How to Win from a Negative Experience “blasted all over the internet”
By Edward Reagoso General Manager, The Wilshire Grand Hotel | April 08, 2012
I find it nothing short of amazing that it is now commonplace for hotel owners and managers to be beat up "in public" for all to see. This done by some nameless, alleged, unsatisfied guest that at times seems so critical in their review of our services, that it almost feels unrealistic. How is it possible for this guest to have been this unhappy during their stay, and we never knew or even heard about it? Honestly, I hear everything. Guests are pretty quick at letting the desk staff know when they are unhappy. My office is pretty close to the reception desk and I really do hear it all. I am by no means saying I'm perfect. I am saying that my team is pretty darn good about letting me know when someone's unhappy – even if it's felt their request or issue seems unsubstantiated.
We as an industry, have done really well in the past several years of educating our customers, dare I say too well? They have learned how to get the best rate available, how to get in their room early or stay late with no extra charge, and how to get upgraded to a suite, just to begin. But who told guests they should post anonymous reviews that can hurt our business? How the heck did we let this happen? And with mechanisms in place such as comment cards and a "Guest Review System," we still, somehow, end up with bad press all over the internet. Is it really possible these mysterious negative review postings were completed by actual guests? That really is the question. And equally important, what is with some of these "glowing" reviews, so over the top not even one's own mother would be that complimentary… Well, speaking for myself only – I can tell you that I can sleep at night knowing I've been completely honest and forthright. I have never created an alias internet identity and/or placed an alias review on my website, or any other hotel's website. It is simply not how I was raised and certainly wasn't how I was trained. My training came in preparation, observation, review, and action or reaction if necessary.
What I have done is this. I have personally reached out to every internet posting identity, whether positive or negative, both publicly on line and/or directly via the e-commerce website on which the review was posted. I can honestly tell you that out of approximately 250 reviews posted on the internet about The Wilshire Grand Hotel, in West Orange, New Jersey, I can count on one hand (not including my thumb) the number of guests that actually responded to my email or counter-posting. Yes, I am talking about those TripAdvisor, Google, Yelp, and Expedia reviews that either flatter us or have us appear as business owners and managers that just have no clue what we're doing and do not seem to care. I don't believe I'm sharing any trade secrets in this article but I do believe my methodology is timely and gives me a competitive advantage. I learned early in the game that relying on guests to decipher which reviews are real and which reviews might have been posted by an ex-associate or possibly even a competitor with an axe to grind, might be a fatal mistake. In fact, I'd venture to say just a few years ago we all believed that these reviews were legitimate – or maybe it was just me, believing that the good in people would never allow them to create an identity to unfairly criticize a business or in fact, an individual publicly with no possibility of ever having to worry about consequences since their identity was hidden forever from us all.
For the record, I still believe in the natural good in people. (I know it seems crazy, right?) But for my business and frankly, for my money, I like to handle every review I find out there with an empathetic attitude. I'm gracious and thankful – very thankful, for the good ones. I LOVE the great ones. And the bad ones... well I will assume it's real and was posted by a real guest. This is in spite of being cynical about the activity of communicating with "ghosts," as I like to call the anonymous poster. I read every word, I apologize, I don't make excuses, and I leave a message as to how I might prevent the specific complaint from ever happening again. Then I change my mission! I sell our features & benefits, I write back about our Grand Complimentary Breakfast, our pillow top beds, our state of the art VOIP and Free Wi-Fi. I sell it all – especially on my responses to bad reviews. I don't want curious readers to remember just the negatives. I write to insure my services are remembered and I leave my contact information because I want every reader to remember me, my hotel, and the passion I have for taking care of customers.
This technique works like a charm, by the way. I have had many new accounts both social and corporate tell me and my sales staff how my responses to on-line reviews were the deciding factor in getting them to book with us. I've also taken advantage of the social marketing aspect and now I've now included my picture on sights such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor whenever possible. I do this because our business is, thank fully, getting back to developing relationships. It is no longer about the cheapest rate we can offer. Seeing my face and knowing who I am before a client arrives to the hotel helps to build the relationship before they even arrive.
Now, what about those guests who threaten to post bad reviews? Am I the only manager that has been high jacked by a stray e-commerce booked guest and has offered free drinks, dinners, and even cab rides in hopes to prevent negative reviews from being posted on the internet, even if I didn't feel the threat was warranted? I think not. There are so many guests that are gracious and polite, and yet some continue to use threats to spread bad hype about a hotel. And it's done because some believe it will get them more than what they paid for. And yes, at times I'm afraid I have played right into their hands, guilty as charged. In any event whether the concern of a poor review is justified or not – to act in the mode of negative press prevention is in my mind, paramount. (Of course there's a limit to the abuse we should tolerate and the threshold becomes less each day.)