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 June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.