May 28, 2012
| last updated May 31, 2012 11:21 am
Online hotel reviews: Are they a distraction or a valuable tool?
When I had my first experience with online reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, it took me back to my younger years. It felt like when I had done something wrong as a child, and someone told on me. The reviews I read upset me and I blamed the guest, not in person of course, for being so picky and demanding. I thought: "It wasn't that bad. Why do they have to write this on the Internet?" My ego and my reputation were hurt.
Then I realized online reviews are here to stay. People like to have their voices heard, and when they find a forum they can become overly critical. They feel an obligation to tell the whole story of their experience to the next person considering a stay at this hotel.
There is always a small percentage of hotel guests who are chronic complainers; however, this is a small percentage. The majority of guests enjoy their stay, and might have one or two things that they would like to see improved. That's your target. You can turn these guests into loyal fans if you respond to their needs. The point is to not allow the minority to dictate your policies.
So how do you use online reviews to your advantage? Here are some simple guidelines that have worked for me:
- Read every review. Find out what happened. Ask your staff if they remember the situation and look for details. More often than not you may agree that your guest's expectations were not met. Once you start reading reviews regularly, you will begin to overcome the frustration and use the feedback to improve on what is important to your guests.
- Share reviews with all managers and/or employees. Your team needs to understand that you care and will look into every review. This will motivate everyone to stay sharp.
- Use the reviews as a training tool. Your staff needs to know that your property values its reputation, and guest service is most important. The wrong employee in the wrong position will cost you money. I see it repeatedly in the guest survey responses we receive every day. Something might have gone wrong, but because the person they talked to responded positively to their needs, they left happy, rewarding our team with a 95% overall approval score. Congratulate your team on great reviews and use the negative ones to improve performance.
- Give your guests a chance to vent their concerns before they go online. I am a big believer of guest surveys. We email a survey to our guests the day after they check out. This is a very powerful tool as it allows our guests to give us fresh feedback about their stay. Guests want to have a great experience, and when they don't, they want someone to listen and fix it. We take the time to reply to our guest surveys, making sure guests know I read it and am personally addressing the issue. When necessary, we have refunded guests their money or invited them back for a complimentary stay. That gesture of goodwill has created many loyal guests over the years.
- To respond or not to respond? There are mixed feeling about this in our industry. Social marketing experts tell us we need to respond to every comment. Online review sites also encourage us to be interactive with our guests. However, this can be a demanding task and many of us don't have the time. More importantly, responses need to be well thought-out and properly articulated so you don't offend anyone. I chose not to respond to any of the online reviews. The reason? We utilize our own electronic guest survey system and respond to every survey. Chances are by the time they go online, we have already responded to the ones posted. If you don't use a survey system, you might want to put your efforts into replying to all online reviews to show that you listen to your guests. Decide if you want to respond or not respond, and do it consistently.
Great guest service is an art. It's a passion. And it's a team effort. When people ask me what my job is, I answer, "I manage the people who take care of our guests." As hoteliers, we have to make sure we hire the right people for the right positions, give them the right tools and make sure they know how to please our guests. Online reviews are an important piece of this experience. We can't fix problems if we don't know about them. The more we know, the better prepared we are for the next guest. Be consistent with whatever system you establish to capture guest comments and you will be pleasantly surprised. It does not take a lot of additional effort to create loyal fans.