From Pricing Complaints to Personal Attacks: How to Respond to Challenging Guest Reviews

Responding to Reviews, Daniel Edward Craig, Hotel & Travel Marketing Consultant

By Daniel Edward Craig

Responding to online reviews has become routine for many hoteliers, and yet every once in a while a real zinger comes along that makes you catch your breath and clench your fists. How should you respond? Or should you respond at all?

If you don’t respond, you leave travelers to draw their own conclusions. If you do respond and say the wrong thing, you risk making things worse.

Like this management response on TripAdvisor: “The guest is lying … Why would I do this knowing he might give me a bad online review?”

Or this one: “What a wonderfully written review! I strongly recommend you take up writing fiction for a living.”

While many hoteliers have mastered the art of handling on-property complaints, those skills don’t always translate to online. And yet reviews are public and highly persuasive in purchase decisions, so the stakes are much higher.

Here are suggestions for responding to challenging reviews in a way that casts your property in a more favorable light. Every hotel or group will have a different approach, so adapt them to fit the unique personality of your brand.

The Problem
Before anything, if you’re getting hammered by the same complaints time and again, focus your energies on fixing the problem rather than on crafting clever responses. A reputation management tool like ReviewPro will help you identify patterns, so you’ll know where to prioritize resources—in training, marketing, capital upgrades or elsewhere.

The Basics
Whether a review is a rant, a rave or somewhere in between, the response shouldn’t sound like a harried front desk manager banged it out between check-ins. As the voice of your brand, responses should demonstrate the same thoughtfulness, attention to detail and professionalism you provide on property.

This is not the place for stiff formality, marketing babble or long-winded explanations. Show appreciation for feedback and a willingness to improve by simply thanking the reviewer, apologizing, and saying how you’re following up.

The Pricing Complaint
Whether you run a one-star motel or a luxury resort, you have likely heard it before: “RIP OFF!!!” Hotels are expensive, and when we dump inventory at bargain rates we attract travelers unaccustomed to $65 parking fees and $42 breakfasts.

How to respond without sounding defensive or patronizing? How about this: “Our pricing is comparable to similar properties in the area and we feel we provide good value given our central location and extensive facilities. We regret that this was not your impression and offer our apologies.”

Typically, such complaints are less about pricing than perception of value. If they come up frequently, you’re probably overselling, overcharging or under-delivering—or perhaps all three. Identify the issue and adjust accordingly.

The Personal Attack
For travelers a lot is riding on trips—time, money, relaxation, ego—and sometimes it’s personal. Occasionally we see comments like this: “John at the front desk was rude and unhelpful.” How to respond? As with all reviews, you have an internal and an external response.

The internal response is how you manage feedback on property. Personal attacks can be distressing for staff, so we need to handle them with sensitivity. Get John’s side of the story. If you believe he acted properly, offer your support. If he is rude and unhelpful, it’s time for more training—or career counseling.

The external part is your response. You don’t want to sell out an employee by agreeing or saying you have shown him the door. Simply apologize and say you have reviewed the feedback with your team. If the attack is unfair and you feel compelled to express support, say something like, “I was surprised to read your comments regarding our employee, who is one of our best.”

Circumstances Beyond Your Control
What if the complaint is about noise from a nearby bar, the street or a construction site? Your response shapes impressions for future travelers, so transparency is important. You don’t want to cover up the issue, but you don’t want to scare everyone away either.

Offer options, as in this reply: “The local nightlife is indeed vibrant, especially on weekends, which is part of what attracts many of our guests. We do offer quieter rooms on our south side that can be reserved upon request.”

Circumstances Within Your Control
Let’s face it: sometimes we simply mess up. The reviewer might be a lost cause, but travel shoppers will be wondering if the same thing will happen to them. Provide reassurance: “I truly regret that we didn’t handle things better and have followed up with my team to ensure such a situation does not recur.”

As for complaints about cleanliness and disrepair, there’s no more sweeping things under the carpet; you need to fix the problem. If it’s a rare lapse, say so: “We take pride in our cleanliness and attention to detail, but clearly we were not up to standards on your stay.”

Same goes for issues that aren’t an easy fix, like shabby furnishings and outdated décor: “We realize that our property is ready for a refresh and our modest rates reflect this.” Then start building your case to ownership for renovations.

False Information
Reviews can be ripe with inaccuracies, often due to misunderstandings. If the detail is minor, let it go. If it will set expectations you can’t meet, respectfully set the record straight: “We regret that you were misinformed and apologize for the inconvenience. Room service is in fact available from 6:00am to 11:00pm seven days per week.”

If the review is outright fraudulent, alert the host site. The integrity of reviews is as important to them as it is to hoteliers and travelers. But the site will want proof, and there’s no guarantee they’ll remove it. So post a response too, and be diplomatic: “We can find no record of this incident and take such matters seriously. Kindly contact me directly to discuss.”

The Rant
According to TripAdvisor, the longest review to date is 9,166 words—a short novel. No need to respond in kind; simply address the key points.

The Silent Treatment
Not every review calls for a response. Travelers read them primarily to hear from other travelers, so we don’t want to constantly barge in on the conversation. If the review is fair and accurate, you may choose not to respond. If the reviewer is clearly irrational or offensive, let travelers read between the lines. Focus on responding to reviews that call for an apology, clarification or show of gratitude.

The Rave
Criticism helps us get better, but rave reviews attract travelers. Don’t get so distracted by negative commentary that you forget to thank the people who share the love. Whether public or private, a simple “We are so happy you enjoyed your stay and look forward to welcoming you back” will leave an even more favorable impression.

Want to learn more? Join Josiah Mackenzie and me for a free ReviewPro webinar on August 29: Choose Your Words Carefully: Responding to Reviews and Social Media Commentary.

For more tips see Best Practices for Responding to Online Hotel Reviews Part 1.

Share how you have managed your most challenging reviews by posting a comment here.

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19 Responses to “From Pricing Complaints to Personal Attacks: How to Respond to Challenging Guest Reviews”

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  1. Camilo Olea says:

    "Before anything, if you’re getting hammered by the same complaints time and again, focus your energies on fixing the problem rather than on crafting clever responses. "
    YES. This sentence alone is pure gold. Can't tell you how many times I've seen properties get complaints on clear issues and instead of fixing them, they choose to ignore the review or answer in a defensive tone.
    Like I mentioned in my guest interview, no shiny clever marketing campaign will hide/fix your operational issues, ever.
    Thanks for more good insights, Daniel. 🙂

    • Ah Camilo, my number one – and only – fan, thanks as always for your input. I guess the challenge for so many hoteliers and innkeepers is they CAN’T fix the problem: no money, labor issues, disinterested owner, etc. So in the meantime, setting realistic expectations and being transparent are key. Now let’s get working on spreading the gospel to Cancun hoteliers 😉

  2. Beth Loring says:

    We are a small Inn, and this winter an employee of 8 years was killed in a car accident. We have a very close staff and her sister works for us still. Her three children were only 7, 4 and 10 months old, it really affected all of us. Needless to say we were all working shell shocked for about two weeks. The weekend of the funeral I was personally singled out in two reviews for being such a awful Innkeeper. There was no way for me to respond to those guests online, it sounds so made up and makes them look bad. I wish more people would think about people being human when they write reviews.

    • Beth, how tragic, I’m sorry. We’re sensitive about reviews at the best of times – I can only imagine how you felt under these circumstances. I agree that it might have been best not to respond. But if I were to respond, I’d say something like this: “I appreciate your feedback and truly regret that you did not enjoy your stay. As innkeepers on rare occasions our personal lives can interfere with our work, and during this time our small, close-knit group of staff was reeling from a devastating loss. This isn’t intended to offer excuses but a small explanation, as yours was not representative of the positive experiences we consistently provide.” Or something like that. I wouldn’t advise getting this personal for a hotel, but for innkeepers it can’t help but get personal at times. Thanks for sharing. -D.

  3. Very nice and comprehensive post Daniel. Should be required reading for anyone with the responsibility (or just ability) to post a management response on TripAdvisor. 

  4. interesting post – thanks. I shall bookmark your web-site and check back often.

  5. Sometimes the first reaction is to kill the messenger, so I'm glad that you pointed out that innkeepers need to be rational and discover if there is, indeed, a problem and focus on that.  Then the reviews will automatically rise to the level you want.
    Also, I have learned to revise my response down 3 or 4 times over a few days on a piece of paper before actually posting online.  That way, any knee-jerk response can be removed and you can craft your message in the most effective way.

    • Great advice, Carla: sleep on it. Having someone review the response before posting is also advised, especially for delicate issues, but really for any type of response – we all need an editor, right?

  6. Lori says:

    I am an innkeeper at a small property, and have read a few similar articles regarding how to handle negative reviews. What I appreciated most about yours though is that you gave some really great examples on how to handle some common complaints, and then you also reminded us that we need to respond to positive reviews as well. We have been so fortunate in our relatively short time in business, (3.5 years), to have amassed over 300 online reviews with no negative reviews at all! I have, however, been preparing myself for the inevidable, even if just a minor complaint, and wanted to be able to respond appropriately. It never occured to me that I needed to respond to positive reviews! This is a practice that I will put into practice with the next review. Any suggestions as to why I all of the sudden started responding to reviews? 😉
    Thanks again!
    Lori

    • Wow, that’s quite a batting average, Lori – congrats! Your place looks gorgeous. I hope you will never need to use these tips – aside from the one to respond to occasional positive reviews.

  7. Lisa says:

    just got my very first review from TripAdvisor and it is from a bad customer.  Had to call the police twice and finally had them escort her off our site. We have a family resort (no partiers here at all) She brings 6 teenagers, enough booze to supply a restaurant, and didn't supervise them.  They swam drunk, no life jackets, tried to flip over our floating rock climbing wall. One of them Pooped in our hot tub.  They were up partying at 3:00 am WE were full of adults and kids.  Now she is trashing my resort.  So hurt, frustrated, confused, angry etc  not sure what to say.  Have put in a complaint with Trip Advisor but it will be there all weekend (and probably Monday too ) before someone can look into my complaint.  I know I need to respond but really not sure what to say…….  Never thought anything like this would happen and not sure how to fix it.  Any help would be appreciated. 

    • Hi Lisa, I checked out the review and saw that a response has now been posted. I think you did a good job of responding. You sound sincere and took the high road and ended with the zinger about them being escorted off property by the police. My only caution is that while reviewers can’t respond to management responses, which effectively gives you the last word, they can take the issue up elsewhere if provoked. Sorry this is your first review but it can only get better from here!

  8. Brian says:

    Hi Daniel – great piece.
    Good point that the very first step should be to focus on the problem the reviewer brought up.  Whether you agree or not, clearly others are perceiving a problem, so you must address ways to fix it or change that perception.
    From my recent article on Social Media Examiner about responding to Yelp reviews:  
    If you choose to respond to a comment, do it calmly and respectfully. The key here is to show that you care. Thank the reviewer for their feedback, and point out things they may not have been aware of, or explain how you plan to fix or improve whatever it is they were complaining about.

  9. Jenny says:

    When one is afforded the opportunity to respond to negative or positive reviews it provides a degree of empowerment. There are however some sites where there is no recourse as responses are not allowed.  How does a person deal with these or is  it a case of grin and bear it?
    Jenny
     
     

  10. janel raelyn says:

    I have learned a lot! Thanks!

  11. ed menzer says:

    Hi Daniel,
    Very good article, I own a small Inn and one way to make someone think twice before posting a negative review (or to encourage a positive one) is to send a thank you note when guests leave. I have two Labs on site and I send a cute thank you from them talking about belly rubs and keeping guests safe. If there was an issue a guest didn’t address while here, it gives them the chance to contact me before writing a negative review.
    Also, I always respond personally to all favorable reviews privately. Trip Advisor lets you send an e-mail to the reviewer. The other review sites, I can generally figure out who the reviewer is and send a thank you from my data base. I always respond to the few negative reviews I have received. I strongly suggest your readers go to Trip Advisor to see their “rules”/suggestions on responding to negative reviews, they have some great tips.
    Thanx,
    ed

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