Online reviews play a crucial role in influencing customers to book hotels, so one of the most important things that hotels can do is to encourage guests to provide feedback. But the work doesn’t end there—hotels also need to proactively monitor and reply to the reviews that guests leave.
According to surveys by TripAdvisor, 71% of guests find that it’s important to see management response to reviews, both positive and negative. Replying both promptly and consistently could ultimately have a significant impact on your hotel’s bottom line. But responding is easier said than done, as negative reviews and fake reviews complicate matters and require careful consideration to be managed properly.
Decide which reviews you want to reply to
The first step in managing guest reviews is to determine what type (or types) of reviews you’ll respond to. Are you better off replying only to negative reviews or to positive and neutral ones as well?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer here. TripAdvisor seems to indicate that the more responsive a hotel is, the better, citing a study which found that properties which reply to more than half of reviews grow occupancy rates more than twice as quickly as properties which ignore them—and they grow them faster than the overall hospitality industry average. The study also suggested that greater responsiveness results in higher customer satisfaction.
However, a more recent study found that the positive correlation between the number of responses to online reviews and an increase in hotel revenue only held up at a 40% response rate. In fact, revenue (and ratings) were actually lower when the response rate was higher than 85% than if reviews were left completely unreplied. This data seems to imply that offering constructive replies to negative reviews is a good idea, but simply acknowledging positive ones is unnecessary and possibly even detrimental. Customers might see the latter as excessive, unproductive, and even possibly desperate.
The key is to find a balance. While it’s a good idea to respond to most negative reviews, you don’t necessarily need to respond to all positive reviews. Pick the ones that are the most memorable—perhaps ones that mention a specific person or a situation where the hotel went above and beyond—as those are the reviews that future travelers will also spend the most time reading.
Develop a review response strategy
Regardless of how you choose to handle positive and neutral reviews, it’s clear that responding to negative ones is vital to minimizing damage to your brand’s reputation. Doing so will mend relationships with unsatisfied customers, and simultaneously leave a positive impression with prospective guests. It’s particularly important to reply on TripAdvisor, which is by far the world’s most visited hotel review website, but if possible, you should address reviews on Google and other review sites as well.
The response time is important. Try to respond to reviews within 48 hours if possible. For negative reviews, doing so will minimize the number of times the review is seen without a reply, and will also demonstrate attentiveness and thoughtfulness. For positive reviews, you’ll want to increase the likelihood that the reviewer actually sees the response, leaving an even more lasting impression of their stay.
If you need help staying on top of your property’s incoming reviews, consider using an online reputation management system; there are quite a number of platforms built specifically for hotels, including Revinate and ReviewPro, among others. These types of platforms can pull together all your online reviews into one system and alert you to any negative ones.
Responding to negative hotel reviews
So, how best to tackle criticism your hotel has received? First, you’ll want to research the situation at hand for any available information or previous correspondence, since it’s frustrating for the customer to have to repeat a complaint over and over again to different staff members.
When crafting the messages themselves, make sure to always remain polite and professional, while using a consistent brand voice. Begin by personalizing them, as generic replies look apathetic, even if they do save time. Address guests by name and both thank them for taking the time to share their experience, and apologize for their dissatisfaction.
Show that you genuinely care about your guests by emphasizing recent or upcoming changes to your hotel—especially if they’ve been a result of feedback. This will demonstrate that you’re not just listening, but acting as well. However, it would be in your best interest to avoid offering compensation publicly at this stage so a precedent isn’t set. If you do choose to provide compensation, do so directly to the guest via a personalized email.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge that everything might not be able to be fixed immediately. With damage control as your goal, what’s most important is that others can see that you’ve done everything in your power to rectify the situation.
Responding to positive hotel reviews
Obviously, responding to positive reviews is much easier than negative ones, but keep in mind that you’ll still want to come off as genuine and authentic. Using template responses can feel disingenuous, and if you use them over and over again, people will start to notice as they scroll through your review page.
The more you can personalize a response, do so. If you met the guest personally, have that knowledge come through in the review (i.e. “It was truly a pleasure meeting you and your two little ones”). If possible, pick a positive aspect of the review that you can expand upon with additional information. Did the reviewer mention how much he enjoyed the pool? Take the opportunity to say that there is a new pool bar menu waiting for him if he comes back.
Remember, other travelers are reading these reviews, so any extra selling points you can get through in your response can help influence your next potential guest!
How to handle fake hotel reviews
In addition to managing negative reviews, you’ll also have to decide how to handle equally troublesome fake reviews, especially ones from rival businesses or vengeful ex-employees. The good news is that compared to authentic ones, potentially fake reviews only account for a small fraction (10-15%) of feedback businesses receive. (It should go without saying that posting fake positive reviews, especially buying them, is a bad idea and can significantly hurt your online reputation.)
Not sure if a review is fake? Try running it through Review Skeptic, a free tool that uses research data from Cornell University to determine the likelihood that a review is fake.
If the fake reviews were posted on a site like TripAdvisor, you can flag them so the website can take action against the users who posted the reviews. Simply visit the Owners’ Center on TripAdvisor, and fill out a “Dispute a review form” in the “Manage reviews” section. You can also encourage authentic users to flag fakes, thereby promoting engagement and building a healthy, active, and vigilant online community.
Your overall online reputation management
Responding to reviews is simply best practice in managing your overall online reputation. While addressing negative reviews might not seem like a fun task, but it does present the opportunity for your hotel to take the higher road and present your brand in a positive light. You’ll also receive constructive critiques that you can use to help make improvements within the hotel.
As for positive reviews, remember that keeping abreast of the compliments your guests are giving is a good way to stay on top of what your hotel’s unique selling points are. You can always come back to these reviews later to pick out the best quotes and testimonials to feature on the website or use in future marketing promotions.
By expressing gratitude for feedback and apologizing when expectations aren’t met, you can strategically use reputation management to develop brand loyalists and build invaluable positive lasting connections.