WHEN GUESTS GO BAD: DEALING WITH BAD REVIEWS

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“Negative reviews can feel like a punch in the gut. We care deeply about our business too, and it hurts when someone says bad things about our business. For you founders and sole proprietors out there, a negative review can even feel like a personal attack.”

That quote is from Yelp and, if your hotel has ever received a negative review, you’ll know just what that punch in the gut feels like. Less than positive comments are directed at all businesses at one time or another. There really is a lot of truth to the sentiment that you can’t please everyone, all of the time. Despite the best efforts of you and your staff, things do sometimes go wrong and emotions run high. Mistakes happen and once a guest has been inconvenienced or annoyed by their stay, a negative review will often follow.

Before the internet changed the world, a bad review was a storm in a tea cup and unless it appeared in a national paper, magazine or guide book, damage could be limited. Unfortunately, times have changed. With the growing popularity of online reviews and the speed with which information can travel online, there’s now no hiding place for those singled out for a one or two star review. In these situations, it’s how you handle it that makes the difference.

Reputation management for hotels must include damage limitation. Even though it can feel utterly unfair, you can make lemonade from the lemons of poor public feedback.

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1. Respond quickly

The number one rule when dealing with a negative review online is to respond promptly. Whether it’s something fairly minor such as a room not being ready on time or a full scale complaint about cleanliness, hygiene or staff members, make it company policy to respond within 24 to 48 hours. Two days to respond to a negative complaint should be the maximum, but the sooner the review can be addressed the better.

A quick response might not win a very angry or disappointed customer over but, it can go a long way to making them feel that their issue is being taken seriously. For wider reputation management purposes, a swift and public acknowledgement shows others who come across the review that unhappy customers are treated fairly and promptly.

 2. Stay calm and work from a standard company-wide policy
When your hotel is publicly attacked with a negative review, it can be difficult to maintain a professional face. However, avoiding a war of words is crucial. You likely already have a complaints policy, which will help front desk staff deal with customers who complain in person. It’s good practise to have an online version of this, with everyone in your marketing and reputation management team being provided with a copy.

Creating a company policy for dealing with negative reviews and setting out an acceptable procedure to follow ensures that all complaints are dealt with consistently and professionally. This document should outline the importance of not getting into an argument with the customer, sample negative complaints and acceptable responses, instructions for taking discussion offline, when and how to send a private message to the guest and when an issue should be escalated to a more senior team member. You can also include a policy on reimbursement or further action for the more serious of negative reviews, where the client complaint is proven to be true and accurate.

Remember, readers will be tempted to believe the guest review so keep it fair, balanced, professional and respectful.

3. Take the problem offline

Once you have responded publicly to the negative review, you can take the problem offline. This means the problem can be dealt with either via email, in person or via phone. Offering to speak to someone directly can help to restore faith in your hotel and shows that the issue isn’t simply being brushed under the carpet. Having a conversation or email exchange also allows you to get a full picture of the problem, meaning steps to resolve the issue can be taken if needed, helping to avoid other negative reviews about the same thing.

4. Don’t engage with those who demand compensation or freebies

Sometimes, unscrupulous guests will request a freebie or discount in return for not leaving a negative review. Popular review sites like TripAdvisor tell hoteliers not to engage with those attempts to blackmail you and to report the issue immediately.
 
Reputation management for hotels is an ongoing process. Regularly checking review sites and staying up to date with all feedback is the only way to be certain you’re alerted when a negative review does appear online.

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