INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Everyone’s got an image to protect. As the hotel industry becomes increasingly subjected to the world of customer reviews, hoteliers have developed a term for protecting that image—it’s called “managing your online reputation.”
A 2011 TripAdvisor survey revealed 99% of hotels plan to respond to customer reviews on the various review channels available today. But Daniel Edward Craig, former GM of the Opus Hotel Vancouver and now an independent hotel consultant, doesn’t buy it.
“Last year, only 7% of hotels responded to negative reviews,” he said. Craig encourages hoteliers to ramp up their monitoring and responses—especially to negative reviews—and has developed a strategy to help them do so.
Craig said responding to reviews shows travelers hoteliers are listening to what they have to say and that hoteliers are willing to make improvements based on guest feedback.
“It’s time-consuming, especially if you get a lot of reviews,” Craig said Thursday during a webinar titled “Improving your Hotel's Online Reputation—Best Practices in Responding to Online Reviews.”
“It’s also intimidating. Now you have the added pressure of your response going to the entire online community,” he said.
Craig outlined four basics areas hoteliers should focus on:
- monitoring and measuring;
- discussing and resolving;
- responding in order to minimize negative feedback; and
- encouraging reviews.
Discussing and resolving is the most important, he said. “This is the hugely critical part. I recommend treating online reputation management similar to revenue management. Appoint a team and hold a meeting regularly.”
Craig said many hoteliers feel they have no control of what is said about their hotel. What hoteliers can control, though, is how they respond.
Fixing issues and then responding to customer reviews and noting those fixes makes good business sense. Travelers will notice the improvements, which will lead to more positive reviews, which will lead to more guests and in-turn will encourage more positive reviews, Craig said.
Sites that allow responses
On TripAdvisor, hoteliers need to register as owners and are allowed one response per review with no edits. Responses are moderated, and hoteliers can’t direct responses directly to the author of a previous post. Web addresses, email addresses and phone numbers are prohibited. Reviewers can’t respond to hoteliers’ responses. “Essentially you get the last word, and I encourage you to use it,” Craig said.
The rules are similar on Expedia and Hotels.com: Hoteliers need to register and posts are limited to 300 words. “Resist the temptation to promote your property; this isn’t the time and place to do that,” Craig said.
Yelp is setup differently and uses a less formal approach to keep engagement between business owners and guests more personal. Hoteliers are required to upload a photo. “You can use a less formal tone, but of course always be professional,” Craig advised.
|Daniel Edward Craig
Most online travel agencies (Orbitz, Priceline, Booking.com, Travelocity) don’t allow hoteliers to respond to reviews. Craig said he’d like to see this change because fair interaction is crucial.
How to respond
In determining which reviews to respond to, Craig suggests adapting best practices that work best for each individual hotel. He said it is important to respond to most negative reviews and occasional positive reviews.
“If you respond to a lot of positive reviews, it can get quite repetitive,” Craig said. “That’s not what travelers want to see.”
High-level property staff members should be posting the responses because it shows guests they care. “I love to see it come from the general manager,” Craig said.
Whoever is charged with the task should have good writing skills because review responses are a reflection of the brand.
Responses should be posted as soon as possible—definitely within 48 hours. “It’s important to investigate and understand the issue and ideally have some sort of resolution to report back,” Craig said.
He recommends being brief in a response and thanking the guest for taking time to post a review whether it’s positive or negative.
If it’s determined the guest made false claims, Craig recommends setting the record straight—professionally—online. If the claims are particularly harmful, hoteliers can refute the post with the host site, but that process could take a long time and could end up futile.
Craig offered sample responses to the most damaging online reviews.
Bedbug reviews, for example, can be particularly devastating. If a guest experiences a run-in with bedbugs at a hotel and the claims are true, Craig suggests contacting the guest directly, resolving the issue offline and then asking the guest to take the review down.
When a hotel is in the middle of a renovation that might affect guests, Craig said hoteliers can no longer pretend they didn’t know the construction crew was going to show up that day.
“In the age of social media, it’s all about transparency,” he said. “Be completely transparent about it so they know what to expect. Keep complaints on property and prevent them from becoming an online complaint.”
When reviews single out a staff member, responses should be managed with the utmost sensitivity. “Don’t single out the staff member, but at the same time don’t defend the staff member or assume the guest was mistaken,” he said. “Definitely don’t suggest the guest was the source of the problem.”
Sometimes negative reviews can be centered on pricing. If guests feel they didn’t get value, the hotel should apologize for that—regardless of the guest, Craig said.
Craig said hoteliers are going to get a bad review every now and then that they deserved. “Sometimes we just have to swallow it and move on and focus on the positive.”