With the advent of sites such as Booking and Tripadvisor, the number of people sending hotel reviews has rocketed. In 2016 alone, the total number of customer reviews increased by over 200%, and now they are essential to the way we choose our accommodation. Over 95% of customers now consider hotel reviews important when researching their venue, and 79% will consider between six and twelve reviews before making a purchase decision.
Of course, this has huge potential benefits: indeed, the vast majority of hoteliers agree that positive reviews play a discernible role in generating new bookings. On the other hand, it can be hugely damaging: a scathing review from a disenchanted hotel customer can severely dent your credibility and drive people away from your business.
However, even negative reviews can add value if used in the right way. This post will show hoteliers how to channel critical feedback into a catalyst for positive change and even use it as a turning point for the entire business.
Review the Reviews
Before a hotel can make use of the negative reviews it receives, it needs to compile them. Some larger companies may appoint a specific person to this role or use a reputation management company to aggregate all the reviews from each channel. For boutique outlets, however, this is probably a job best done in-house.
It’s important to monitor every touchpoint and ensure that each customer review, whether public or private, is gathered in an easily accessible and understandable document. If a hotel receives reviews as a score or rating, it should decide what constitutes an acceptable score, and flag any submissions below this value.
Julian Houchin is a turnaround specialist who has run hotels across Europe and now advises Dehavilland Collection, a portfolio of luxury resorts and clubs. “It’s not rocket science,” he says when talking about his experience of compiling reviews.
“Every morning [when running hotels] my quality assurance lead would get in, he’d review all the online reviews, he’d sit down with the relevant manager and head of department, and we’d address them. We addressed them all, and we always responded to the negatives.”
Once a hotel has rounded up its negative reviews, it can begin responding. This provides a priceless opportunity to improve customer communications and convey brand messages to its audience in an unobtrusive way.
As tempting as it may be, the hotel should resist the urge to defend itself when replying to a complaint. Even if the complainant is obnoxious or pedantic, the hotel will only make a bad situation worse by standing its ground.
Mathew Griffin is chief operating officer of Assured Hotels and a specialist in turning around struggling outlets. He says that “if you jump on your soapbox and start arguing with the reviews, that just pours more fuel on the fire. Independent owner-operators do that a lot, and it often descends into poor language, and an argument reflects really badly.”
Instead, the hotel should write a courteous, constructive message, addressing the reviewer by name and attributing the response to a specific employee. This shows both attention to detail and a human touch. They can gain even more points by clarifying the reason for the problem raised and providing a specific commitment to rectify the issue.
As part of their reply, the hotel can also stress their commitment to excellence – and use this as a bridge to mention a new initiative or development taking place on-site. However, when replying to negative customer reviews, it’s important to remember that the message, first and foremost, is about remedying a grievance – rather than marketing the business.
Provide Relevant Rewards
When replying to a negative review, the hotel may also wish to offer a form of compensation, such as a free night’s accommodation or a gift.
Julian Houchin says: “I remember when I was running hotels in Malaga, we received a negative review on Twitter. I sent my duty manager round with a bottle of champagne from the management, only a few minutes after the guest posted. Two minutes later, he was back on Twitter, talking about this amazing experience.”
However, Julian adds that it is important to be selective when providing gifts, otherwise it will cheapen the gesture and run the risk of attracting dishonest reviews.
“There are freebie hunters all over the place. You have to identify the genuine complaints from those who just want something. Genuine complaints aren’t looking for compensation; they’re looking for you to correct the problem.”
In fact, if a hotel is going to give away a freebie, it’s probably best to contact the complainant privately, rather than announcing it on social media or a review site. That way, there’s less chance of attracting scammers.
Analyse the Issues
If the hotel has compiled its customer reviews properly, it should be able to extract the negative comments quickly and easily. Ideally, any reviews which criticise the hotel should be saved in a designated location.
Analysing these comments, the hotel can see exactly where guests encounter pain points – and where they need to focus their efforts.
Mathew Griffin says that “your customer reviews are giving you the issues there and then. With just a bit of proficiency with an Excel spreadsheet, you can find the top five or top 10 issues. ‘That smell on the fourth-floor corridor is coming up a lot’ – it can often be as easy as that.”
Rather than trying to drill down into each complaint and work out why the hotel customer has made it, Mathew suggests that the hotel simply accept the comment and put together a strategy to resolve it.
By assembling a team of employees to solve the problems identified in the negative reviews, the hotel will empower its people and ensure there is at least one person accountable for turning things around.
Look at Staffing
Some readers might assume that a high volume of negative customer reviews will require an overhaul of the staff roster and the removal of any employees who have been criticised in the comments.
However, this may well not be the case. In fact, it may be more prudent to try to upskill the existing staff base and energise those who may be under-performing. Many negative reviews focus on the receptionist’s poor service, which can often be remedied by making that employee feel more valuable.
Julian Houchin says: “I introduced a soft skills training programme for my chain of hotels in Spain, which was primarily motivational but also had an emphasis on empowering our staff. It was about going back to basics. The results we got were amazing.
When staff feel empowered, they feel important. When they feel important, they feel confident and when they feel confident, they can deal with a guest in any way, shape or form. My scores in the Costa went up significantly within a few months.”
Of course, some members of staff will be unable to change. But it’s far more cost-effective, and less disruptive, to improve the existing team than reconstitute it. And the reviews themselves will show the hotel exactly where to focus their training for maximum impact.
Introduce Cultural Change
Perhaps the biggest single benefit of negative reviews is the opportunity they provide for a positive culture change. The hotel has clear evidence that the business is not performing to standard, and can make clear to staff that the bad old ways are no longer acceptable.
Instead of picking out (and picking on) specific employees, the hotel should clarify that a collective effort is now required to turn things around and identify a series of priorities that can be reviewed and measured over time.
If a hotel customer has had a bad experience, there’s no way to turn back the clock. But by instilling a ‘never again’ mentality and starting from scratch, management can ensure that their reviews start heading in the right direction.