The six golden rules of responding to guest reviews

Whether scathing or glowing, every guest review is a golden opportunity for your hotel to shine or stumble. Guests trust other guests, and the reviews of past experiences at your hotel are one of the most influential factors that can impact future bookings.

You can’t afford to ignore bad reviews and hope they disappear. Nor, is it okay to simply write canned responses that lack a genuine concern for your guests. We understand it can be dismaying to read negative reviews about your hotel or your colleagues. Candid comments about a bad experience, bad service, bad food, or a bad room are hard to swallow. However, it’s more dismaying to know that one horrible (unanswered) review can stop a potential booking dead in its tracks.

Remember, travellers have the luxury of choice. They will form an opinion about your property within seconds, and a negative review can send them running to your competition instead.

Travellers turn to guest reviews to predict their own experience at your hotel. Your thoughtful responses have the potential to turn negative reviews into shining moments that make you more likable and worthy of a visit. So, make sure you always respond with wit, grace and true hospitality.

Here’s how to win with even the ugliest of reviews.

  1. Cut the (corporate) crap

Not only are canned and corporate responses worthless, they can be downright infuriating. Nowadays, people expect transparency and authenticity from brands. So, if your response feels too uptight and reeks of corporate jargon, it will convey that you are only trying to save face, not that you genuinely care about your guests or their experience.

Instead, be original, sincere and tailor each response. Give whoever is responding on behalf of your hotel the freedom and flexibility to convey candour and personality when responding, while still remaining professional.

  1. Give them direct access

It’s important that guests know that someone (an actual named human) is behind every response from your hotel. Especially for considerably bad reviews, consider signing off your responses with the full name and contact details (at least an email address) to a department manager who would oversee the solution to the complaint. This shows you are serious about making things right and that are you are genuinely open to their feedback.

  1. Offer options to problems you can’t control

Guests complaining about the crazy nightclub next door? Or, the lack of parking around your hotel? Understandably, you don’t have full control of all your hotel’s surroundings and every environmental factor that can impact your guests’ stay. However, just because you don’t have jurisdiction over these things doesn’t give you reason to simply throw up your hands and respond, “There’s nothing we can do.”

Instead, let the reviewer know that while you can’t manage the crowd at the nearby nightclub or the amount of parking spaces in the neighbourhood, you can share typical Uber/Lyft/taxi fares to popular attractions. You can let them know if car share options like Car2Go or ReachNow are usually available in your neighbourhood. Or, encourage them to call and specifically request a room on the side of the hotel that is opposite of the nightclub. While it may seem fruitless to offer these options after the guest has already checked out, remember that you are also writing for potential guests. Your responses to past guests can help future guests achieve the experience they want.

  1. Genuinely own up to your mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. Your hotel is no exception. The good news is that people are generally extremely forgiving of properties that admit to their own blunders.  Do it with sincerity and grace, and you will come off as being endearing. This makes these type of responses the easiest to write. Simply write a sweet and brief response owning up to the mistake, thanking them for pointing it out, and reassuring that it won’t happen again.

  1. Graciously correct your guests’ mistakes

Sometimes, it’s the guest who makes the mistake! Simple misunderstandings result in reviews with false information. Perhaps a guest was upset that the restaurant opened late, when in fact, they misread the opening hours. Or, that they waited over an hour for the airport shuttle, when they were supposed to call and request it. If the misunderstanding is a major part of their complaint, first double-check your part in the misunderstanding. Are the restaurant hours in plain sight? Was the guest informed – via a pre-stay email or from your hotel website – that the airport shuttle is by request only? If it is entirely the guests’ oversight, then briefly apologise for their specific inconvenience (sorry that you were late to your meeting as you waited for breakfast), followed by the facts (but, our restaurant opens for breakfast at 8am, not 7am, on weekday mornings.)

  1. Fix the problem already

If guests are constantly berating your hotel with the same complaint over again and again, you probably need to actually take the steps to fix the problem. People will quickly notice a pattern if they read the same complaint and the same lame response promising that things will get better. Don’t be that hotel.

If improving the problem means an investment by your hotel owners, then get this on their agenda, pronto.  Whether it’s ratty carpets, dimly lit and creepy hallways, or unsavoury breakfast entrees, print out all the instances that the issue is mentioned in negative reviews and let the owners know this issue is actually impeding direct bookings and can impact your bottom line.

The bottom line: It’s vital… no, necessary, to address unfavourable reviews upfront, right away, with an honest and sensible response.

Tambourine Blog

Tambourine is a US-based marketing, booking and distribution service that helps hotel and travel marketers sort it all out. It delivers a 360º program that reduces stress and increases revenue.

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  1. We recently had a guest left a comment on an OTA site. Not all that she wrote was true and When responding to her review with the facts and the truth of the situation our response was “declined” by the OTA. We were not nasty we were rude we just stated facts! I find it very one sided that the “Guests” get to review you and your business with sometimes exaggerated untruths yet as the Business Owner and Operator you are not able to respond truthfully. Would love to have a place that Accommodation providers could review the guests!

  2. I’ve had a couple of “reviews” posted on Trip Advisor that were totally false. 1 in fact did not even stay here, just visited family who were staying in an outside managed unit. After complaining to T/A ( 3 times) they eventually removed it. I cancelled my business listing with them, some $3,500 p.a and then didn’t it start, emails, several, phone calls virtually begging me to reinstate my business listing and telling me they had new measures to deal with unfair and untrue reviews. Rubbish. All they wanted was my business listing so they could make more money…for which they do not pay 1 cent tax in Australia.
    If someone gives me grief. I don’t take prisoners. I told T/A “Bad behaviour doesn’t get any rewards” !
    Stand up for yourself and tell disgruntled whingers to find alternative accommodation…preferably in Tennant Creek! ( I’m being polite here)…and we’re full!

  3. If you follow the OTA guidelines for responding to reviews, the expectation is that you will grovel fit to please a 14th Century king. Failing to do so immediately puts you on the back foot with most OTAs. Guest reviews are a gold mine for them. It costs them nothing for content and gets huge readership. Throw in some controversy, some tittle tattle and you have appeal to the masses to equal Home and Away, Dallas and Neighbours.
    Why would they step in and make the system balanced? It does not gain them anything and would lose them readership, besides that, it would cost them wages to pay someone to umpire the comments.
    A friend of mine got a real nasty, she slagged him on an OTA, so he gave her a 50% refund, not good enough, she slagged him on another OTA, so he refunded her the other 50%. So she then took him to Consumer Affairs and the case was thrown out. So she then took him to Consumer Affairs in her own state
    and matter is currently listed for hearing. What did he do wrong? He didn’t meet her expectation, she wanted 6 star but wanted to pay 0 Star price. Where did he go wrong? He grovelled on the first OTA like he was supposed to and this is now her proof to use in court.

  4. So you do realise, that when you grovel to a customer due to a bad review on an OTA, you are admitting liability and that can be used against you legally.

  5. After 3 TA refusals, still trying to talk some sense into TA to remove a false review saying half the powerpoints don’t work in one of our rooms because guest can’t insert the phone charger. TA still refused after we supplied written proof of testing every powerpoint in the whole motel by a certified qualified electrician, at our expense of course. This written proof is VS some alleged guest who is untrained unqualified and anonymous using untested non-certified equipment. TA and it’s behaviour is a blight on the hospitality industry. Tony Neale.

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