As an insider to the business side of the hotel industry, I certainly understand how important online guest reviews are to financial performance. While having positive customer feedback is vital to any business, it is especially important for a service business that is selling an intangible experience such as a hotel stay.
Yet, as a guest, I find that when hotel employees solicit guest reviews at the improper time, or use the wrong approach in doing so, it diminishes the joys and pleasures of experiencing authentic, sincere hospitality and that warm fuzzy feeling both parties get from the exchange.
I was recently the guest of a brand-new, extended-stay hotel in the Bronx, which I booked in order to take my daughter to freshman orientation at a nearby university. Both mornings of my stay, I was so impressed by the warm and welcoming hospitality that I saw the breakfast attendant giving each and every guest, especially how she took the time to learn our reason for visiting. Besides tipping her generously both days, on the second day I pulled her aside and said, “I just wanted to thank you for your amazing hospitality to make us feel so welcome here.” Rather than first thanking me, her immediate response was to ask me to post a review on TripAdvisor, which greatly diminished the joy of the moment.
Still, I was so impressed with her service, and also with the front-desk colleague who commented on the momentous occasion for us, that when I received an automated “thank you for staying” message after my departure I replied with a highly detailed, personalised “thank you” message directly to the manager. Yet the reply I received read like an automated response, since it did not reference any of my specific comments and instead used generic wording to ask me to post a review and also to “like” the hotel on its social media pages.
During another recent hotel stay, I was traveling with my wife for a staycation in Miami. When we pulled up under the porte cochère, we were greeted by a doorman who welcomed us warmly and pulled our luggage. Yet his next comment ruined the moment when, as we were first entering the lobby, he handed us his business card with the TripAdvisor logo on the back and asked us to post a review about him. How can a guest be asked to review a hotel they have yet to experience?
Now as a former hotel staffer myself, I certainly do not blame the employees in these situations. I can imagine that they are only doing what they have been asked to do by the management in a quest for positive reviews. I remember when I started my career as a bellman at Marriott’s 125th hotel our managers always reminded us of the importance of guest comment cards. Back then, all the comment cards first went to the corporate office and Mr Marriott himself responded to many of them. Like many hotels today, our managers rewarded us when our names were mentioned. So like the staff members I interacted with, I’m sure I, too, was overzealous in soliciting responses.
It is up to the hotel managers to properly train the hotel staff on how and when to solicit guest reviews and social media posts. Most guests understand how important online reviews are to any business; chances are they might even work in a business that lives or dies by its own reviews. If done properly, not only will hoteliers be able to avoid diminishing the warm feeling people get when they have experienced authentic, genuine hospitality, but also increase the likelihood that the guest will follow through with their posting.
Here are some training tips:
- First, train the staff on the timing of their request for reviews. Guests should never be asked to post reviews upon arrival, during registration or while being placed in their rooms. Instead, ask later during a long stay or ideally towards the end.
- Encourage staff to first sincerely solicit honest feedback. Rather than asking “How was your stay, good?” ask an open-ended question to let them know you truly want to know, such as “So tell me, what did you think of our hotel and service?”
- When guests offer negative feedback, train the team to take notes to demonstrate how seriously we are about learning from the experience.
- When guests offer positive feedback, train your employees to first and foremost sincerely welcome their compliments before soliciting reviews. They should use their own commentary to thank the guest in a personalized way. In my example above, it would have been “Well thank you very much, Mr Kennedy. I sure hope that your daughter is off to a wonderful start after her orientation this week and that you won’t miss her too much this fall!” (The hotel colleague in this case knew the reason why we were in town.)
- Next, the staff should most definitely solicit reviews and postings, but they should be sure to do so with humility and gratitude. For example: “I don’t know if you consulted online reviews in planning your stay, but they sure are very important these days. We would be grateful if you were comfortable posting one to let others know the thoughts you just shared.”