Brands take backseat in online responses
 
Brands take backseat in online responses
07 AUGUST 2015 11:57 AM
Brand companies generally guide but do not control owners’ responses to guests on review sites such as TripAdvisor.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Some hoteliers respond to online reviews, but others don’t. Some are quick to answer, but their responses often are canned or impersonal. Still others read and respond to virtually every review with a more personal touch.
 
With responses all over the map, do brand companies have a say in how their owners respond to guest reviews online?
 
“Each brand addresses reviews in a different way,” said Jon Hunter, VP of operations and hotel services for Omni Hotels & Resorts. “It varies by hotel; it varies by company. There are no uniform standards; each brand crafts their own policy because they use reviews for different things.”
 
Omni offers guidelines but leaves responses to the individual hotel.
 
“We don’t want rigid rules; we want authenticity,” said Hunter, who added that responses should provide a sense that customers are being heard.
 
Best Western International provides online resources, along with regional training sessions for its owners/operators that cover how to respond to online reviews, according to Michael Morton, VP of owner relations.
 
“Initially, there was a lot of support for keeping replies to reviews on the corporate level,” Morton said. “A lot of people thought, ‘My gosh, what if a manager at the franchise misspells a word or doesn’t stay on point or gets defensive?’
 
“But we decided a couple years ago to take the opposite approach. We want the hotel operator to take the initiative. We want them to respond. It’s more genuine if it’s coming from the hotel manager where the guest stayed than if it comes from a corporate official somewhere else. … Canned content is worse than not responding. It’s about engaging your customer,” he said.
 
Bob Rauch, president of RAR Hospitality, whose 11 hotels in California and Arizona include Radisson and Country Inn & Suites, shares Morton’s opinion.
 
“If I read that someone had a wonderful time at one of our hotels and were especially impressed with ‘Dana’ at the front counter, I’m going to thank them and let them know that we appreciate them taking the time out to acknowledge Dana for being so attentive,” Rauch said.
 
He reads every review for all of his properties and checks their respective rankings regularly.
 
The hotel chains he works with offer guidelines and resources, Rauch said, but the guidelines are based on common sense. For instance, negative reviews always should lead to an apology and a promise to work harder. In extreme cases, it’s not unusual for a GM to ask an unhappy reviewer to reply in a private email or phone call. In such situations, the guest will have a choice of a refund or a free stay, with a promise that he will be taken care of personally.
 
“Most people forgive,” Rauch said.
 
According to a recent study by Medallia, managers at properties who responded to more than 50% of online reviews grew occupancy rates by 6.4 percentage points, more than twice the rate of properties that largely ignored social media reviews.
 
A 2014 report commissioned by TripAdvisor found that 87% of world travelers responding to a survey agreed that an appropriate management response to a bad review improves their impression of the hotel, and 62% agree that seeing hotel management responses to reviews generally makes them more likely to book it.

Tips for responding
“Reviews and how you respond to them are absolutely critical for reputation management and absolutely paramount to success,” Rauch said.
 
The bottom line?
 
“Respond, respond fully, and respond quickly,” Morton said. “If it was a complaint or praise regarding housekeeping, have the housekeeping manager write the response. It makes the response more personal and less canned.”
 
Replying to every review, though, can result in customers feeling the responses are forced, Hunter said. “Respond to things that warrant a response,” he said.
 
“It’s important that others who may read the review see that we care about each individual guest, so you should personalize each and every response. They don’t have to be long, but they should be clear and concise,” Rauch said.
 
 TripAdvisor provides a few pointers of its own. Among them:
  • Thank your guest for taking the time to provide feedback;
  • highlight the positive and mention upgrades or improvements that might interest returning or potential guests;
  • address any specific complaints and explain what you've done to address them; and
  • be polite and professional.
In addition, TripAdvisor states: “Write management responses to bad reviews as soon as possible. Your response explains the review to other potential guests on your property page. Be sure to share details of the action plan you’ve developed in your response. And don’t underestimate the power of a sincere apology. The most important thing your response should do is to answer unknown questions for future guests that the original review implied.”


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