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  • Writer's pictureAdele Gutman Milne, CHBA, CHDM

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Responding to Negative Reviews, and What to do Instead!

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

Throughout the world, there are many hoteliers who are hard at work doing their best to "do Reputation Management". These hoteliers are reading articles and getting tips from friends, suppliers, or consultants on how to do it right.

But are the industry standards really working?

From my perspective, many commonly accepted practices are not actually helping hoteliers significantly move the needle when it comes to reputation. And in some cases, behaviors like cutting and pasting templates are inadvertently frustrating travelers, making them feel that we care more about the show and about showing we genuinely care.

As someone who has led the hotel collection with the highest level of guest satisfaction, and interviewed many of the most successful hoteliers in the world, I am excited to share with you today five of the most common mistakes when it comes to responding like a superstar to negative reviews.

#1 Missing the opportunity to make a personal, human-to-human connection

In hospitality, we pride ourselves on personalized service. One of the most important trends in our industry and the world today is personalization. Well, there is nothing less personal, or more impersonal than responding anonymously to a complaint.

Whether you sign off as The XYZ Hotel Team, or Manager of Hotel XYZ, or any position, you risk that the past guests and prospective guests will feel a lack of personal care if even an online review sharing critical feedback, doesn’t warrant a personal, human response.

What’s more, if it isn’t the General Manager, high-level executive, or the owner, it can send a message to guests that the leader of the team doesn’t feel obligated to listen to guest feedback or be involved in a discussion on how to fix the problems.

Templates should never be used when answering negative reviews. Using templates makes travelers feel you didn’t even read the review. If there’s no specificity to the critical issues the guest has experienced in your response, you are not leveraging a great opportunity to show the kind of leader you are. Nor are showcasing your company’s commitment to guest happiness.

Having the General Manager or owner contribute real leadership and understanding when discussing an issue, shows a level of excellence in care and can be incredibly disarming to a disappointed guest. The right response has the power to completely change people’s views of the experience, from a negative to a positive one. A response that is real and responsible, can create a strong positive reputation and new customers for life.

Imagine that guest is in front of you. That person has a lifetime potential for returning time after time and telling the world to come to see how great you are. Alternatively, they can share how your company’s responses are automated and impersonal, even when you are voicing a problem. Don't let this be a barrier to optimal revenue! Let’s help every guest feel like an important asset to the hotel and show your respect by taking the time to listen and learn from their feedback.

#2 Not fully committing to authenticity, transparency, and integrity

What do you want your reputation to be? If you want to be loved by guests, you need to love your guests. If you want to be respected, you need to show respect. If you want to strengthen consumer confidence then you need to be all about integrity, honesty, and transparency. Whatever you want to hear people say about you, your team and your hotel-take note-you need to be it and live it. Let all your actions and decisions stem from your mission and goal.

That’s why no matter who is helping the General Manager or Hotel Owner with composing the response, what’s said in the response has to be made with integrity in mind, not PR. In addition to being true, it needs to be action-oriented.

Starting at the top, there needs to be a commitment to fulfilling the brand promises made in every communication, especially regarding responses to critical reviews. If your social media intern is continuously cutting and pasting pretty template responses with promises that their “feedback is helping us improve” even though that feedback has not even been seen by management, your reputation will not improve. With today’s savvy consumer, “I’m sure they will take care of it”, just won’t do!

Hospitality leaders, give your team the tools training, and guidance that they need to make great decisions and solve problems for guests before they become negative reviews. Once the negative reviews come in, be a facilitator for the problem-solving and help support your team’s growth as they progress to a higher level of success. They may say they want autonomy, but when things go astray, your nurturing guidance and leadership are more important than ever.

#3 Taking a Passive Approach vs Taking a Leadership Approach

To all of you General Managers or business owners reading this, if a guest writes about a problem they experienced in your hotel, they mean for you to see it. They are taking the time to make you aware. This is the escalation of the issue. It means the team and department heads already had the chance to deal with this issue in-house and did not deliver when the guest was there.

So from that perspective, the last thing I as a guest want to hear is that you are passing along my comments and ownership of the issue to that department. That doesn’t show that you are taking an active interest in ensuring that the root cause of the issue is fixed in a somewhat permanent way. Instead, talk to that department before you respond, and see if they have the details and a good solution for the issue. Respond with that.

Once you have the solution or plan for preventing the issue from continuing, you could alternatively have someone else draft the response, and get your approval that the tone, empathy, and recovery plan are an example of how you want to be known and you are committed to making those promises happen. Then they can post it for you or as a joint statement with you. But include yourself in the follow-up if you want your customers to feel you care for, appreciate and respect their business.

Similarly, by the way, when the response comes in from the social media manager, a consultant, a Public Relations person, an assistant, or midlevel manager, this can exacerbate the feeling that the GM or owner doesn’t care to be involved.

#4 Sounding less than compassionate at the beginning of the response:

There is a trend in responding to negative reviews that to me, seems to defy natural compassionate human-to-human interaction. It seems as though someone decided that because they feel so bad when they see complaints about their property on the internet, they hope that they can diminish their importance in readers’ minds by focusing on what positive things the guests said first.

That might sound good on paper, but in reality, it doesn’t always work to skirt away from the negative. It’s like seeing your friend bleeding from the head but complimenting her lovely dress before showing compassion and offering first aid.

Trying to diminish the importance of the critical feedback is that writers hope will help readers feel that the problems were small and the positives are the more important part of the review. I believe that as clever as it may seem, this response trend comes off as manipulation, disingenuous to your potential customers and to the reviewer.

If you really want to earn a reputation as a caring and compassionate hotelier, start with offering concern and apologies from the get-go. Next, show you truly care by saying what actions you have already taken to investigate the issue, and if needed, share if there’s a plan in the works to resolve any outstanding issue for the guest. Then, give the reviewer respect and credit. Ideally, you can say something along the lines of… thanks to your feedback, this is what we have decided to do to keep this problem from impacting future guests. After that’s done, now it is time to end on a sweet note, appreciating all their kind words about the staff and hotel amenities or whatever the positives were. Now you have built a strong foundation on which to express gratitude and extend a warm invitation and wish for that person to come back and give your hotel another chance.

#5 Responding for the sake of ticking a box on the to-do list

Pretty words don’t build reputations. Paying someone to make you sound like you care won’t actually make your guests happier or your associates feel more successful.

  • Compassion in action will.

  • Leadership and empowerment will.

  • Intention and integrity will.

Here’s a real-life example from a phenomenal hospitality reputation leader in the industry, one of the top 25 hotels in the USA on Tripadvisor Travelers Choice Awards. This hotel has been on the list for 10 years! Guess what? They don’t publicly respond to reviews!

They want to add that activity when time allows. They know it is a great idea to respond to reviews, but in the last few years, they were swamped so they needed to set priorities.

So what priorities did they make that helped them lead the nation on reputation cultivation with almost 90,000 hotels in the USA?

They understood that guests will see their commitment to excellence from their guest reviews, so the priority was to let the reviews speak for themselves. When your reviews are this good, it works!

Priorities that get results:

  • Living in commitment to their mission of making guests happy.

  • Taking action with compassion- continuous improvement

  • Communicating with integrity

  • Educating and empowering their team

  • Living in a state of continuous improvement.

Are you learning and adjusting your processes, products, mindsets, or communications based on feedback provided by team members and guests?

If your hotel could benefit from inspiring more five-star reviews, I would love to hear from you! Let's talk about how to build your culture as a strategy for revenue growth!


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