Have online guest reviews made the mystery guest obsolete?

16/03/2015 By Louise Tawadrous

16 March, 2015.

Some commentators have suggested that the continuing growth of online review sites makes hotel mystery shopping out-dated and irrelevant.  Many guests say they will now not stay at a hotel with bad reviews.  So what is the value in hoteliers commissioning their own investigation when their guests are doing it for them, and for free?

As with online reviews, mystery shopping reports allow the hotel or restaurant operator to see the guest’s perspective at a moment in time.  Unlike online reviews, where anybody can express an opinion in a matter of moments and present it as fact, these professional reports provide a customer’s experience in a logical and structured manner.

In spite of the subjective and personal nature of the secret shopper’s experience, he or she will be able to view their experience objectively and set it against standard metrics, free from the emotional outbursts that may cloud the online reviewer’s judgement.

As entertaining as online rants can be – if less so for hotels receiving poor reviews – the individual guest is unlikely to understand a hotel’s priorities.   Let’s take the example of branded toiletries.  The average guest may not care that the shampoo and shower gel feature a brand name, nor that internal signage is brand compliant.  However, this type of intricate detail is important for reinforcing a strong brand image.

Additionally, the typical guest takes their safety for granted and probably doesn’t scrutinise a property for fire exits.  A mystery shopper could be tasked to do this and their feedback might alert the operator to an important omission.  Remember that mystery shoppers are being briefed to check this sort of thing.  Although a welcome perk, the free (or, more accurately, reimbursed) accommodation is not the reason for their visit – they are there to work.

Consider the recent update to European legislation concerning consumer information for food.  Businesses selling unpackaged food must now provide allergy information.  Reviews such as the One-Star critique (link at the end of this article) of a restaurant in Manchester, where the reviewer implies negligence on the part of an establishment after his son has an allergic reaction to nuts in the meal, need never arise.  I’m sure a hotel manager would be horrified with such a review and would respond swiftly and appropriately.  However, they would be on the back foot, playing catch up to the crisis.  A mystery shopper in the role of a customer with a nut allergy (or even one briefed to check the menu for compliance) could have tested the waters and fed back to the establishment in private, avoiding this very public backlash.  A backlash that will remain on record, accessible to potential customers, for as long as TripAdvisor lasts.

BVA BDRC carries out hundreds of hotel inspections across over 40 countries, ensuring assessment criteria are tailored to the requirements of hoteliers, whilst making recommendations of what to measure from our extensive work on customer experience. It allows our clients to see an in-depth view of a likely customer experience that can be measured over time.

The real question is not whether the mystery guest is now redundant, but whether hotels can afford not to send in covert customers to see what’s actually happening in their business, without (perhaps quite literally) seeing their dirty linen washed in public by strangers.

Review link: www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g190819-d2000706-r246376735-Koh_i_Noor_Indian_Restaurant-Newcastle_under_Lyme_Staffordshire_England.html