TrustYou, the hotel guest feedback platform, has had a big 2016 already.
Since last winter, the Munich-based company has been powering Google hotel scores for search and maps where TrustYou finds a match between its hotel database and Google's hotel database -- that's about 300,000 hotels. (When there isn't a match, Google shows its Google Score.)*
Update: Aug. 18: This article has been updated with corrections to some of the nuances of the TrustYou Stars platform and the Google partnership. A few quotes and the headline ("...and it isn't afraid of TripAdvisor") have been clarified to prevent a possibly misleading impression that TrustYou is competing with TripAdvisor when, in fact, it is a pure B2B play that styles itself "the Switzerland of reviews" and is a great partner with TripAdvisor when it comes to its reputation management software.
TrustYou says that, for hotels that have begun to use its TrustYou Stars platform, which rolled out this year, on average, 75% of new hotel reviews on Google now come via the platform.
The Stars tool expands the volume and reach of the hotel review data which can be seen on Google, Kayak, Skyscanner, and Wego.
The company’s software also identifies review content from Expedia Inc and Priceline Group brands and analyzes that data, too. It mainly only excludes reviews from TripAdvisor, the user-reviews giant.
Looking ahead, TrustYou thinks it can thrive, despite competition from rival reputation management companies, such as Revinate and ReviewPro, and guest survey companies like Medallia.
Earlier this summer, TrustYou acquired Checkmate, a real-time messaging specialist for hotels to communicate with guests, for an undisclosed sum.
We recently checked in with Benjamin Jost, chief executive and co-founder of TrustYou, to find out how his company plans to ride an expected wave of hotel investment in online reputation management.
Jost outlined his belief that Google and other players will increasingly challenge TripAdvisor’s dominance in reviews.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Tnooz: Nothing personal, but hotel general managers, when they proverbially wake up at three o’clock in the morning, they’re worried about their TripAdvisor score, not their TrustYou score. Is TrustYou just never going to be able to compete with the giant that is TripAdvisor?
Jost: TripAdvisor has built a great brand. No one competes with that overnight. With more and more eyeballs on our data, especially with the launch on Google, we do see more and more hotels caring about the TrustScore, too.
I would say we just started with the past year, when the Google deal actually launched.
Separately, we are great partners with TripAdvisor when it comes to our reputation management software, where we license their review data. We do show TripAdvisor ratings and reviews to hotels, because hotels NEED to see that and respond to that.
Tnooz: Every hotel seems to have a sticker saying it is rated on TripAdvisor. TrustYou for years had has a quality symbol, but not as many hotels tell guests about that. Is TrustYou going to be stuck in second place next to TripAdvisor?
Jost: No. As an analogy, take J.D. Power, which does customer satisfaction surveys in the States. It’s an example of where you have a third-party, non-competing brand, very popular amongst users because it's trustworthy, and it becomes more and more popular. It's not competing with anyone.
We have a good chance of being a kind of J.D. Power for the travel industry. We've seen other industries have a player like that rise up. Why not in travel?
TripAdvisor is, to a certain extent, at cross-purposes with the hotels in how it markets its metasearch tool and mobile app as a consumer entry point. I'm not judging.
But because TrustYou is not competing for consumer attention, we’re a very, very easy choice for hotels...
We can show that if you improve your score, you increase conversion on these metasearch sites. There's a payoff to the investment.
Plus, we offer a product tuned to hotel needs.
To get technical, we give them control. A hotel can take our data and say, "I want to display my entire ranking relative to all hotels in my city. Or just based on the best-ranked family hotels. Or, I want to rank it on the best boutique hotels. Or I want a ranking on the hotels with the best bar."
We're not competing with anyone... That's a different positioning.
Tnooz: How will the reputation management landscape look three or five years from now?
Jost: Ideally, every hotel will use our services when it comes to guest feedback, for collecting and analyzing it. That means putting guest feedback on their own brand.com site and app, for instance, with our tools.
Tnooz: The mix of unverified and verified reviews on TripAdvisor still seems to have the most power and momentum and scale.
Jost: All this talk about verified, unverified…. It's the user who will decide what kind of data point they trust or not. Apparently, they trust the TripAdvisor data point very much even though we, as the industry, say that some of those reviews are unverified.
The user, for most of the part, doesn’t care.
It's less about the verified/unverified debate, and it's more about who drives the booking....
Tnooz: You agree that hotels care more about TripAdvisor than Google these days, when it comes to reviews?
Jost: That’s fair, yes. But that will change.
My assumption is that Google is going to become a very dominant player that is going to provide a huge amount of leads throughout the funnel, be it directly to brand.com or through the intermediaries. It is going to be a central starting point in the travel journey, more and more.
Google is in a great position because it never steals any SEO power from the hotels. The hotel can plug in the review content it has collected via the Stars platform, and that would never count as duplicate content, even though you would find the same review as a Google Review on Google.
It's an advantage because all the other players out there, they need this SEO power. They need the unique content piece.
Everyone is competing against each other, and the only one who is really not competing in that game is Google, because they're the entrance point of search and inspiration.
We also don't compete with anyone because we don't need to. We are a pure B2B play. We are the Switzerland of review analysis and reputation management.
Tnooz: You seem to be saying there’s going to be a tipping point where hotels will realize your TrustScore has a huge impact.
Jost: Yes, but more broadly… Despite your questions, I’m not so worried about when we'll surpass TripAdvisor. Your framing is wrong: It’s not a zero-sum game.
For one reason, using our platform to improve your scores on non-TripAdvisor ratings will usually also help your TripAdvisor ones, too. It's simple logic. If a service improvement helps raise your TrustYou scores, it will logically also help your TripAdvisor rating, too.
We're going to have a huge impact on the TripAdvisor score indirectly because we can still tell you, "Hey, fix your cold coffee problem that you have in your breakfast room because people are complaining about it."
Once you fix it, you are going to see an increase in your scores across the board.
One other thing: We do let a hotel analyze the TripAdvisor channel through our analytics. We just don’t take that channel's reviews into account when we calculate our review summaries.
Hotel marketers will recognize us as a force that drives booking on scale. If they don’t recognize us today, they will.
If you count all of them together, Kayak, Google, Skyscanner — how many eyeballs do we have on our data? We may have more eyeballs on our data soon than are on TripAdvisor’s.
Our winning model is our focus on B2B, on helping the hotel figure out the most effective ways to improve their product.
Tnooz: Thanks. Different topic, please. Why acquire Checkmate?
Jost: We wanted to be everywhere on the traveler journey when it comes to guest feedback…. Collecting information from the guest via mobile devices as the guest is about to arrive and during their stay was the last piece of the journey we didn’t haven’t well covered.
Tnooz: If Checkmate was so great, why did it have to be a distressed asset sale? Meaning, why is this a good acquisition for you?
Jost: I can answer generally. Take Expedia. It was an investor in Checkmate, and in Alice, another messaging service. That shows that this segment is still very hot and is at the very beginning.
Tnooz: Why will one solution win and another won’t?
Jost: It's going to boil down to execution. How do you build a sales force and execute on marketing effectively.
We have at least a good head start in that because we've done that sales and marketing work already for other services and we can now plug in this product to all of our customers.
We’ve received a lot of positive reaction when we told our customers we’re adding this messaging tech….
You see all these technology stack players. They build a management tool and they want to add a CRM on top and they build some other BI on top and they want to sell this entire technology stack to hotels.
We only want to focus on guest feedback….It’s a clearer sales pitch.
Tnooz: Isn’t it hard to scale up with independent hotels, with lots of small, one-off deals?
Jost: Yes, it’s probably much harder to sell to an independent hotel because the sales cost is higher compared to, "Hey, I just signed Accor,” and 4,000 sales come on board immediately.
We don't have a particularly pure independent sales strategy. We don't have a particularly pure enterprise sales strategy. We see both as important.
With independent hotels, you have to be very effective in your sales approach there, and you have to measure really well how it works.
That's what we've been doing. Our team knows today how it works. We know the metrics. We know the funnel. Now we can start to scale that business in the independent hotel sector.
Tnooz: How big is your client list?
Jost: These numbers everyone is throwing around ... Everyone's saying, "Ah, we're 50,000 properties. We're 30,000 properties." Whatever. I would always say, it depends how you look at it. We are less reliant on a few large chain deals than some competitors.
When we say 50,000 hotels worldwide use us for one of our services, we mean we have some of these hotels looking at our data through different portals.
We have a lot of hotels looking at our dashboards within a third-party tool or an extranet. For example, we help power the reputation tools on HRS and HolidayCheck.
By the end of this year, we have a goal of having specifically 20,000 hotels that feed their own reviews into TrustYou's guest feedback platform.
We will also announce a couple of partnerships with bigger providers that build websites for hotels and that need content to help power brand.com websites or PMS players or CRM players that sit on the guest profile data.
We may give them our Stars platform, our feedback platform, for all their hotels for free, so they can start collecting feedback and push it into the guest feedback platform with TrustYou. That's good for scale.
Tnooz: Could you tell us more about TrustYou Stars, your big product push of the year?
Jost: Some context, first: We look at all reviews as guest feedback. Whether it is on an OTA or a review site or it is posts and comments on social, it's guest feedback. We call it surveys when we look at operational procedures of the hotel. But it’s all guest feedback.
Why do you want to look at this data feedback in different silos, as some competitor tools do? Why do you want a platform to look at social feedback, but not surveys. Why don't you want to look at this all together because it's all together guest feedback?
We still let you slice and dice the information to compare and see trends. But we stand out for bringing all the feedback together in the single TrustYou Stars platform.
We compete with Medallia, and we’re leaving it behind as the dinosaur in the industry when it comes to guest feedback operations. In 2015, we replaced Medallia for the entire Accor group for all their almost 4,000 hotels.
We’ll continue to win big chains because, among other reasons, the TrustYou Stars platform has a sophisticated post-stay survey component.
We say, "Hey, if you, at the end of your survey, as a traveler, you get to choose, do you want to push this review or this survey into Google as well and share it with all the other fellow travelers out there? Yes or No?" The traveler has the choice to say, "Yes, I want to share it." If they say yes, we push it out on Google as a Google Review.
This process is unleashing a huge force on behalf of hotels. About half of hotel guest feedback is hidden right now in some guest survey databases not accessible to the web. We say to them, Why don't you make it public and we take it into account when we calculate your score?
Suddenly they can do this, and they make the guest feedback public. It makes for a fuller picture of the stay experience.
Now, especially after we fully integrate Checkmate, we're everywhere guest feedback happens. In the search process, on the intermediary or on the brand.com site, on an app during a stay, and on the post-stay survey or on one of the review channels or be it on their own survey channel or an OTA's.
Our data is responsible for guiding booking decisions. Hotels are noticing.