From Pricing Complaints to Personal Attacks: How to Respond to Challenging Guest Reviews.
By Daniel Edward Craig
Tuesday, 21st August 2012
Responding to online reviews has become routine for many hoteliers, and yet every once in a while a real zinger comes along that makes you catch your breath and clench your fists. How should you respond? Or should you respond at all?

If you don't respond, you leave travelers to draw their own conclusions. If you do respond and say the wrong thing, you risk make things worse.

Like this management response on TripAdvisor: "The guest is lying … Why would I do this knowing he might give me a bad online review?"

Or this one: "What a wonderfully written review! I strongly recommend you take up writing fiction for a living."

While many hoteliers have mastered the art of handling on-property complaints, those skills don't always translate to online. And yet reviews are public and highly persuasive in purchase decisions, so the stakes are much higher.

Here are suggestions for responding to challenging reviews in a way that casts your property in a more favorable light. Every hotel or group will have a different approach, so adapt them to fit the unique personality of your brand.

The Problem
Before anything, if you're getting hammered by the same complaints time and again, focus your energies on fixing the problem rather than on crafting clever responses. A reputation management tool like ReviewPro will help you identify patterns, so you'll know where to prioritize resources—in training, marketing, capital upgrades or elsewhere.

The Basics
Whether a review is a rant, a rave or somewhere in between, the response shouldn't sound like a harried front desk manager banged it out between check-ins. As the voice of your brand, responses should demonstrate the same thoughtfulness, attention to detail and professionalism you provide on property.

This is not the place for stiff formality, marketing babble or long-winded explanations. Show appreciation for feedback and a willingness to improve by simply thanking the reviewer, apologizing, and saying how you're following up.

The Pricing Complaint
Whether you run a one-star motel or a luxury resort, you have likely heard it before: "RIP OFF!!!" Hotels are expensive, and when we dump inventory at bargain rates we attract travelers unaccustomed to $65 parking fees and $42 breakfasts.

How to respond without sounding defensive or patronizing? How about this: "Our pricing is comparable to similar properties in the area and we feel we provide good value given our central location and extensive facilities. We regret that this was not your impression and offer our apologies."

Typically, such complaints are less about pricing than perception of value. If they come up frequently, you're probably overselling, overcharging or under-delivering—or perhaps all three. Identify the issue and adjust accordingly.

The Personal Attack
For travelers a lot is riding on trips—time, money, relaxation, ego—and sometimes it's personal. Occasionally we see comments like this: "John at the front desk was rude and unhelpful." How to respond? As with all reviews, you have an internal and an external response.

The internal response is how you manage feedback on property. Personal attacks can be distressing for staff, so we need to handle them with sensitivity. Get John's side of the story. If you believe he acted properly, offer your support. If he is rude and unhelpful, it's time for more training—or career counseling.

The external part is your response. You don't want to sell out an employee by agreeing or saying you have shown him the door. Simply apologize and say you have reviewed the feedback with your team. If the attack is unfair and you feel compelled to express support, say something like, "I was surprised to read your comments regarding our employee, who is one of our best."

Circumstances Beyond Your Control
What if the complaint is about noise from a nearby bar, the street or a construction site? Your response shapes impressions for future travelers, so transparency is important. You don't want to cover up the issue, but you don't want to scare everyone away either.

Offer options, as in this reply: "The local nightlife is indeed vibrant, especially on weekends, which is part of what attracts many of our guests. We do offer quieter rooms on our south side that can be reserved upon request."

Circumstances Within Your Control
Let's face it: sometimes we simply mess up. The reviewer might be a lost cause, but travel shoppers will be wondering if the same thing will happen to them. Provide reassurance: "I truly regret that we didn't handle things better and have followed up with my team to ensure such a situation does not recur."

As for complaints about cleanliness and disrepair, there's no more sweeping things under the carpet; you need to fix the problem. If it's a rare lapse, say so: "We take pride in our cleanliness and attention to detail, but clearly we were not up to standards on your stay."

Same goes for issues that aren't an easy fix, like shabby furnishings and outdated décor: "We realize that our property is ready for a refresh and our modest rates reflect this." Then start building your case to ownership for renovations. 

False Information
Reviews can be ripe with inaccuracies, often due to misunderstandings. If the detail is minor, let it go. If it will set expectations you can't meet, respectfully set the record straight: "We regret that you were misinformed and apologize for the inconvenience. Room service is in fact available from 6:00am to 11:00pm seven days per week."

If the review is outright fraudulent, alert the host site. The integrity of reviews is as important to them as it is to hoteliers and travelers. But the site will want proof, and there's no guarantee they'll remove it. So post a response too, and be diplomatic: "We can find no record of this incident and take such matters seriously. Kindly contact me directly to discuss."

The Rant
According to TripAdvisor, the longest review to date is 9,166 words—a short novel. No need to respond in kind; simply address the key points.

The Silent Treatment
Not every review calls for a response. Travelers read them primarily to hear from other travelers, so we don't want to constantly barge in on the conversation. If the review is fair and accurate, you may choose not to respond. If the reviewer is clearly irrational or offensive, let travelers read between the lines. Focus on responding to reviews that call for an apology, clarification or show of gratitude.

The Rave
Criticism helps us get better, but rave reviews attract travelers. Don't get so distracted by negative commentary that you forget to thank the people who share the love. Whether public or private, a simple "We are so happy you enjoyed your stay and look forward to welcoming you back" will leave an even more favorable impression. 

Want to learn more? Join Josiah Mackenzie and me for a free ReviewPro webinar on August 29: Choose Your Words Carefully: Responding to Reviews and Social Media Commentary.

Daniel Edward Craig is a former hotel general manager turned consultant specializing in social media strategy and online reputation management. He collaborates with ReviewPro as Client Engagement Advisor. Visit www.DanielEdwardCraig.com.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel Edward Craig. Reprinted with permission.

ReviewPro aggregates millions of social media mentions, in over 20 languages, from hundreds of the most relevant online travel agencies, review websites and social media platforms.  Visit www.ReviewPro.com
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