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 December 2018...

Hotel Law: New Administration - New Policies

In a business as large as a hotel and in a field as broad as the law, there are innumerable legal issues which affect every area of a hotel's operation. For a hotel, the primary legal focus includes their restaurant, bar, meeting, convention and spa areas of their business, as well as employee relations. Hotels are also expected to protect their guests from criminal harm and to ensure the confidentiality of their personal identity information. These are a few of the daily legal matters hotels are concerned with, but on a national scale, there are also a number of pressing issues that the industry at large must address. For example, with a new presidential administration, there could be new policies on minimum wage and overtime rules, and a revised standard for determining joint employer status. There could also be legal issues surrounding new immigration policies like the H-2B guest-worker program (used by some hotels and resorts for seasonal staffing), as well as the uncertain legal status of some employees who fall under the DACA program. There are also major legal implications surrounding the online gaming industry. With the growing popularity of internet gambling and daily fantasy sports betting, more traditional resort casinos are also seeking the legal right to offer online gambling. Finally, the legal status of home-sharing companies like Airbnb continues to make news. Local jurisdictions are still trying to determine how to regulate the short-term apartment rental market, and the outcome will have consequences for the hotel industry. The December issue of Hotel Business Review will examine these and other critical issues pertaining to hotel law and how some companies are adapting to them.