The ratings of Fawlty Towers on Trip Advisor would make interesting reading!

Openness can be a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, there are positive aspects to being candid and receptive but this can also leave you exposed and vulnerable.

A lot has been said and written about how trustworthy online reviews are. Over enthusiastic write-ups rightly tend to make people feel suspicious. You  ask yourself whether they were written by people who are genuinely impartial.

Some authors openly admit to posting positive comments about their own books on sites like Amazon and glowing endorsements of other products are best regarded with some scepticism.

It is equally true that people posting negative comments may be driven by impure and malicious motives. For example, companies may be tempted to dish the dirt on a rival firm and aggrieved members of staff may be seeking revenge on their employers.

The price you pay for allowing anyone the freedom to post comments online is that it affords them the golden opportunity to air their gripes in public.

I was recently asked to proof-read a reply to a Englishman who was angry at the conditions he found during his stay at a hotel in Bologna. The disgruntled guest wrote a venomous review on Trip Advisor under the heading ‘Disgusting’.

His complaints were as follows:

  • a dead spider and a live fly found in his food.
  • noisy plumbing.
  • apathetic staff.
  • poor breakfast service
  • dust in the corridors

Any business worth its salt would do well to take such scathing comments seriously, and see them as a motivation to right wrongs and improve services. Not surprisingly, the hotel proprietor in this case opted for a damage limitation exercise; all too conscious of the fact that many potential guests may be put off by these criticisms.

Her reply, however, did more harm than good. She paid particular attention to on the insect issues, firstly pointing out that a 100% refund was given, in contrast with the guest’s claim that he was offered only a 50% discount.

She went on to challenge the identity of the offending bug: “There was no dead spider in the pasta but a small fly which flew over your plate as the food was being served”.

This image of a passing fly chosing a sudden crash landing into a bowl of steaming pasta is the kind of comical excuse you’d expect from Basil Fawlty.

To me, this highlights the fact that replying in public runs the risk of inadvertently giving greater credence to unusual, and possibly exaggerated complaints.

Apparently there are 600 affirmative online reviews for this particular hotel and I think that, on balance, it would have been better to let these positive reports speak for themselves.

If an otherwise spotless carpet has a small stain, it is preferable to focus on the overall level of cleanliness rather than on the tiny blemish.