Every hotel manager knows that when a guest has a problem, the experience of resolving the issue has a profound impact on future purchases. This effect has been amplified as social media and web review sites enable customer service experiences to be widely shared with almost everyone. In fact, a 2013 survey by Zendesk found that customers are much more likely to leave a bad review on social media than they are to sing its praises. It is well understood in hospitality that "100 awesome deeds will go unrewarded online but screw up once and it is shared on TripAdvisor."
That is why getting positive online reviews on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and even Google Map List (Google Plus Local) is vital, particularly as pertains to new customer acquisition. While no one wants to get negative reviews, they sometimes happen. Here are 16 ways to deal with them should they occur:
1- Take bad reviews very seriously
Even one very bad review could hurt your reputation. Based on Zendesk survey, 54% of people who write bad reviews share their negative review with more than 5 people. Think of bad reviews as fire and social media as an unlimited source of fuel (don't add fuel to the fire)! A small fire might not hurt you that much, but since people share bad reviews on social media, you might want to take it seriously. (Read more about Why do TripAdvisor reviews matter)
2- First count to 10 and cool down!
Don't fight fire with fire. If you read an online review, no matter how bad it is, take a few minutes to cool down and even consult with your team. Try to see it from your customer's point of view. Also, you can read about Top Tips for Dealing with Online Reviews of Your Hotel here to be prepared while cooling down.
3- Don't hide! Respond promptly
Cooling down is great. But you need to take quick actions before it's too late. In this study, 69% of customers attributed their good customer service experience to quick resolution of their problem and even worse, 72% blamed their bad customer service interaction on having to explain their problem to multiple people.
4- Take the issue offline first and then share the result online
If possible, try to solve the customer's problem anywhere other than social media. Emails and phone calls are okay most of the times but never try to talk to them via social media as your first touch. As a hotelier, we can assume that you have great communication skills. Use that to calm your angry customers. No matter how bad they talk, let them cool down over the phone or email instead of social media.
5- Recognize the feedback as a marketing opportunity
Studies such as "Positive Effects of Negative Publicity: When Negative Reviews Increase Sales" show that feedback no matter how negative, could become a goldmine of marketing opportunities that could lead to more sales (in your case, more bookings!). If someone left a negative review on Yelp or TripAdvisor, you now have an opportunity to do something positive that everyone can see. You can become the bigger person here!
6- Apologize and own the mistake
Never try to convince someone that they are wrong! That's the worst way to handle online reviews. The very first thing that you should do is to apologize like you really mean it. Address facts in your response and explain how you are going to fix the issue(s). Also, always keep the unhappy customer in the loop. If you truly have fixed the problem, let them know so they can understand that you took them seriously.
But be aware of setting up high expectations. If you know the issue is not going to be resolved soon, don not give the unhappy customer the wrong idea. That could only make things worse.
7- Be polite
Even when you own the mistake and respond professionally, people might take it the wrong way. Be sure that you are being polite and your approach towards solving the issue is also based on your kindness and professionalism. Sometimes, you need to Show a Little Love and Create Emotional Connections with Your Guests.
8- Request that defamatory reviews be removed
Some websites allow certain reviews to be removed if defamatory or vilifying. You can always contact the website and ask them to help you on bad reviews.
9- Monitor your online presence with the right technology
There are several online tools that are designed for monitoring online presence. And they usually don't cost that much. HootSuite is one of the leading tools that monitor almost all the social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter and Online review websites such as Yelp, Google Plus Local, and even TripAdvisor.
Of course, you can always use Google Alerts since it's free and very powerful.
10- Know who you are dealing with
Zendesk survey shows that B2B (you can read more about What Hoteliers Need to Know About Business Travelers here), Gen X, and high-income households are most likely to share their customer service stories with others. Of course Gen Y and Gen Z are very active in social media but they usually share their experience in just a few words. So handling them is going to be very different.
Knowing these stats could help you establish a better strategy. But sometimes, you might need to do more research to understand your guests. One easy way is to research your hotel's social media demographic. The other way is by knowing the living costs for your guests. This will help you relate to your guests and their expectations better.
11- Encourage customer reviews
Bad reviews for hotels with a lower number of reviews in total can become a huge deal. Imagine you only have 4 reviews on a rating site and they have given your hotel an average of 4/5. If someone writes a bad review (1/5), it will drag your average review down to 3.4 out of 5. So one good solution is to find the right guests (happy ones) to write good reviews for you. The more you get reviews, even the average ones, the less effective bad reviews will become for you. But you need to be careful because if you ask the wrong person or even push them too much, it could lead to a bad review.
12- See the good in a bad review
Most of the times, a bad review isn't always bad. After owning you mistake, you can grab the positive and show readers that not only you professionally care about everyone, but even unhappy customers are happy about something!
13- Share the feedback with your employees
Reviews are feedback. Sharing them with your employees could prevent them from happening again. You can read more about 4 Steps to Improved Guest Satisfaction here.
14- Develop a strategy for responding to threats
Make it a routine and a solid strategy. Train some of your staff to handle unhappy customers in a better and more professional way.
15- Offer discounts or free services for unhappy customers
Often unhappy travelers can become very satisfied if you offer them discounts. If the room hasn't been ready on time before they become unhappy, give them a discount. Losing a little money for a few customers is 100% worth it if it leads to a better online reputation. You can also upgrade their rooms if possible and if you are dealing with their bad comment after their visit, offer them a huge discount if they come back again.
Do not worry about others to imitate a bad experience in order to get discounts. This might happen but very unlikely. So again, it's worth it.
16- Move on
The truth is that every hotel can receive a bad review. You do your best to handle them, but it doesn't always go the way you expect them to go. In that case, you need to move on and try to make your other guests happy. Take notes from bad experiences and learn from them. Train your staff to be able to handle the same situation if it occurs again. Help your guests to have realistic expectations when visiting your property but always care for chances to improve and reach higher expectations.