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Think about this: a single negative review can potentially lose you 30 guests. Now think about the monetary value attached to that number. With the tremendous growth of the reputation economy over the last decade, guest reviews are becoming as much of a label to hotels as their brand. People care about what other people think; this is possibly one of the most prevalent psychological phenomena of the instant-feedback world in which we live. What is interesting is that people don’t seem to share their positive experiences as much as they do the negative ones.
Human psychology dictates that the impact of the bad is stronger than that of the good, but the sharing-is-caring nature of the economy we live in takes it to another level. Good Samaritans of the world will post their negative opinions so that other members of their peer group and society at large can make more informed decisions. Essentially, the sharing economy propagates the reputation economy and vice-versa. But wait, this is a lot of psycho-social talk. You want something with more of a drive-my-topline sound to it? Consider this — a 1% increase in your Global Review Index equals a 1.42% increase in RevPAR!
The question remains, how can hoteliers effectively navigate the rollercoaster of guest reviews? It’s no secret that negative reviews pack a stronger punch than their positive counterparts. That being said, dealing with online complaints in a genuinely remedial way is profoundly necessary. It’s PR at the end of the day. If you consider that 94% of people are driven away by negatively skewed reviews, it becomes clear that the reputation economy is a force to be reckoned with. What this article aims to do is help you understand the thought process of a reviewer, and what they need from different aspects of a review response. The point of view shifts from ‘how can I save my skin’ to ‘how can I holistically serve my guests’ concerns better.’ This article is not just another how-to-deal-with-complaints piece. The intricate workings of the human mind have been considered, and the recommendations made here encapsulate that.
What You NEED to do
First things first. As a hotelier, it is a moral obligation for you to acknowledge your guests’ grievances and issue a formal apology. It's basic. The importance of an apology is exemplified by the human beings’ inherent need for acknowledgment. You see an apology is not simply telling someone you are sorry – it is a form of recognition. Essentially, an apology carries with it the ability to dispel negative emotions by way of recognizing that they existed in the first place. It allows an individual to move forward from a situation without feelings of anger or mistreatment. For a hotel, an apology acts as a personifying element; it makes you appear more human to the receiver. The most interesting benefit of a contrite apology for hotels is perhaps its ability to evoke sympathy, by virtue of which, forgiveness follows suit. You might even say, if accepted, the apology allows the wronged guest to view your property with a fresh pair of eyes.
How You Should do It
Knowing the benefits of an apology is great, but how can hotels deliver genuine apologies without seeming robotic, corporation-like, or worst of all, insincere? The first point to remember is being timely. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. 53% of online reviewers expect a response within a week, however, within 24 hours should be your target. After all, you don’t want a negative review without a response floating around for a week for even more potential guests to see, do you? Next, do your due diligence. Make sure you dissect that review with surgical precision. Once you have all the details, respond in a personalized manner. A thank you is customary; the reviewer is bringing a potential service-expectation gap to your attention, and that is surely something you want to know. It is vital to then accept fault where it's due and empathize with the reviewer’s grievances.
Express understanding of the gravity of the matter and always address all the key issues outlined. Don’t stray away from providing explanations for misunderstandings and at the same time give them an idea of how you plan to rectify the matter. Even if the guest is wrong (within reason), remember that you are representing your property. It has no ego and does not feel offended. In fact, as a hotel, you value the relationship with the guest (and everyone who reads their reviews) more than your ego. Long story short, apologize and be contrite about it. Once you’ve written the response, the matter is contained. After that, adding a request for forgiveness in the form of an invitation to return should bolster the reviewers’ confidence in your response.
Apologies are great and irrefutably necessary, but if you want to be flexible in your response strategy, and maybe even turn a negative reviewer into a brand advocate, a holistic understanding is essential. Search ‘responding to guest reviews’ on your trusted search engine and see what turns up. The internet will shower you with a seemingly infinite array of results on ‘best practices’ and ‘how-to’s,’ but I think it is equally important to know what not to do.
Do Not Make Excuses and Take Responsibility
When crafting an apologetic response, it is important to accept responsibility and steer clear of boomerang apologies. Be cautious to avoid coming across as apologizing for someone’s feelings. Instead, take responsibility for the action which resulted in your guest feeling that way, and provide them with a sound, regretful explanation. Stay away from negatively toned vocabulary and lean on positive-emotion triggering language. The point of the response is to evoke sympathy as it engenders the process of forgiveness. Understandably, coming across as evasive or defensive is akin to stepping on your own feet with a very heavy foot. Excuses and arguments will only disseminate negative emotions. Remember, while you are addressing the reviewer, your audience comprises all those teetering on the decision of booking with you or not.
Do Not Take It Personally
You are not responding as an individual. Your response is an embodiment of what your brand is. With that in mind, it’s important to put your emotions aside and respond as a brand ambassador. Reacting emotionally is effectively doing precisely the same as your reviewer did when writing his negative opinion. However, they are entitled to do that. You, on the other hand, will be fighting fire with fire. The result — a bigger fire.
Do Not Rush It, Personalize It Instead
Negative reviews often list out several pain points. You need to address all of them. Do not pick and choose points to respond to. This will result in the reviewer perceiving your apology to be insincere. It triggers a ‘my opinion isn’t worth your time’ response in the reviewers’ mind, and the associated backlash will be perilous. At the same time, adding personalized touches go a long way in conveying contrition. Potential guests reading your reviews want to see that a business cares about its customers. Tailored responses addressing all concerns will satisfy the human need for acknowledgment through validation and make the guest feel like more than another room in the building.
Do Not Use Auto-responses and Templates
I must reiterate the need for personalized responses. Auto-responses and templates carry the same alienating ability that excuses do, mainly because individuals possess an inherent desire to feel special. You do too. You want to get that free upgrade, you want that performance bonus, you want to feel unique, and that extra attention puts the one who provides it in your good books. It’s safe to say your reviewers expect the same. Auto-responses and templates do the exact opposite and create a face-in-the-crowd feeling which, as I’ve just explained, is counterproductive. Management should always craft responses. However rudimentary this may be, it creates an atmosphere of importance. Cater to this human need of feeling special, and rest assured they will remember you for it.
We’ve arrived at a fork in the road. Either your apology has served its purpose, or additional action needs to be taken in the form of compensation or addressing potential blackmail. This is where the importance of understanding the psychological motivations of writing a review is exemplified. A majority of people leave reviews driven by altruism, and genuinely want to provide constructive feedback. An apology will most likely have the desired impact on them and those reading the review. Adversely, certain individuals are inclined to use feedback extortion(a euphemism for blackmail). They may warn you along with making specific demands or go straight to writing a review with the hope that you’ll be inclined to compensate them. The reputation economy perpetuates this phenomenon with its uncanny ability to turn a simple guest, into a force capable of shaping the image of your hotel.
Spotting the Difference
Telling them apart is a function of your due diligence. Corroboration is the easiest way to do so, accompanied by research into the frequency of similar reviews. The results of these methods will highlight the integrity of a review. A review written purely in expectation of compensation will often be hyperbolic, irrational, and carry stronger negative language. It is also possible that the review was written in a moment of frustration and it’s your responsibility to spot the difference. If it turns out to be an extortionist review, the answer is simple. Report it. Most review engines provide a dedicated owners space to allow for this. Essentially, don’t spend valuable time paying heed to baseless threats.
When Should You Bring out the Big Guns? (Read: Compensation)
The big question is, should you compensate negative reviewers, and if so, what’s the deciding factor? First of all, you want to be tactful; Do not offer compensation on any online forums. The result is appearing as an easy target to potential extortionists. Instead, send a personalized email. It will bolster the impact of the online apology and reinforce that you care about the individual in question.
The key to compensation is to offer it to the right people - but who are they? The right people are those who exhibit genuine concern. They are also those whom you believe deserve it. This segment of reviewers will most often be satisfied with a sincere apology. However, going that extra mile will potentially turn them into brand advocates. This is called the service recovery paradox. It implies that by going out of your way to make amends, greater satisfaction and loyalty can be felt than if there was no negative experience to begin with.
It’s important to remember to tailor the compensation (seriously, personalization knows no limits) to the situation. This can be a discount following a negative dining experience, or a free room night following a generally negative review. The possibilities are only limited by what you believe is justified. Complete the circle by inviting them back to take advantage of their compensation. This will show them that you are confident their concerns have been handled and want them to come and experience that on your dime.
If you’ve approached your negative review with the points outlined here in mind, you’re in the safe zone. You’ve disarmed negative emotions with compassion. However, while you may have won the battle, the war has just begun. We are at an inflection point; civilization is teetering on the cusp of a social revolution where instant validation drives value, where the opinions of others can define you. In a few years, every Chinese citizen will boast a number ranking, that will in some sense determine their standing in society. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that the reputation economy has only begun to make its mark on the world.
Technology has made the world a much more responsive place. Hoteliers need to stay ahead of the ball and make use of the plethora of technology at hand. Several review management tools have surfaced in response to the social phenomenon. While responding well to a negative review can turn into positive marketing, it is equally important to respond to positive reviews. It’s an easy way to reiterate positive comments, and it shows an appreciation for a guests' opinion and business.
The ultimate goal should be to minimize negative reviews while promoting positive reviews. To do this, guests must be encouraged to share any issues they have during their stay. Employees should be rigorously trained on how to deal with complaints and to effectively communicate in those situations. If we take a step back, instilling organizational cultural alignment, procedural mastery, and loyalty in your employees from the get-go will go a long way in reducing the occurrence of negative reviews. Nevertheless, it is imperative to have a robust ‘Reviews 101’ in your arsenal, so here you are – go forth and become the review response master you’re meant to be!