The Trip Advisor tail wagging the real world dog

More than fifty years ago, Duncan Hines (a real guy, unlike Betty Crocker), turned the restaurant business upside down. He began certifying restaurants as clean and safe, offering a sign for roadside diners that wished to welcome travelers from out of town.

The existence of his certification changed the way restaurants did their job.

Today, it's sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp (among many others) that are transforming the way service businesses operate. Here's how it works: at first, a business might try to ignore the system, but then they notice their customers talking about the reviews and their competitors. So some stoop so low as to attempt to game the system, sending sock puppets and friends to post reviews. But that doesn't scale and the sites are getting smart about weeding this out.

The only alternative? Amazing service. Working with customers in such an extraordinary way that people feel compelled to talk about it, post about it, and yes, review it. It's not an accident that Hotel Amira is one of the highest rated hotels in all of Turkey. They didn't do it with the perfect building or sumptuous suites. They did it by intentionally being remarkable at service. And yes, the Holiday Inn in Oakland has the same story. They took what they had and then they deliberately went over the top in delivering on something that never would have paid off for them in the past.

Amplifying stories causes the stories that are built to change. Outliers are rewarded (or punished) and the weird and the wonderful are reinforced. Once people see what others are doing, it opens the door for them to do it, but with more flair.

The web changes everything it touches, sometimes in significant ways. Travelers ranted about poor service for a generation, but once the internet makes it easy to rank and sort and connect, the service has no choice but to change. Some businesses see Yelp and others as a tax, a burden they have to pay attention to in order to stay relevant, and they grumble about it. Others see these sites as the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to deliver service (which takes guts and care, more than money) to get ahead.