It's Time to Banish Standard Responses to Online Guest Complaints

By Janelle Schwartz VP of Sales, Marketing & Revenue Management, M&R Hotel Management | June 17, 2018

The public's eagerness to post reviews on TripAdvisor, Google, Expedia and many other popular online travel sites has created an unprecedented mother lode of opinions about hotels, airlines, car rental companies and other suppliers that prospective travelers routinely check when researching purchases.

After initial resistance, most hotel brands came to embrace this phenomenon and now try to work it to their own advantage. Even line-level staff members have come to realize that guest comments really, really matter. Comments matter whether they are positive or negative. It's not just hotels: Complaints and accolades can seriously harm or benefit any business anywhere.

General managers accustomed to calling the shots and making things happen initially found the deluge of comments to be disconcerting, even maddening when they perceived a critical comment to be unfair, out of context of simply an extortionary ploy. Their traditional command and control tactics simply fail in the world of social media.

There is only one option to counteract the effect of negative comments, as we all have discovered: Engage guests by posting responses on the very social platforms where they post their comments. But the process is more art than science, and too many hoteliers fail to invest their time, creativity and soul into the process. As a result, their efforts fall flat.

The mistake is posting pro forma or "canned" responses instead of addressing guests' specific comments, observations and concerns. For example, a guest may complain that their breakfast eggs were cold. The response may say, "We are sorry you were disappointed in your stay. Please give us another chance when you visit our town."

This approach is borne out of our industry's traditional command and control mentality: Managers want to control the discussion. Rather than empower their staff to deal with each guest comment with a unique response, they dictate a series of generic responses in advance for all occasions. They see this as a time-saving, efficient, low-risk solution.

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Coming up in February 2019...

Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.