Do you look forward to reading your reviews, or does the very idea that someone has felt compelled to post a review fill you with dread? Getting feedback from your customers is essential to gauge whether what you're offering is right for your target audience. Whether it's positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not, customer reviews are a key to the success of any business.
So how do you address this? Unless we get people's feedback, we can't do anything about it.
What questions to ask ...
Find out what your customers like, so you can keep doing it. Also, find out what things disappoint, irritate or annoy them, so you can correct them. What are the things that make them choose to come to you rather than your competitors? Use this as a selling point to differentiate yourself. What is your guest’s biggest priority, and what do they value the most? Find this out and then promote them. Ask how they think you could improve, and then make those improvements. What factors would encourage them to come to you again?
Feedback methods that work
Simply relying on reviews, questionnaires or a visitor's book when your customers leave is not only impersonal but also means it’s a bit too late if things weren't perfect. Face-to-face feedback will always be the most effective type of review, especially when we need to get feedback before it's too late to do something about it. If you fail to meet expectations, wouldn't you want to know about it before the customer leaves so you can resolve it, rather than waiting for them to put their comments on online reviews and tell the whole world?
Hospitality is a face-to-face service, so there is plenty of opportunity to get feedback first hand. Be observant and look out for signs that things aren't right or that someone wants to get your attention. And be aware of your customer's tone if communicating over the phone, via email or text.
Being visible in your business and making contact with your customers builds rapport and trust. Once you've gained this, you're in a far better position to gain valuable feedback first hand. The same goes for your staff, so encourage them to talk to your customers. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback so they have confidence to deal with customers, no matter if it’s good or bad feedback, in a positive way. Remember, your customers will tell you things they wouldn't tell your staff and vice versa. So ask your staff what feedback they received. Then listen to their ideas on how to make improvements, and how to capitalize on positive feedback and your strengths.
Making statements such as "I hope everything was OK" or "Was everything all right for you?" won’t get the customer to open up. Ask specific questions that will give you something more than a yes or no answer. Use questions that start with “how” or “what” because they tend to be the most useful. For example, “How would you rate ...,” “How could we improve on ...,” “What did you like most about ...”
Capture the good and the bad. Even if you don't agree with the feedback, you need to find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this might lead to the root of the problem.
Questionnaires are impersonal and few people like to fill them in except when they're really unhappy about something. Questionnaires can help you rectify your mistakes, but they often dwell on negatives rather than positives. Although face to face will always be preferable, some people will be reluctant to give feedback first hand, and using questionnaires will help you capture them.
A visitor’s book, on the other hand, is another good way of capturing general feedback. Although they might not go into specifics, they provide a great record for others to see and people will often write things they would not say directly to you.
Make the best of the positive comments you receive and ask your guest if they would be happy to use these as testimonials in your marketing—prospective customers like to see social proof. Also, take note of the language your customers use to describe what they like. Capitalize on this information and use the same language in your marketing.
Love them or hate them, online reviews influence prospective customers. Unfortunately, people are more likely to be prompted to post a review if they've had a bad experience than when they've had a good one. Encourage as many of your customers as possible to post reviews, so you get the good ones as well as (hopefully only occasional) bad ones.
Display your confidence by encouraging your guests and website visitors to link to review websites. One of the easiest things you could do is to put a link to these sites from your website, and on follow-up emails, prompting people who have had a positive experience of doing business with you to post a review.
It's unethical to offer incentives, such as discounts, in exchange for positive reviews. But the least you can do is show people you appreciate the feedback (good or bad) by responding quickly to the feedback you receive. Register with sites such as TripAdvisor so you can monitor your reviews by receiving a notification. A quick thank you in acknowledgement might be all you need for a positive review or feedback.
Watch out for feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social-media sites so you can respond accordingly.
Dealing with negative feedback
It can be easy to get defensive when we receive feedback, particularly when we feel it is not justified or we totally disagree with it, but the way in which you handle this will reflect on your professionalism and reputation. What we need to ask is what led to this customer's perception. When negative feedback does find its way onto TripAdvisor, (genuine or not) it's important to show you have looked into the situation and taken things on board.
Aim to turn a negative into a positive, and in the same way you would deal with any complaint, listen to what your guest is saying and show some empathy with the customer's point of view. The least you can do is apologize (even if you're just apologizing that they feel that way) and demonstrate what changes you've made if appropriate. Asking reviewers to call you directly provides you with an opportunity to get more details and gives you a better chance of resolving the situation.
Don't be too concerned about the occasional negative comment. This demonstrates authenticity of the content and in some cases can actually help to highlight your target audience (e.g., comments that suggest the hotel is to welcoming to children might be seen as a plus for business users or couples).
Whatever the feedback you receive, listen and learn from it. Even if you disagree, something must have triggered that perception. Keep your objectivity and don’t take things personally. Use the feedback to identify your strengths, so you can capitalize on them. And make sure you share these with your team. Then use the less positive feedback to identify root causes and what changes are needed, and remember to involve your team in the process.
So next time someone wants to give some feedback, look forward to it. It's the businesses that embrace feedback that succeed.
Caroline Cooper works with hospitality and leisure businesses, helping them get more of the customers they love, and keep them. She has over 26 year’ experience in hospitality and is author of the 'Hotel Success Handbook' For more information and articles from Zeal Coaching see http://www.zealcoaching.com/products-resources/
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.