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.