Best Practices for Responding to Online Hotel Reviews, Part I

By Daniel Edward Craig, Reknown.

As a hotel manager, when a guest comes to the front desk to register a complaint, do you: 1) look busy; 2) skulk out the back door; or 3) handle the matter personally?

Not that difficult a question, is it? Then why do only 4% of negative reviews on TripAdvisor get a response? Does the fact that reviews are often anonymous and directed at travelers rather than hotels let us off the hook? Or are hoteliers even paying attention? Consumers certainly are. Reviews are playing an increasingly important role in booking decisions. Some would say that online reviews deserve even more time than internal surveys, as the feedback is just as (if not more) valuable, and the impact is public.

According to TripAdvisor, a property’s response to criticism can have more influence on traveler decisions than the criticism itself. Hoteliers have a chance to redeem themselves, yet the vast majority chooses to remain silent, willfully allowing reputation and business to suffer. Granted, not all review sites allow hotel responses. Online travel agencies posted three times as many hotel reviews than traveler review sites last year, yet whereas Expedia and Hotels.com allow responses, Priceline and Travelocity don’t, effectively shutting hotels out of the conversation.

Given their influence on booking decisions, it’s a safe bet that soon all OTAs will allow hotel responses. It’s time for hoteliers to make more time for monitoring and responding to public feedback. Here are some tips for responding to reviews to minimize damage and cast your hotel in a more positive light. Each property will have a different approach, so I recommend answering these questions on your own and compiling the results into a brief strategic plan.

Should I respond to all reviews?
You should respond to any feedback that is damaging to your hotel’s reputation, even if simply to acknowledge the issue and apologize. An unanswered complaint leaves travelers to draw their own conclusions, as in “I guess it’s true” or “The hotel doesn’t care”.

Respond to positive reviews occasionally to show you’re listening, to express appreciation and to reinforce the positive, but don’t feel obliged to reply to each one. Travelers read reviews for advice from other travelers, not for a succession of gloating responses from hotel managers. That said, your advocates deserve proper reverence. If the host site permits, send a private note of thanks and flag their profile to acknowledge them in person on their next stay.

Bad response: “It is with tremendous joy that I read your most gracious remarks regarding our cherished employees, who take immense pride in pleasing our valued guests …”

Good response: “Thank you for your wonderful remarks, which I have shared with our staff. We are thrilled to hear that you enjoyed your stay, and look forward to welcoming you back soon.”

Who should respond?
Given their influence, online reviews should be handled at the highest level and disseminated at all levels. It’s okay for a verbally gifted middle manager or executive assistant to draft responses, provided they’re approved by—and addressed from—a senior manager. As a rule I discourage hotel owners from responding. They have too much at stake and aren’t always as diplomatic as managers.

Bad response: “How dare you insult my bootifull hotel! I spit on your mother’s grave!”

Good response: “We welcome all constructive criticism, as it helps us to get better.”

When should I respond?
The sooner the better. The longer a complaint is left to fester, the more business it will drive away. But first thoroughly investigate the incident, draft a reply, sleep on it, delete all threats and curses, and have it reviewed by a highly literate and judicious colleague.

If your property rarely receives reviews, negative reviews will have a longer shelf-life, which makes monitoring and responding even more important. If you receive frequent reviews, regular responses are necessary to keep them up front and center—ideally on the first page. To stay on top of reviews I recommend a reputation management tool like Revinate (whom I consult for), which will scour the web for mentions of your hotel on all social media platforms and deliver a daily summary to your desktop.

Bad response: “I would have appreciated it if you had brought this issue to my attention while a guest rather than two years later.”

Good response. “You will be happy to know that, as a result of guest feedback like yours, we have implemented the following changes …”

What should I say?
A poorly worded response risks making things worse, whereas a well executed response will prompt readers to conclude that, despite unfortunate circumstances, management cares and is on the ball. Thank the reviewer, acknowledge positive comments first, and apologize. Explain what you’ve done to fix the problem—or why it can’t be fixed. Readers will be put off by stock replies, and a few changed words won’t fool them, so tailor each response. Never offer compensation, as it might encourage more complaints.

Bad response. “Let’s try to avoid hyperbolizing, shall we, as in ‘worst hotel experience EVER!’ Yes, we dropped the ball, but we got slammed that morning and two employees called in sick.”

Good response: “Clearly we were not performing to our usual standards that morning, and for that I sincerely apologize. I have reviewed your feedback in detail with our restaurant manager.”

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we discuss what to do about false claims and complaints that can’t be resolved. If you have comments or tips of your own to share, post them here under Comments.

About Revinate. The ultimate social media solution for hotels, Revinate harnesses online reviews and social media as the ultimate measures of guest satisfaction and drivers of demand. By tracking key metrics, providing real-time alerts and intuitively guiding hoteliers to action, Revinate helps hospitality companies profit from social media. For more information visit http://www.revinate.com/.

 

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23 Responses to “Best Practices for Responding to Online Hotel Reviews, Part I”

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  1. I have posted a link from your article to a Bed and Breakfast forum where TA reviews are always a heated topic!

    Thanks for the article, good food for thought.

    Innkeepers truly care about their guests and want everyone to enjoy their stay. The difference many times in a hotel review vs a B&B; review as we DO take it personal as it is our baby, blood sweat and tears go into our inns and we will try to rectify any errors or misconceptions immediately. Unfortunately some people are just difficult, as we all know, but we still want them to be happy!

    Case in point – I had guests in the same room back to back – not literally…of course. One couple (who was a actually a NY Times Bestselling author) adored every little detail, bought us a gift with thank you card, appreciated all the hard work to make their visit extra special. The other guests were PITA's and nit picked every little thing, even told us how to redo our ponds and waterfall feature (Bless their hearts!) We were awestruck by the contrast within 24 hours.

    So life goes on…

    "Friends welcome. Family by appointment only."

  2. Don says:

    I believe, like you, that responses to online reviews are not only appropriate, but necessary, especially in light of the fact that it's not impossible for some fictitious reviews to make it onto the site.

    Acknowledging the reviews, good or bad, does exactly what you said: It shows you care about the guest.

  3. Daniel Edward Craig says:

    Thanks for your comments, Shellie. It seems quite a few innkeepers read my articles, so it's good to get your perspective. I always love hearing stories from the field too, so thanks for sharing. Your inn looks beautiful, and nice work on the social media. DEC

  4. Daniel Edward Craig says:

    Don, Always great to hear from you, especially when you agree with me. Two consecutive messages from Virginia, wow, maybe it's time for a trip out. Hope life is good. DEC

  5. openair says:

    A very helpful article Daniel, well stated and spot-on advice. I'll post as link for my hospitality friends.

    I think there's nothing that beats a well-intentioned effort to deliver beyond expectations and make things right within one's ability. A very smart tourism promoter used to say that it's all summed up in this axiom: "People go where they're invited and return where they're made to feel welcome."

    Thanks again for bringing that basic message into the sea of social media.

  6. Good advice as always Daniel. What is astonishing to me is that the hotel industry seems to be going backwards.

    Last August I wrote a post entitled, "85% of Hoteliers Just Don't Get It." While 90% of hoteliers thought online reviews from places like TripAdvisor were important, only 15% of them had guidelines on how to manage them.

    Wouldn't you think responding to negative reviews would be at the top of the list? Yet you say only 4% of hotels do respond. Yikes!

    Are hoteliers really going backwards?

  7. Thomas says:

    Online reviews are about identical to in-room guest comment cards, the happiest and the least happy guests usually take the time to submit them. That's why serious, concerned, managers have an electronic guest comment card that goes out to every guest for whom we have an email address. While yes, that lets out most OTA booked guests there are other ways to pry their email address from them too.

    One problem with Trip Advisor is that it is impossible to determine that the reviews being posted are by actual guests. We all know of non-guest friends and competitors that have written good and bad reviews of hotels. No, that problem is apparently being tackled in Europe by the EC about to possibly force Trip Advisor to warrant and guarantee reviews are being written by actual guests.

    TA does not monitor the content of guest comment, but it does reserve the right to dictate the terms of hotel response. We had a couple who from check-in complained bitterly about thier room. They bought the cheapest, mostdiscounted rate, and got the room type they paid for. We were renovating the hotel and they gota newly renovated but small room. They loudly, demanded upgrades and "compensation" for what they had agreed to pay for. Long story short, it was a sell out weekend and there was nothing that could be done, honestly.

    So, they wrote a review while they were still in the hotel, and TA posted it. It was bizarre We appealed to TA to pull the review. On our worst day we were neer as bad as this review and we hoped TA woul dsee this for what it was. They declined but gave us the option of a reply. We wrote a factual explanation of what happened. The TA monitor did not like the "tone" of our reply and suggested alternate language. We asked about the "tone" of the language of the review.TA's rply was that they could't change it because the "reviewer has 1st Ammendment rights". Apparently those rights do not extend to us.

    While we were mulling over next moves there wereseveral , legitimate, positive reviews that posted and eventually this one false negative was buried. However, it left us with a bad taste in our collective mouths about the legitimacy of the reviews and the response process.

    When you can determine that the review is legit it should be replied to if for no other reason that it shows the next potential guest you are engaged, but let's be honest the process has serious flaws as a guage of your actual guest satisfaction level.

  8. InsideMsa says:

    Daniel this is Spot on!l agree with you in totality hiding and hoping that it will go away is not the answer l believe that by engaging the clients you are in effect working towards winning sales and at the same time like a repeat client who stays in a hotel and gets consulted time to time for his comments on service so it is the same with online review they talk because they care and when you respond they know you listen and care and come back even if there are shortcomings that they know can't be improved on the relationship built matters more….cheers and once again kudos

  9. Martin says:

    The way the response is done is definitely important. However there is a point where answering to all bad critiques can backfire. Travellers start getting the idea that threatening to leave a bad comment on the internet will make hoteliers bend.
    As both a hotelier and a user there are two sides to everything.
    As a user I know there are always people that aren't happy. Seeing a bad review or two doesn't affect me even though I read them I can normally separate the truth from the crap.
    As a hotelier I know that too and several customers have play that on me to get an outrageous discount for an unreasonable problem.

    Responding to the reviews has a flipside and should be done very intelligently.

    Your examples are great, and if more hoteliers could think that calmly and that rationally about the critiques it would work well.

  10. I agree in principle, but Thomas has an important point that should not be ignored.

    What about the guest who leaves a stinky review because he is unreasonable? The guest is NOT always right and sometimes he is downright out of order. But this doesn't stop him posting scurrilous comments on TripAdvisor. See this for instance:

    http://tripadvisorwatch.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/when-drunks-leave-reviews-on-tripadvisor/

    It's funny, but it's not fair on the hotel.

    Another example. What about the guest who reserves, in a little 3 room B&B; which does not have spare capacity like a hotel, 2 rooms for 3 nights, then on arrival says he only needs one room now. Meantime the owner has turned down other bookings.

    The guest has agreed to the terms and conditions which state that payment in full is due in these circumstances. Yet when the owner wants payment, the "guest" goes on to post a scathing review full of lies in an act of petty revenge, which makes no mention of these facts.

    Posting a response does nothing for the the nerves of the owner or for his B&B;'s rating on TripAdvisor, which suffers unfairly.

  11. Daniel Edward Craig says:

    Hi Madigan, Thanks for your note. The good news is, as I will share in Part 2, TripAdvisor reports a 203% increase in responses to negative reviews by hoteliers last year. Bad new: the response rate still lags around 4%. So perhaps hoteliers aren't going backwards, but inching forward, very slowly. DEC

  12. Daniel Edward Craig says:

    Thanks to all for your comments, which bring up several important points. I address many of them in Part II, which I will post soon. I get a lot of emails from hoteliers and innkeepers frustrated by false or unfair reviews, which can be extremely distressing when you truly care about guest satisfaction and your property's reputation. But it's the reality of the hotel business. Sometimes we have to swallow our pride and resentment, because a bitter response risks making things worse and scaring other guests off. Some comments are so outrageous they don't dignify a response – travelers will read between the lines. If your hotel does a great job, positive comments will far outweigh the negative. Stay tuned for Part II.

  13. Alex says:

    I want to know which hotel have best hotel service?

  14. John says:

    Hotels reviews are good for potential new guest and for Hotels to take notice of, either to improve or keep up their standards.
     
    But in order to be of benefit reviews must also be timely and have a shelf life. Reviews written about a stay four years previous will have little bearing on the current state of management of the hotel. Hotel standards can go up as well as down.
    Ideally I would expect reviews to be written within 3-months of a stay with a 3-year shelf life.

  15. ALLIE says:

    THE SAGUARO HOTEL IN SCOTTSDALE ARIZONA!
    THIS SPECIFIC HOTEL IS AWEFUL!
    I HAD A COMPLAINT REGARDING 2 EMPLOYEES AT THE POOL AREA. I EXPRESSED MY CONCERN “THEY WERE PERVERTS”
    THEY SMIRKED AND LAUGHED TO EACH OTHER, WHEN I ASKED TO SPEAK TO A SUPERVISOR OR MANAGER. THE BALD FAT ONE (THEY DID NOT HAVE NAME BADGE ON) STATED ” HE IS THE CHIEF DIRECTOR AND LAUGHED, THE OTHER GUYS, SO CALL CHIEF DIRECTOR SMIRK AT THE BALD GUY”. I AM SO IRRITATED, THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! I AM REPULSED, ANNOYED! THEY WALKED AWAY FROM ME AS IF I WAS NOTHING!

    I INFORMED THE OTHER PARTIES TO TRY TO COVER UP AND THAT THE HOTEL STAFF WAS PERVERTS! NOT ALL BUT THE
    BALD FAT ONE AND THE SO CALL DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS.

    I THEN WENT TO THE FRONT DESK, ASKED FOR FURTHER INFORMATION REGARDING THE PERVERTS. THE FRONT DESK UNPROFESSIONAL, RELUCTANT TO SPEAK, INADEQUATE ATTITUDE, I ASKED NAME OF THE INDIVIDUALS SHE ONLY GAVE ME A NICK NAME “TIM” FOR THE CHIEF DIRECTOR OF OPERATION (WHAT IS THAT ANYWAY?) NOT A FULL NAME IS IT TIMOTHY I NEED A LAST NAME!!!! I THEN ASKED FOR SOMEONE HIGHER THEN HIM AND HER RESPOND WAS:

    I CAN TRY TO BE APOLOGETIC AND TRY TO ACCOMODATE YOU, AS FAR AS OUR GENERAL MANAGER ALL THEY BUDIES! HOW DO YOU THINK “TIM” AND ALL OF THEM GOT THEIR JOBS!!!!

    OUTRAGES!!!!!! I WAS THROUGH!!! NEVER AGAIN!!!!!

  16. Tim Frenklin says:

    There are lots of hotel who give the best services to the client. It depend upon you which you prefer according to your convenience.

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