Authenticity key to reputation management
10 AUGUST 2015 8:37 AM
Avoiding canned responses and adding personal touches can turn around negative reviews.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee—The multiple platforms for hotel guests to leave comments, write reviews and air complaints online for all to read present challenges for hotel managers and brands, but they also provide opportunities.
During the “Online, offline: Keeping your reputation intact” session on Day Two of the Hotel Data Conference, panelists discussed how they use online comments and reviews as a way to turn around a negative experience and explore new technology to better engage with guests and improve their stays.
Everything is more transparent now, said David Chu, VP of sales and marketing for Real Hospitality Group. It’s no longer possible to do something the wrong way and get away with it without someone saying something about it, he said. That can still work in hoteliers’ favor, he said, if they put their minds to doing something about it.
Research indicates that when guests are looking to book a stay, they look at online reviews and social media content immediately before making any decision, said Tim Johnson, director of e-commerce for LBA Hospitality.
Though online reviews have changed the game, what hasn’t changed is that “it’s the consumer who decides what your reputation is,” said Rob Cornell, senior VP of business development for Preferred Hotels & Resorts. News travels fast, he said, and, citing the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” people need to take the time to see what’s going on.
When it comes to responding to an online complaint, several panelists agreed the authenticity of the response is just as important, if not more than, the time it takes to respond.
“A lot of major brands place too much emphasis on the response time and not the response itself,” Johnson said. “I think there needs to be an equal balance for response time and authenticity.”
Michael Morton, VP of member services for Best Western International, warned against canned responses. Keep it as authentic as possible, he said.
Chu agreed. In a past job, his company hired a 25-year-old who was a “guru in social media” to help with the language of the company’s responses. Beforehand, the responses were too long, too cut and dry and too formal, he said. With the guru’s help, he said, the employees started “to poke some fun” into responses.
“Authenticity is what brings people closer to you,” he said. “It helps people realize you know who they are, and it makes them come back.”
Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce in 2018, Johnson said. They prefer authenticity along with unique experiences when they travel, he said.
Get the team involved
Companies can be wary of letting employees respond to comments and reviews, Morton said, because they’re concerned about the damage an inappropriate comment could do to a multimillion-dollar business. There have been trip-ups, he said, but it remains important to trust the people working at individual properties. However, companies should back that up with guardrails and training.
“If there’s an issue that was related to a certain department, it carries a lot of weight when you get a notice and it’s from the executive housekeeper or the head of the bell staff,” he said.
Ben Golson, director of e-commerce at McKibbon Hotel Management, said when his company hires managers, they go through a training session. He pulls positive, neutral and negative reviews of their hotels and asks them how they would respond.
“We have them write it, and then they share with the class and then critique them,” he said.
Using the tools available
There are a number of tools available for tracking online reviews and comments through third-party companies and brands. Johnson said one of the advantages of using proprietary tools from the big powerhouse brands is being able to log into dashboards and seeing where the properties rank in real time. There’s another tool that prints out the negative and positive words used most often in comments, he said. It also alerts when staff names are mentioned, he said.
“That gives you the opportunity to incentivize that staff member to keep driving the needle,” he added.
An audience member asked how often the panelists respond to online comments about their properties.
Morton said his properties respond to all of the bad and to some of the good. With some of the good comments, he said, they may say the same thing over and over again, and responding to those can risk sounding canned.
Alternatively, Chu said his company requires all GMs to respond to 100% of comments.
“When someone praises you, they like to know they’ve been heard,” he said, before cautioning that it doesn’t mean the response needs to have five paragraphs.