hotel lodging hand bad reviews

How hotels should handle bad online reviews

In this digital age, there is one guest who will never, ever leave you: the unhappy traveler who posts a bad online review. The Internet, for better or worse, lasts pretty much forever, and so do bad reviews.

What, then, is a good hotelier to do? Each hotel has an average of 238 reviews spread out over multiple websites, and while there are typically more positive remarks than negative ones, research shows that the bad reviews have a disproportionate influence on consumers. So, you can’t ignore them – 80% of travelers say online reviews matter, and half of them won’t book a room without first checking the reviews. And you certainly can’t argue with them; negativity only breeds more of the same.

Here are five things every hotel manager should do when faced with a customer who vents their anger or disappointment online.

1. Don’t be afraid to apologize

You don’t necessarily have to agree with a disgruntled guest, but you will be wise to empathize. Make it clear that you hear them (even repeat part of what they say, if appropriate); show that you understand why they are upset; and use the language and tone you would with a friend. Above all, be genuine, be human, and leave corporate speak out of it.

2. Offer remediation, if warranted

When a customer has serious reason to complain and has been shortchanged in some manner, come up with a reasonable make-good offer. But make the offer offline, encouraging the customer to be in direct contact. And don’t make the offer semi-promotional – that “coupon good for an extra night free when you book two more days” will risk getting you burned more badly with follow-up comments.

3. Concentrate on building a relationship

The glass-half-full hotel manager will realize that any customer communication is an opportunity for relationship building (or breaking). By engaging without defensiveness, you break down the “us-them” barrier and set up an opportunity where “we” can have a discussion. You need not extend the online discussion longer than necessary, but don’t cut it short, either. Every subsequent potential customer who reads that review thread in the future will see that an honest effort was made, and that you respect your customers. In fact, 62% of TripAdvisor users say that seeing management responses makes them more likely to book a room.

4. Consider each complaint as free customer research

Market research is expensive; listening to unhappy customers accomplishes part of that job for free. Make sure you compile, track and cross-reference all complaints, responses and outcomes. The learning can be invaluable as data to drive positive change in your operation.

5. Stay alert

Specifically, sign up for Google Alerts, which notifies you when your property is mentioned online, and consider other social listening options that will let you know what people are saying about you. The internet is a lot bigger than TripAdvisor, and the last thing you need is to have a review go unanswered – and seemingly ignored – just because you didn’t know it was there.

Negative online reviews are here to stay. And stay. And stay. There’s no turning them off, but with the right attitude (and management training), you can turn them to your advantage.

EHL (Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne): How to respond to online negative reviews
TripAdvisor: Management Response Guidelines
Typsy: How to respond to negative hotel reviews
The New York Times: Why you can’t really trust negative online reviews