• Adele Gutman Milne, CHBA, CHDM

Negative Feedback is a Gift for the Hotelier that Listens

Updated: Mar 24

By Adele Gutman Milne

When evaluating online guest feedback, I remind myself of a quote by self-help guru Wayne Dyer, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Working at Library Hotel Collection for 20 years and in charge of sales, marketing, and revenue performance, this simple thought has saved me many times and it is all the more critical in the post-pandemic hospitality landscape.

I get it. Hotel managers hate and dread negative reviews. It’s like someone just told them their baby is ugly. And that’s perfectly natural. After all, when you put your heart and soul into your work, the feedback your customers share can sometimes feel like very personal criticism. Other times it can seem like you’re being blamed for things outside your control.

Without peers, a mentor, or the philosophies of Wayne Dyer to encourage us to check our emotions and reframe our perspective, in their frustration managers often tend to ignore the feedback entirely, undervalue its importance, or even assign responsibility to others who lack the authority to take meaningful action. It may seem like a relief to ‘check the box’ by imagining that your chain headquarters, your concierge, your publicist, or your social media intern can completely remove this burden from your hands. In reality, dismissing or shifting responsibility for the follow-up from negative feedback is incompatible with a manager's goal of optimizing performance and revenue.

It is akin to overeating sugary granola bars and frozen yogurt to momentarily feel better about your healthy choices despite no evidence that your fitness is improving. Responsibly setting a goal, implementing a plan, sticking with the plan, and ultimately achieving your goal of a more fit and healthy lifestyle will truly enhance your well-being.

An Open-Minded Outlook

I invite you instead to look at negative reviews as a gift. To recall another popular business management attitude from decades past, you need to apply a ‘Blue Ocean’ strategy to online criticisms where each review is a treasure map to building more optimal performance tomorrow.

As outlined in the book, this blue ocean philosophy encourages us to not get stuck in what you always did and what your competitors do, but rather to focus on the details of your business and be receptive to growth opportunities. In our present case, a discipline of being observant of the ever changing needs of the market, embracing customer feedback with an eye to create ongoing incremental ‘value innovations’ has the power to in turn create true loyalty, powerful word of mouth, and new market demand. The book refers to facilitating “public megaphones” what we hoteliers would call, user-generated content and social media, and very importantly, 5-Star guest reviews from enthusiastic customers to promote our brand, optimize our reach and attract new guests.

How to begin? Let go of defensive reflexes and thoughtfully mine these negative reviews for every nugget of gold as you dig your way down to the root cause of your guests’ disappointment, discomfort, or distress. A customer has taken the time to share the gift of their thoughts with you, detailing their hopes along with their frustrations. You don’t need to hire a pricey focus group now. You only need to faithfully collaborate with your team for creative solutions to move you closer to your goal of 100% guest satisfaction every day.

For general managers, underestimating the importance of your brand’s reputation and assigning reputation responsibility is a mindset that is failing you, your team and your guests. It is well worth your time and discipline to change your perspective on embracing feedback. Your support team can help you – and indeed you can’t build an outstanding reputation without the support of your entire team – but you must lead the way.

Specific Leadership Roles

Your first and most important ally and partner is your director of sales and marketing, the natural advocate for the guest's perspective. No one better understands the challenge of selling when the messages from the brand are refuted by reviews. But until you experience it firsthand as I have, you can’t fully appreciate how much easier it will be to generate demand after you’ve proven your commitment to listening to the voice of the customer and taking action on concerns as evidenced in your online reputation.

Be forewarned, though. Review responses that are purely PR are easy for a smart consumer to recognize. However, when you are serious about mitigating issues and delivering better service each day, your commitment to guest happiness is reflected very publicly with free earned media- a surge in five-star reviews and a diminishment of negatives.

As friction points diminish, your sales team can then focus on revenue growth rather than continually spending energy replacing business lost due to a lack of enthusiasm for the experience. Sales goals are far more efficiently met when you retain valuable return customers and convert more bookings with less need for rate negotiation. Your hotel will attract new inquiries like a magnet when your online and offline reputation consistently affirms and enthusiastically supports your brand promise – and when customers can see that negative reviews are handled with decisive action and compassion.