to respect most are ones I once had a service issue or snafu with.

It’s the recovery, how you handle a problem, which often builds brand advocates. Service issues make for learning and training opportunities.

Let’s be clear that ReviewCard is not trying to play God. The company admits there is no “guarantee that a restaurant or hotel will provide better service with the flash of the card. It’s simply a way for reviewer to say, ‘show us your best.’”

Or someone might write their worst (review).

I do (shockingly) agree with the founder on a point. One of the thoughts behind forming the company was that people who post numerous reviews on sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor don’t get enough respect from the businesses they write about.

That’s true.

However, showing them respect is taking the time to respond to what they had to say, good or bad, not showering them with perks and freebies.

When someone compliments your or complains to you in person, you respond. Blatantly ignoring them is not an option. The same holds true online; I have urged hoteliers in the past to not practice selective hospitality and this holds true across all businesses.

I hope businesses that come across its cardholders to tell them something along the following lines:

“Your card is not welcome here; we treat all of our customers equally and respectfully, delivering the best possible customer experience that is humanly possible, whether they are writing a review or not.”

NB: This is a viewpoint from Carla Caccavale, a brand strategist at TrustYou.

NB2: Tnooz has asked ReviewerCard to participate in the TLabs Showcase initiative.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. suzanne corcoran

    Wow. And gross! Keep fighting the good fight Carla!

    I had a major Twitter travel person send a direct message that she was coming to one of our properties and she loved to tweet about upgrades. Here she was with a billion followers and I was on the spot. I was honestly relieved there were no upgrades available. I thought it was cheesy, I as I would have taken the initiative had she simply let me know she was staying with us. I did send her a room amenity. Another form of blackmail? Maybe that’s another blog topic!

    • Carla

      Suzanne — I do think this there is another blog topic here. Stay tuned! Thanks for reading and chiming in. Carla

  2. HhotelConsult

    I am a prolific reviewer and I would never use one of these, because that’s not the point.

    I also wouldn’t want to endorse any business that would give preferential treatment to someone who is passively extorting them.

    I know 80% of reviews are positive… and that community of content generating people are awesome, and will create content endorsing your biz regardless. If the reviewer is like me, it’s because I have a bad memory, and I use it as a food blog for me to remember my past, 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time I celebrate and adore a place for others to find.

    But this is just stupid. No self respecting reviewer would use it, no self-respecting hotel will care about it. It’s just the embattled or manipulative that will use it.

  3. Carla

    Thanks to all for reading and for the great comments. I am glad to see I am not alone in my thought process on this one. All best, Carla

  4. Dino Maiolo

    Great article, Carla. You made some terrific points. Most of the prolific reviewers I know, myself included, take pride in giving honest reviews. If the service is exceedingly terrible I may remind management that I’ll be writing a review, but I won’t ever mention it in order to gain special privileges. I want them to have the chance to recognize and address their problems. I’m not out to screw anyone and certainly don’t need to wave a card in their face. As you suggested, that’s just arrogance and snobbery.

    I love online reviews and always encourage more people to write them. It’s a great way to give power back to the consumer. Newman can sugar coat his idea all he wants, but it’s blackmail for sure.

  5. P. Jason King

    Absoulutely Ridiculous for a Customer to have to pay a fee (even a dollar is too much) to view their complaints. While it is true that most Guests (whether in a Hotel, Restaurant or Other Travel Related entity) do not write Complaints, or voice their Complaints unless it is a MAJOR one, we know some properties that do NOT even read the Complaints or Suggestions let at the Front Desk. I, personally have seen front desk personnel rip up cards after reading them. So, while I truly believe legitimate sites like TripAdvisor or even our FB, LInkedin, Twitter are the places to place your “Gripe” or “Complaint” becasue it costs you nothing, is a much better venue. People will see it and hopefully it will be fixed. Without sounding self serving, we at GuestGhosts are the “Fixers”, but we need the Guests to let us know what is in need of being fixed, whether it is Personnel, Systems & Procedures, Customer Service, Cleanliness, F&B, Housekeeping, or other items.

    • Carla

      I agree that we need guests to tell us what needs to be improved upon. We cannot be perfect all of the time. As I said in my post, I have had some great experiences with brands on the recovery after a service issue. It has made me a brand advocate and given the brands that did it right great word of mouth. I just don’t like the idea of the “threat” of a bad review to prompt good service. Thanks for reading and commenting. Carla

  6. Tanielle Lobo

    Hi Carla,
    I have come across promotional material within the accommodation of some establishments here in London promising all sorts of perks and discounts (e.g welcome basket) in return for a (positive obviously) review on Tripadvisor. Perhaps a concept like this would be of interest to them.

  7. Patrick Landman

    Patrick - Xotels

    @ Carla, thanks for bringing this bad business concept to all out attention.

    You are absolutely right in your review of ReviewerCard.

    Look forward to their response …


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