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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.