Allie Mae Taylor owns and runs The Everlook Guest House, a boutique B&B in a small rural town in mid-Wales and, over the last three years, has built the business up from a start-up into a multi-award winning proposition, including being a finalist at a major annual awards gala for the travel sector.
Taylor puts this success down to ‘sheer hard work, lots of attention to detail, experience of the sector, good marketing and branding, delivering consistently high customer service, and genuinely enjoying delivering outstanding levels of hospitality’.
This effort first gained the guest house a 5-star grading from Visit Wales, which in itself sets the business aside from competitors, and then translated into positive reviews across the channel providers, including good feedback on booking.com, as well as a good deal of 5/5 feedback on TripAdvisor.
‘The reviews and feedback have been completely unsolicited by us, but over the first year it raised our profile in listings and rankings, but of course helped influence the decision-making process of potential guests looking for somewhere of a certain standard in the town and surrounding area,’ Taylor says.
‘As such, we saw our bookings and room occupancy steadily increase, and with it our revenue and year on year growth to the point where we are now predominantly fully booked, with a high percentage of repeat guests.’
The positive reviews have then bought with it the surprise and honour of receiving the aforementioned industry awards. ‘Either guests or channel partners have nominated the business, and then a judging panel has evaluated the reviews and our performance standards against their set criteria. The awards themselves then raise our profile and visibility further,’ Taylor says.
The bad side of customer reviews
However, there are downsides to the positive feedback. Over time, consistently high review scores and awards raise customer expectations to an exaggerated level, Taylor says, making it more challenging as every aspect of the customer experience becomes scrutinised, even when the price point hasn’t changed over that time, nor the high levels of hospitality and service.
‘So the effort exerted back into the business on a daily basis to maintain the perceived expectation of the customer experience increases exponentially above and beyond the levels first established. This obviously can’t continue indefinitely, so you reach a tipping point where more negative reviews (or, at least, not perfect scores) start appearing. And this is the stage at which we now find ourselves,’ she says.
Taylor makes an effort to respond respectfully to any criticisms or negativity, and continually works to improve the issues raised to the best of her ability, always with a view to ensuring that the next review is a perfect 10 or 5. ‘But it’s difficult not to feel frustrated when your professional efforts are viewed from a perspective potentially distorted by the very reviews that established your success. It’s a vicious circle.
‘However, I believe the key is to understand your service level model and, if successful, not detract from it, but continually review every aspect of the business and customer journey experience, and work to maintain or better your standards daily.’