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  • Writer's pictureAdele Gutman Milne, CHBA, CHDM

10 Dos and Don'ts for Responding to Critical Guest Reviews to Cultivate Consumer Confidence

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

Leadership in Action is Essential for Cultivating Consumer Confidence

Albert Einstein famously said, "Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them." I love the wisdom in that quote! My hospitality spin on this quote would be this:

Good hotels deal with problems. Great hotels fix problems. The most loved hotels see a problem as an opportunity for creativity and innovation, so they avoid having to see that problem recur."

I know it is not as pithy and succinct as the great Albert Einstein quote, but I hope you follow the thinking behind it.

To illustrate this point, I have selected three real-life review responses I have just seen online.

The first is typical of most hotel review responses, where the hotel seems to hope to get the customer back, fingers crossed. They are dealing with the problem. I will then show an alternative approach for the response so you can see the difference.

You can decide which responses sound good versus which effectively elevate consumer confidence by showcasing responsible and compassionate leadership in action. That response has a good chance of winning a return visit and attracting new customers.

Real Review and Response #1 (edited for readability)

Let's look at the first example now. Names withheld, of course. We'll call it Hotel Anywhere.

Needs a complete overhaul. Staff are excellent. Rooms need upgrading. Our sink was blocked. Our air conditioner was broken. Our door wasn’t secure. Room is very poor.

Dear Guest, Thank you for taking the time to leave a review of your stay here at Hotel Anywhere. We are pleased to hear that you found our staff excellent. We do pride ourselves on our friendly team here at the hotel.

However, we are very sorry to hear that you found the facilities at the hotel below standard. This is not the experience we want our guests to have, so for this, we do apologize. We do hope you will choose to stay with us again so we can show you that your stay was an exception on this occasion.

All the best, Hotel Anywhere

Please listen to the podcast for more commentary on the issues with this response, but here are 5 Don'ts exemplified in this response.

1. Gives Hope & Prayers only. Lacking Leadership Action.

2. Three sentences before any apology communicates that an apology wasn't a priority.

3. No mention of issues suggests the response wasn't personalized and could have been written by a paid writer and not even seen by management.

4. No substantial evidence was given for a traveler to be impressed with the leadership's commitment to the guest experience.

5. No contact details for follow-up can be inferred as a lack of desire for follow-up.

An alternative response to Review #1 exemplifies the 5 Dos.

An alternative response to Review #1

Dear (Guests Name),

I am very sorry that our facilities fell below our standards during your recent stay.

Upon reading your review, our general manager, head housekeeper, and chief maintenance engineer and I inspected the room you stayed in. The sink has already been fixed. We tested the A/C, and it seemed fine today, but still, we replaced the filter will help ensure peak performance. We also found a bit of wiggle on the latch. We are confident that this would not make the door any less secure. Still, to give greater confidence to our guests, we will have the maintenance team go through the whole building to check if any other latches could use tightening. We will make that happen immediately.

Thank you so much for bringing your concerns to our attention. Thanks to you, we are already at work making things better for our future guests. I am thrilled to hear that you appreciated the kind and helpful nature of our team.

All of us at Hotel Anywhere hope to have the pleasure of welcoming you back soon to the excellent experience you deserve. Please let me know if I may be of service in any way.

Kindest regards, Assistant Manager,

Can you see how this alternate response would have a good chance to encourage this guest and prospective guests that this is a business run by people you can trust to do their best for you? The important thing is that the actions noted in the response must honestly reflect what action leadership took. You can't make things up and expect to elevate consumer confidence. It won't work.

The Five Dos.

  1. Show Personal Responsibility.

  2. Start with an apology, and end with a positive note about what the guest did enjoy about the hotel.

  3. Address key issues with maturity and transparency.

  4. Give evidence of the hotel leadership's commitment to fixing the stated issues.

  5. Provide contact details to show a commitment to maintaining and enhancing the long-term relationship with your customer.

Review #2

Now I'm going to mix things up a little and read the response first. Think about if you think it is a good response. Think about if it passes "the five do's test." Then you can read the review and rethink how we feel about the response offered.

Dear Guest,

We genuinely appreciate the time you’ve taken to review your recent stay at our location. I am so delighted to hear how wonderful your experience with us went, and I'm glad we could accommodate your needs. We look forward to welcoming you back!

Is that a good response? Many people think it is ideal since this style of management response highly typical of how responses sound these days.

But does it pass the "5 Dos challenge"? It does not.

The review is too long for this post, so here are the highlights of the review that evoked the response above.

I'm a program member, and when booking, I mentioned it was my birthday trip.

I arrived a bit early, 2 pm and there was no room available. I needed two beds, so we went to lunch, mentioning my birthday and the appreciation for any courtesies or upgrades. They promised to contact us when the room was ready.

As 5 pm approached with no contact, I went to the front desk, who said that the room was not ready. When I mentioned that check-in was promised for 3 pm, the agent corrected me and said ...check-in starts at 3.

After stating again that it was my birthday and we had plans we needed to get ready for, they found a room for us. The room was filthy and even had visible poop in the bathroom.

There were even more problems and no justification for the cut-and-paste response.

Where is the earnestness and leadership in action?

If you want guests to love you, and if you want readers to respect and trust you, follow the ten tips I have shared with you today. Every management response to a negative experience your guest kindly took the time to share with you deserves to be a meaningful, earnest response. The response should not be posted until approved by the General Manager and all the managers to ensure everyone feels the pain of letting a guest down, feels committed to fixing the issue, and agrees it passes the "dos and don'ts" challenge. It must be an authentic and compassionate response demonstrating leadership in action.

Review #3

Now let's look at a four-star review from a three-star hotel currently in the top ten of hundreds of hotels in their city and accustomed to receiving consistent five-star reviews.

Breakfast was adequate for me as a vegan/plant-based person. They had soy milk by request of the wait staff, but I think it should be out on the buffet area or have a clear sign that you can request it.

Then she thanks some staff members personally, for exceptional service, and points out a few just okay bits. The pool is indoors which is nice but no hot tub. also, I lost my pajama pants and have contacted the hotel, but it wasn't found...

It's a positive review with some criticism. Let's see how this winning hotel responds.

Edited for readability.

Dear Guest,

Thank you for taking the time to share your valuable feedback. I am so glad to hear that you found breakfast adequate for your dietary needs and that Erica helped you out. We typically put the signs for gluten-free, vegetarian, and dairy-free upon request, which was probably missing. But I will put it out personally to ensure it is placed on the buffet for guests to see.

Regarding the PJs, I would like to check, have you already gone through

Should you need further assistance, please reach me directly at phone number or my email

Thank you again for being our guest. We hope you will consider staying with us again the next time you visit our city.

Well done, Embassy Suites Downtown San Diego, for exemplifying leadership in action! This response isn't fancy. Anyone can do this. Your hotel can do this too!

Frangelica Siy's excellent response shows compassion for the guest's needs, the spirit of service Embassy Suites stands behind, and leadership in action. She offers two ways to personally connect with her for anything they need and a heartfelt invitation to return.

Reading this response fills me with consumer confidence.

As you can see, it’s not enough for managers to hope people come back and cross their fingers that they will have a better experience next time. Wishful thinking and "hopes and prayers" certainly have a place in this world, but I do "hope" we can agree that when positive change is required, we prefer to see action and leadership.

Every business has challenges, but publically meeting our challenges with maturity and responsibility can show the world how we live our values. For consumers to feel respect for how you received negative feedback, they want to see leadership in action that's aligned with the company's guiding principles.

I hope you found these tips to be helpful!

If you would like some help implementing these techniques at your hotel, please don't hesitate to contact me. I would be delighted to offer guidance that works to impact your bottom line while making life better for you, your team, and your guests.

Thank you for taking the time to tune in! If you know any hoteliers who would like to excel in inspiring five-star reviews, I'd be grateful if you would share this content with them.

Keep reaching for those stars!


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