How to cope with bad reviews

The Virtuous Circle of Reputation Management - Reknown Training

By Daniel Edward Craig, Reknown.

With the increasing popularity of user-generated reviews, hoteliers may lament the loss of control over what is being said about us online, but we’re still in full control of how we react. As a follow-up to my last article, A Positive Spin on Negative Reviews, here are some suggestions for using negative reviews to effect positive change in your hotel.

Speak up. We would never ignore a guest ranting in our lobby, so why do so few negative reviews receive a response? (7% in 2010, according to TripAdvisor). It’s our chance to show the world we care, to thank the guest for feedback, to apologize and explain, and to clear up any misconceptions. On TripAdvisor reviewers can’t reply to hotel responses, so effectively we get the last word. Use it

Engage. Hotels used to hire mystery shoppers to tell us what we were doing wrong; now our guests do it and pay us for the privilege. User reviews keep us in touch with guests and allow us to reach a mass market we could never hope to reach through our own marketing efforts. Be grateful. Wherever possible, engage writers of negative reviews and try to make amends. With expert handling, our harshest critics can become our most powerful advocates.

Take the high road. If the reviewer is petty or vindictive, there’s no need to stoop to that level; travelers are smart enough to read between the lines. If allegations are false and defamatory, dispute the review with the host site, post a diplomatic response to set the record straight, and let it go. If your property’s reputation is so fragile that one or two bad reviews will devastate your business, you’ve got more issues than bad reviews. Read on.

Show leadership. Yes, you work hard, you’re passionate, and you’re probably a very nice person, but that doesn’t mean everyone will appreciate your efforts. Accept that sometimes you’ll be the victim of unfair criticism, and other times you’ll simply screw up. Don’t let it kill your spirit. Treat every review as a learning experience. Discuss with staff how you could have prevented the situation, support the team, and move on. It’s when travelers stop talking about your hotel that you should really worry.

Make reputation management a priority. Whether your property is a five-star resort or a one-star motel, your guests are evaluating you on how well you communicate and deliver on your brand promise. Subscribe to a social media monitoring tool and start tracking your Market Share of Guest Satisfaction; in the age of social networking, it’s as important as your revPAR index. Formulate a strategy for optimizing your online reputation, set goals, and meet regularly with your social media team to review progress.

Create a virtuous circle. Use guest feedback to justify investments in training, labor, capital upgrades and communications. Improvements will generate positive reviews, which will attract more travelers and in turn will generate incremental revenue, thereby funding more improvements, and so on. The alternative? Ignore feedback and create a vicious circle, with the opposite results.

Prevent escalation. If you listen closely, bad reviews are often less about the issue itself than how staff responded when it was brought to their attention. Train employees to prevent on-property issues from escalating to online complaints by listening, empathizing, offering solutions and following up to ensure guests are satisfied. Some issues take time and money to fix; in the meantime, ensure staff are minimizing fallout by expertly managing complaints.

Take the good with the bad. In addition to occasional false and malicious reviews, we also receive reviews that overstate our virtues. Exaggerated praise can be just as damaging, setting expectations we can’t meet. And yet nobody is threatening to sue these reviewers. In the end it all balances out, and the wisdom of the crowds prevails over the folly of the few.


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34 Responses to “How to cope with bad reviews”

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  1. Onion City says:

    Not long ago, our humble abode of a hotel received a nice review on TripAdvisor. "A hidden gem", it said. It was a somewhat bittersweet experience, as what for some is a gem for others might be a  perfect opportunity to find every tiny crack in that gem. I remember that blog of yours describing in a scientific 😉 way all sorts of travelers, from hidden-gem'ers to hotel-haters. I have seen people documenting their stays in the hotels, posting on TripAdvisor pictures (a doorknob or a crack under a window ) and even videos ( one was showing water draining in the tub). And that is all right –  you cannot control what guests put on websites, what you can control is how you respond to and how you deal with guest input, both at the front desk and on the Internet. That is where the devil is hidden… (And where the patience of an angel is required) . Common sense and good training help to overcome any difficulties/anxieties one may have/find in the guest-hotel relationship.

  2. Onion City, That's funny, the term "A Hidden Gem" is so common in online reviews it's almost cliche. And yes, the more praise properties get the more security they fall under.

    My "Online Reviewers to Watch Out for" is one of my favorite posts. Here it is again:

    Thanks for writing and don't ever stop being a gem – you might want to work on the "hidden" part though 🙂


  3. Sam Clark says:

    Couple of hotels I work with in Sri Lanka give staff bonuses based on feedback from abroad on TA which seems to work well at getting staff onboard and enthused by the review process.

  4. Joe Buhler says:

    Excellent post with valuable recommendations that every accommodation provider should take to heart. What strikes me as odd, is that this has not already become common sense and an integral part of conducting business for a majority. I often wonder, how long we will have to preach the obvious to the industry. An active social web engagement should by now be as normal as any other marketing activity, or even better replace at least some of the old ones based on a serious review. In many cases this would eliminate the still often heard argument of not having time for all this new social stuff!

    • Agreed, Joe. Having been a GM myself, I know we often have good intentions, but are constantly hijacked by the needs of guests and employees. It takes extra hours, smart time management and prioritization, and good staff to keep on top of online reputation management. But as you point out, the investment will pay off in the long run. Thanks for writing. DEC

  5. I work with vacation rental owners helping them take a more professional attitude to their contribution to the travel industry.  Many run scared of review sites and insist on publishing just the positive excerpts from visitor books, or even write their own.  In encouraging them to accept that negative reviews can be an opportunity rather than a disaster, I'll recommend they read your articles – thank you for your insights.

  6. Excellent advice for any accommodation-provider.  As a B&B owner,I've found that very few people will tell me how I could improve my services to my face.  However, reviews have offered me the opportunity to identify problems. When you notice the same issue arising from several different sources, it is definitely a call to action.  Owners/staff need to monitor these sites carefully, and be prepared to act swiftly and then post that solution so that that potential guests know you care about what people are saying.

  7. Matthew says:

    I don't own a Hotel but I do own an Internet cafe,  and i've found that the best way to turn a negative review into a positive one, is to simply contact the reviewer,  I try and send a personal reply to every review, positive or negative thanking them for taking the time to do the review,    Just by taking that small step i've turned a few reviews that were negative into positives.
    Of course there are some people that you just can't please no matter what.

  8. Ruth says:

    Good advice Daniel. I always reply to our reviews, good or not so good. Future guests can read between the lines and decide for themselves if negative comments are deserved or just a personal gripe. The main problem with TA is just one lower rating drags down your overall rating! I still think Trip Advisor a great site and always use it myself when we are travelling and find a huge percentage of our B&B guests rely on it too.

  9. Great advice Daniel.  <br><br>At our <a href="; target ="blank"><b>Phuket Hotels</b></a>, especially Pacific Club Resort, I've been replying to negative reviews from the beginning and managed to maintain a top ten rank in our area on TA for 5 years running now.  <br><br> We all know there are some guests who are impossible to please.   I find it often helps to research the bad reviewer's profile and other reviews before responding.   Sometimes you'll gain insight into that person's approach to traveling and especially if they might be chronic bad critics.  You can sometimes use that information to write a thoughtful response which is entertaining to the other readers and brings forth the possibility that particular guest reviewer is a whiner.  I've had many guests compliment me on responses where we stood our ground in the face of a bad review from guests like that.  As Daniel says, responses need to be diplomatic, but you don't always have to bend over and take it.  Try being creative and even funny if possible.<br><br>Cheers and great article

    • Good to hear you’re responding to online complaints, Eric – even if your tactics are a bit unorthodox! I agree that checking reviewers’ other reviews is a good idea to get a better idea of who they are. And thoughtul and creative is always good. As for humor, it’s hard to pull off when a guest is complaining, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it. But clearly you’ve got what works best for your property figured out and doing well on TripAdvisor – so congrats! And thanks for sharing. DEC

  10. Jan says:

    What do you have to do when you have a bullshit -made up- review, possibly by a competitor to lower our rating and TripAdvisor does not respond to your reports? Should we lower ourselves exposing the fraud in public, or do we get banned for that?

    • Hi Jan, I think you should be persistent with TripAdvisor until you get a response either way. I was just at its Master Class in Las Vegas yesterday and the speaker Brian said they are committed to being more responsive to owner inquiries. In the meantime, it might be prudent to post a diplomatic and respectful response to the review, something that allows other readers to read between the lines. Be careful – if you sound hostile you risk making things worse. It’s hard to give much more specifics without knowing the nature of the review, but I hope this helps. Bon courage. DEC

  11. Hello Jan,
    For starters you can make it clear how unhappy you are with the review and why by using the link below to file a legal request by certified mail for a takedown, it hasn't worked for me yet, but I imagine if you have your lawyer send it, they might look more carefully:
    Also your comment about helping readers to read between the lines is what I meant by using humor combined with information collected from browsing the reviewers other history is sometimes helpful.
    Also, don't forget to try and PM the reviewer and see if you can establish communications.  Sometimes that helps.  There are occasions when the review doesn't realize the serious implications of flippant comments on pet peeves.  If you talk to them sometimes they help you out by changing the review.  Of course if they don't reply, maybe it was a competitor and you're stuck with the normal channels.  
    Also, if you have satisfied guests who are active TA members, you can bring the issue up in the forums where the rules are more lenient.  Often your loyal guests will chime in and help bring some light to the specific issues.

  12. I read each and every word in the article and it is so much on the spot. our hotel recently received a bad review, following above guidelines helped me extremely well in stating the management response! Thank you, thank you, thank you Daniel!

  13. karn says:

    Hi Daniel,
    Your suggestions are very helpful. Almost a year back I had received a bad review from one of our online booking guest. And I couldn't reply or thought it safe to not to reply. But since then that remains the only bad review amongst all the others I've received for my property. Do you think its the right time for me to reply now?? Its been more than a year that the review was written. 

    • Hi Karn, If it’s been more than a year, and you’ve had lots of good reviews since, I’d be inclined to let it go. Water under the bridge. People will rarely go that deep to check out reviews – they’re more interested in the most recent ones. Plus according to TripAdvisor the most recent reviews have the greatest weight in the popularity ranking. Cheers, DEC

  14. Lorenzo says:

    All this article is full of nice words and good behaviours, i can't disagree with that.
    But from my point of view what TA lacks is a sort of rating about the reviewer who is 'judging' our work.
    I can't believe that a new user has got the same power of reviewing of a several year-user with tens or hundreds of contributions.
    This is especially in the mobile version of the site where there're no informations about the user and people are unable to understand who really has wrote what they're reading.
    Another thing that really disappoint me about in Restaurant side is that I can't show my opening hours, my day-off and my holidays. I've got many people calling me at any time any day. If somebody is not answering their calls I'AM the unprofessional. 
    Thanks anyway for all the rest of your wonderful job and your website.

  15. Lidia Lobo says:

    Hi Daniel,
    we have been listed on tripadvisor for quite some time .
    Have had very good response from most of our guests what I would like to know is when a guest gives you a bad wirte up for no fault of ours what and how should we explain online that these are just malicious lies and at least some note from us on the same remark so people can see our line of defence
     or what realyy was the problem with this particular case

  16. I agree with Lorenzo and that's why I feel it's important  to research the (bad) reviewers other reviews and profile.  This information is important and not all (especially newer) TA readers will think to do this.   I will often point out in a response, "We noticed in this guests other reviews by searching on their profile, they always had problems with other hotels which are generally very well reviewed and ranked……"  or to simply point out for newer users of TA that "We noticed this was a one off "hit and run" review, sometimes newbies have a tendancy ………."
    And for Lidia, here's my recommendation:
    Another thing I've found helpful on dealing with bad / borderline reviews is to get a very detailed report from our staff.  Then take some time and try to empathize with the guest in order to understand what kind of people they are taking into account comments remembered by our front res staff.  And sometimes, we've had other guests who witnessed an off base guest ranting about something to reception and they have actually volunteered to counter review the ranting guest for us in the event they shag us.  I think we've all had experiences where we were at a hotel's reception counter and listen to what the staff behind the counter have to take sometimes and thought to ourselves, that person in front of me is a real ……….  You have to get your front staff tuned on the watch for this stuff.
    At the end of the day, once we managed to get the social networking going, it's people to people "P2P", we've realized that if you're doing a good job, people will help us out when we have a problem review (without asking).  And as Daniel started this article, you always need to be diplomatic and I added that, in my opinion, make a somewhat humorous approach if possible.  For example, you could start off a response to a bad review like this:
    " I'll never forget the day this guest checked out,  I was driving down the freeway in my benz with a cop on my tail while contemplating the possibilities of  how buying this hotel could have turned out to be financial suicide after the Red Shirts in Bangkok started a war and closed the airport here threatening to shut down tourism in Thailand unless the Prime Minister resigns……., and then the call came from my GM:  "We've got a real problem here……. these people are gonna shag us.   So then after getting the cop off my tail and recomposing.  As usual I suggested we check all the facts on this reviewer and ………… "  Turns out, we did this and we did that……  but according to our guest profile records these folks did this ….. this and that…….   So we're real sorry my GM and all our soldiers couldn't figure out how to make these folks so happy they would smile when the paid the bill………..  Sometimes you do everything you can, bend over backwards, and there's just no winning…..  Check the next review, that guy witnessed these folks at check out.  Lucky for us most folks who visit us on holiday are just trying to enjoy themselves and we like to help them 🙂
    In my opinion, it's OK for us to be people too, there are some hotels who take the stuffy formal robotic approach, but I think reminding everyone we're also human doesn't hurt.  "Be Real" there's a big difference between being behind the counter and being online in a social forum.  BTW, you have be the owner to take this approach above, we're not held to the same standards as the line staff.  For those owners who don't have time to reply to reviews, I'd suggest you choose one of your "switched on" staff to impersonate you.
    And also, if you really want to play the game right, you need to watch what people are saying about your property in the forums. Keep in touch with those folks who've been your guest and like to support you in the forums.  They'll always help you out in a pinch.
    Cheers, and Daniel I hope you don't mind my excessive posting, I love your site.

  17. Steve Busch says:

    Hi Daniel-
    Just started following you, came across this article, and wanted to get your opinion…I am an owner/operator of a property that has privilege of being ranked #1 or TA.  Recently, a post regarding a bad experience was received.  I sent a personal message to the guest asking for specifics promising to return the guests money for feedback.  After my second personal request, I received an answer.   The guests displeasure surrounded a surcharge to his folio for smoking the room.  He didn't deny it, just said that the print on the reg card indicating such charge was small.  In addition, it turns out stay was from 2 years ago, outside the timeline allowed by TA.  Accordingly, when completing the review, he falsified his date of stay, thus to allow the TA posting to conform.  I honored my word (as much as I hated to), refunded his money, including his $250 cleaning fee and now am attempting to respond to the post.  Just wanted to get your opinion on this one….PS:  Your insights are outstanding!

    • Steve, you’re a bigger man than I am! I admire your efforts to safeguard your reputation. As part of your agreement to refund the money, did the guest agree to remove the review? If so, another friendly reminder would be appropriate. If not, I’d suggest posting a response (addressed to the guest) saying you’re glad you were able to discuss this further and resolve the issue to his satisfaction and thanking him again for the advice. You could also send TripAdvisor a note regarding the falsified review requesting that they remove it, but don’t hold your breath. I’d say deal with it as best you can and then let it go, and focus on generating more great reviews to push this one down the list and out of sight. Good luck! And let me know how it goes.

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