Hotel Reviews – What’s Your Policy

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By Jonathan Barsky and Cindi Frame

Although the hospitality industry is still in the beginning stages of figuring out how to master the exciting potential of social media, it is clear that the role of user-generated reviews is exploding and that consumers are wielding more power. The pace of this change has certainly caught many hotels off guard. A recent survey conducted by Market Metrix and TripAdvisor found that 85% of hotels have no guidelines for monitoring, responding to or acting on guest reviews. Perhaps this lack of direction explains why, according to TripAdvisor, only 4% of negative reviews are responded to!

It’s critical for hotels to regain control and take the appropriate action. Consumers say when a company responds to a review, it puts the company in a favorable light (Compete Inc., 2007). Our own research shows that responding to customer issues can improve a guest’s likelihood to recommend and return by 20% or more. This leads to word-of-mouth referrals which can represent 40% or more of a hotel’s customer mix. If hotels don’t respond, the dynamic of negative feedback can build into a huge wave of consumer defection.

To assist hotels in developing their own approach to handling online reviews, Market Metrix has assembled the following guidelines based on industry “best practices”:

Hotels need to establish a process for tracking new reviews. This begins with assigning one person at your property to monitor online review sites and have accountability to follow up on all reviews. This person should:

– Sign up for emails, alerts and RSS feeds to know when new reviews and scores have changed.
– Monitor the review sites frequently, depending on how often your hotel receives reviews.
– Make sure your hotel is listed on these sites and that your photos, videos and descriptions are up-to-date, accurate and complementary.

Management must clearly establish the hotel’s response policy. Ideally, hotels should respond to all reviews within 24 hours in a personal and professional manner. This demonstrates a hotel’s commitment to listening and acting on guest feedback. If a response is not possible within 24 hours, respond to all negative reviews first.

– If needed, forward negative comments to the appropriate person for assistance in responding and to let them know there is an issue in their department. Determine if and when the GM should be alerted.
– If a review is suspected to be fraudulent, immediately contact the review site to dispute it. If justified, the review will be removed.

In responding to guest reviews, always start by thanking the guest for writing a review. For positive reviews reinforce hotel strengths and invite the guest to return.
Forward positive comments to the appropriate person who can share the feedback with deserving employees. In responding to negative reviews, apologize for their experience, inform them what you will do to address the problem, invite the guest to contact hotel management for resolution and describe (or even post a picture) how the problem was resolved. Make sure to track which reviews have received a response.

Analyze / Improve
User reviews expose the truth of a hotel’s brand. Hotels are now challenged with maintaining high standards and meeting the expectations of customers who have done a significant amount of research before they travel. Guest reviews not only offer hotels a chance for service recovery, they also can uncover opportunities for improvement, driving satisfaction and loyalty, and even reduce operating costs.

Each review should be thoroughly evaluated. Ideally, results from all reviews should be stored in a database with a reporting package available for analysis. Analyze guest reviews to understand trends versus prior periods, identify performance gaps versus relevant competitors, uncover scoring differences among key customer groups, and provide an input for investment decisions. Review site feedback should be combined with your regular guest feedback program to get a full 360.

Based on this analysis, action plans, preferably done at the department level, should be created to address issues, gaps and unfavorable trends. We would also recommend that you:

– Share issues, gaps and trends with appropriate managers.
– Set goals that are measurable.
– Consider tying employee compensation to appropriate guest feedback measures, as long as they are fair and unbiased.

In addition, display positive reviews on your site to show off positive experiences of other guests and to prevent travelers from searching for reviews on other sites. Encourage guests to write reviews – fewer reviews imply a less popular hotel. Encourage guests verbally at check out, on receipts and in communications or emails sent to guests.

More people than ever before are reading hotel reviews prior to booking. Hotels that embrace online reviews and take actions can increase their business. Online reviews can help you connect with your customers, find out what they really want and promote your hotel. This will lead to higher levels of service and confidence in your brand.

Hoteliers please note!

The photo? Samoa – dream on Richard!