Curbing the critics

Tuesday 13th October 2015

Reviews are no new thing. But the power of the review is on the rise and hoteliers must be one step ahead when handling the good, the bad and even the ugly.

 

For years people have been leaving their stamp with a review, whether it be by leaving a note in a comment book or spreading their thoughts by word of mouth.

But in recent years the word itself has become synonymous with the online review, particularly in the world of hotels. Sites such as TripAdvisor now inform most guests, and of course the world’s biggest review site has also recently stepped into the role of an online travel agent, now facilitating bookings as well.

So powerful is the online review that a colossal 89 per cent of consumers who view these sites and comments see them as being a trustworthy source. A further 80 per cent have changed their minds about a purchase based solely on the negative views left by another. And a one star difference in a restaurant rating can impact on a customers decision whether to dine there and therefore influence revenue.

All this highlights the importance of handling reviews in the correct way – especially the negative ones. From a PR perspective the review is a vital tool in the marketing of a property, whether it comes from a journalist or an independent hotel guest, and hoteliers should share this opinion.

From our point of view, there are two types of reviews, those on online sites, such as TripAdvisor, which are impacting potential customers already researching your hotel, and journalist reviews, a powerful way of driving people to your business.

Both perhaps spark fear in the heart of a hotelier, but they should not. As PR professionals we always highlight the power of a review, but also the power of the response.

The way in which you respond to both the negative and the positive is a sign of a business’ strength of character.

The real weight behind reviews lies in their apparent legitimacy. As our figures prove, people trust online reviews, they believe the comments left by previous guests, and to such an extent that these opinions are now a major influencer when it comes to making a hotel booking.

Firstly, a positive online review is a little gift from a happy customer back to the hotel. Do not waste this. Use these comments online, send them out via social media, post them on your website and most importantly say thank you. So often we treat people in a different manner online, simply because we are not communicating with them face to face. Look past this and be sure to acknowledge the positive responses and encourage this sort of response to your service.

Of course the main concern with a review is when it is negative, and what can be done to limit the impact of these comments. The most important thing to remember is not to ignore the bad. It can be a huge downfall of a property to ignore or belittle negative online reviews. Always bear in mind these people have spent money with you and intended to enjoy their stay.

Secondly, anticipate the review and nip it in the bud. A large proportion of negativity begins on social media while the customer is still In the property. Therefore ensure you are aware of any less than complimentary posts online and, should they occur, arrange a face to-face meeting with the guest in question to deal with their problem there and then, before it turns into an online review later.

However, if you do receive a bad review we would recommend following some simple steps. Begin by responding to the reviewer with an apology. Acknowledge their feedback has been noted, and should you have already rectified the issue, or be aware of it, be honest, give them their dues for bringing the issue to your attention and helping future guests get a better stay. If this is the first you’ve heard of the problem, say that, but be clear you are now looking into it and if possible explain how you plan to review the issue.

What has changed is the ease in which people can leave reviews, the reach and influence they can have, and the way reviews are responded to. But by taking a step back (and sometimes a deep breath) hoteliers can view them as an honest but of feedback to be learnt from, and most importantly, responded to.

Sarah Taylor, Senior Account Executive, Journey PR

Be clear on your next steps, don’t be too proud to hold up your hands, but explain, for the benefit of future guests they will not have the same experience.

If the issue is going to require more than one response, take it out of the public view. Make a short apology and explanation but advise the person to contact you directly to discuss the problem and be sure to provide easy contact details and advise a time you will be available.

It’s also essential a reply is in no way angry, aggressive or confrontational. It will never shed a good light onto a business if responses are defensive or argumentative. Future guests do not want to feel unable to feedback on their stay or approach a member of staff during the visit if there’s something that needs tackling.

Finally, there may be a call for compensation. This is a decision for the hotelier and must not be given out so freely as to encourage people to make a negative comment in order to receive the gift or discount. Compensation should not be the first step made by a reviewer, but in some cases it may be deemed necessary.

Now let’s tackle why the journalist review is hugely influential as a central part of a PR campaign. Clearly the readership figures and reach of a journalist are far greater than most, and a PR firm will ensure the correct publication, read or consumed by your target market, will be reviewing you. It’s crucial though, once the reviewer is booked in, that they are treated exceptionally and will therefore provide a positive review. The legitimacy and validity of what a journalist reports in a review is not to be underrated amongst their readership.

The next step sees the review being published. Now is the time to promote this not only through your website, but by utilising your social media channels and securing return engagement from the journalist.

As I’ve said, reviews really are no new thing. What has changed is the ease in which people can leave these reviews, the reach and influence they can have, and the way reviews are responded to. But by taking a step back (and sometimes a deep breath) hoteliers can view them as an honest bit of feedback to be learnt from, and most importantly, responded to.

All in all the online review is fast becoming one of the most important marketing tools for any hotelier and one not to be afraid of but to be embraced.